Remember William J. Beausay’s quote: Our greatest need is to satisfy our egos. Many top athletes are constantly defending their egos and reputations, said Dan O’Brien, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon who admits that in races he often ran out of fear of losing not necessarily the race, but his pride and selfesteem. At times, I ran scared because I was defending my pride and all that I stood for, he said.
Unlike O’Brien, who has had the benefit of many sport psychologists, many athletes seem unaware of what makes them tick or are in denial about it. Baltimore Orioles Mike Mussina pitches better when he has something to prove to others, according to his pitching coach Ray Miller. When the 1997 American League playoffs opened, Miller was glad that Mussina was matched up against the ace of the Seattle Mariners staff, Randy Johnson. Everything was about Randy Johnson, Miller said. I like it when Mike gets real quiet. Tonight, when he was warming up, the first five pitches hit the glove right where it was. I said, ‘Oh boy, here we go.’ But Mussina denied that he got motivated to face Johnson. I like to watch him pitch, but it doesn’t make me do anything different, he said. Mussina went on to win the game and was MVP of the playoff series.
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Tutko says that Wayne Gretzky, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson have been the most mature and healthy-minded athletes he’s ever seen. Gretzky has a healthy drive, and in that regard he’s the greatest of the greats. However, many hockey writers say that it’s a bogeyman that often revs Gretzky’s motor, providing strong ego energy. When people said he was too skinny to play in the NHL, and later that he was washed up, he bore down to prove himself over and over again. And he has gone out of his way to show writers that they have been wrong in criticizing him in the papers. Gretzky is very thin-skinned and defensive when people have the audacity to criticize him, and he’d go out of his way to prove you wrong, then needle you with it later, said one veteran Toronto hockey writer. Hockey is more than a game to him. Gretzky’s former coach in Edmonton, Glen Sather, agrees, but added that The Great One was often motivated by more than one force. Wayne channeled his anger very well, but he didn’t outwardly expose himself to the public about it, said Sather, who won four Stanley Cups with Gretzky. He could be very motivated by things in newspaper articles, what people said about him. If somebody said something about him being a whiner, he really got ticked. It was purely a pride thing. When Gretzky gets motivated, his face tends to get red with little splotches and his skills become sharper and deadlier as he stickhandles and passes through opponents. People think that Wayne is all skill, but he’s a killer. It’s a personal thing. He’s driven by pride. How else could a guy five feet, 10 inches and 175 pounds survive in this sport, at this speed? Sather said.
Many modern athletes are sensitive to criticism because their every move and every mistake is under a media spotlight, Landers said. Baseball all-star Ken Griffey Jr. says he’s constantly under pressure to prove himself to media, fans, and a society that he feels doesn’t respect him. Even after winning the American League’s MVP award in 1997, Griffey complained he wasn’t getting the respect he deserved from the media. Posing at the plate after hitting a home run, like Griffey always does, or dancing for the crowd in the end zone after a football touchdown, as Deion Sanders of the Dallas Cowboys does, is an ever- increasing ritual by players of today, says Landers. There’s so much more media attention on athletics, compared to years ago, and there has been a constriction on the sports focused on in the media, like baseball, basketball, and football. Now their salaries and trade
Larry Bird’s calmness in pressure situations hid a strong need to prove he was good enough. negotiations and their business sides are discussed in public. They’ve got no private life, almost like a Hollywood star.
Sport psychologist Bruce Ogilvie knows that this narcissistic, look-at-me attitude can help some players to perform their best, but he admits he hates it. Wherever I go to meet coaches these days, the first question they ask is, ‘I’ve got another narcissistic athlete; what do I do?’ There’s no perfect strategy. Some become so self-centered, there’s no therapy in the world that can help them. It’s almost psychopathic. Their problems go way beyond sports.
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