Monday, July 27, 2015

Better Off Not Succeeding

While My Two Cents was on its annual EAA Airventure hiatus, golfer Jordan Spieth saw his attempt to complete the single-season Grand Slam come to an end--missing a playoff at the British Open by just one stroke.  As much as I like Spieth and want to see history made, it's probably a good thing that he will not come to Whistling Straits a couple of weeks from now with a chance to complete the Slam.

If Jordan had somehow come back to win at St Andrews last week, his quest would have moved from the sports report to the mainstream media's attention.  There would have been appearances on the morning shows, the network news broadcasts would have done features, Jimmy Fallon and Jimmy Kimmel would have been competing to get him on during late night as well.  It would have seemed that Jordan Spieth was everywhere.

And what America would have learned about its newest sports superstar is that he is a very polite, modest young man who still calls people "sir" and "ma'am" and refers to some of his elders on the PGA Tour as "Mister".  They would also learn that Spieth left college golf after just one year and turned pro without any playing status on any tour.  He then parlayed sponsors exemptions into enough good finishes to earn conditional status on the PGA Tour--and became the second youngest tournament winner in history by holing out a bunker shot at the John Deere Classic when he was just 19.  Advertisers would be dying to have him do for their brands what he has already done for Under Armor and its golf apparel lines.

But with this new-found celebrity would come inevitable backlash.  You know that websites like and Slate would publish several articles pointing out that Jordan Spieth is a child of the "One Percent"--that his parents were wealthy Texans who could afford country club memberships and lessons with top swing instructors, short-game gurus and mental coaches.  They would sneer at the idea that it was a risk to leave college--as "Mommy and Daddy could just bankroll his athletic dreams" if he not earned his PGA Tour card.

And columnists like Leonard Pitts and Bryan Burwell and whoever is doing sports opinion for the New York Times now would question why America is so quick to embrace a 21-year old white kid as its new sports hero when there are so many African-American players in other sports that have "overcome real adversity" to succeed.  They too would portray Spieth as a spoiled, rich kid and claim that it's a lot easier to be "a gentleman-athlete" with his background than it is for the kids who grew up playing their sports on urban playgrounds.  By the time you would finish their articles, you would be convinced that the only reason Jordan's long putts and pitch shots are going in all the time is because of "white privilege".

So maybe it's better for all of us who appreciate greatness in sports that Zach Johnson won the Claret Jug last week instead of Jordan Spieth.  It means we can focus on the  final score--and not "social identity"--do determine our champions.

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