Sunday, November 17, 2013

In Support of the Divisive Athlete: One Yasiel Puig

I'm starting to realize just how much I appreciate the divisive player. 

In the wake of the Incognito-Martin case, you may wonder how that is possible. Athletics provides a very public platform and case study for us to raise questions, challenge assumptions, and discuss moral issues. Although I wish racial slurs, bullying and hazing were not part of our world, we know the sad truth is they occur more than we want to admit. Enter in the controversial athlete. In addition to serving as a model of what not to do or who not to become, they can also teach us a lot about who we are and what we value. Case in point: one Yasiel Puig.
Most people hated this move--I loved it.
Puig is a 22-year old outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers who defected from Cuba in 2012.  To the delight of San Francisco Giants fans and many others, he was NOT the National League Rookie of the Year. He is loved and loathed. His $42 million dollar seven-year contract is but one of the many reasons this athlete is hotly contested. My social experiments continue and this is what I have learned about my colleagues and myself from el cubano.

Respondent #1
This teacher comes to school every Sunday to plan for the week. Despite the fact he has taught for over 20 years, he continues to thoughtfully prepare his classes, quizzes and exams on his day off. I have often wondered if Coach John Wooden mentored him. Furthermore, he is never late; he never leaves school early.  

When Puig's name came up at the lunch table, he immediately cited the incident in August, when Dodgers manager Don Mattingly benched him during the fifth inning for reasons he wished to keep "in house." Local sportswriters and fans guess it was for not hustling to his position in right field. That was an unofficial disciplinary measure, but he was officially benched 8 days prior when arrived 35 minutes late for pre-game activities.  

Translation: Colleague #1 could never support a player with a lax work ethic or a professional who does not give their best. I am so glad that he holds his students to a high standard, one which he meets as well.
Respondent #2
This co-worker works in the finance office. He is a great at what he does but I know his true passion is serving as an assistant coach for our boys' basketball team as well as his own daughters' softball team and his son's little league team.

When asked about Puig, my friend said "I know he's a great athlete but boys and girls see what he does and they imitate it. You just can't have that attitude on the field." He's referring what happened in post season play. Dodgers were down to the St. Louis Cardinals 0-2 in the series. Mike Wise of the Washington Post captures the charade.
Puig twirled his bat and tossed it at home plate in Game 3 of the National League Championship Series , raising his arms and celebrating a long drive he thought was a home run. Realizing the ball didn’t clear the wall, he burst into a dead sprint and legged out a standup triple, celebrating further by raising both arms. Dodger Stadium fell into delirium. 
Puig is the first baseball player I can recall to wildly celebrate a home run and a triple in the same at-bat, and the fact that he made it to third base without sliding was all the more reason to be in awe. 
Translation: Colleague #2 likes to point to professional athletes for who they are and how they play the game. My recommendation? Consider using Puig as an example of how he does not want his players to act. More importantly however, explain why. Perhaps it has something to do with sportsmanship. 
What an incredible documentary; "From Ghost town to Havana" 
Respondent #3
This person traveled to Cuba in March 2012. She learned a lot about this rich culture, namely how little and yet how much the people have. They have a deep love of baseball and the way they play the game is dramatically different. Players and fans are vocal. They live and die with their teams, wearing their heart on both sleeves. She knows that Puig responded the way every other player would in his homeland and started to wonder why American's don't celebrate wins with more joy and losses with more disgust.

Translation: In the study of ethics, we are always invited to consider motivation, history, cultural influence, background and more. For the record, I am #3 (and felt weird writing about myself in the third person). I saw what many criticized as an invitation to learn more about baseball in Cuba. If you would like to see for yourself, check out this brief clip "From Ghost town to Havana." In doing so, you'll learn what Cuba can offer for each one of us and what we can offer for Cuba.

Yasiel Puig, you are just one of many professional athletes who offer us something to consider. I hope you have a terrible season next year ;-) 

Photo Credits
Excessive Celebration

Documentary Photo

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