Thursday, February 23, 2023

A Case for Understatement: In Sports and Beyond

If he hasn't already found his way onto your radar screen, take note. Eddie Murphy is back in the spotlight. After a near 35 year absence for the screen, the SNL icon is one of the leads in the new Netflix Rom-Com "You People." He has the green light for "Beverley Hills Cop IV" which he announced on Jimmy Kimmel Live! just a few weeks ago. The interview was fantastic. Murphy shared stories about legendary black musicians, artists and comedians he had worked with over the years. Kimmel was listening and laughing. He followed up with a question, and a colorful retort. Eddie simply leaned back and gave a slide glance. His nonverbal response was hilarious. It was also incredibly understated. It has stayed with me. It got me thinking....

In today's world, especially in sports, not much is understated. For example, I was eating dinner with friends, the Boles family, as festivities of the NBA All Star weekend unfolded. From the three point to the slam dunk contest, little to nothing about that weekend is understated. In fact, it's the opposite—it's frenzied, flashy and forward. It's just over the top. All that drama is electric and I find it exhausting. I started to wonder, Is it even possible to be understated in an All Star game? Or in the NBA today? And, Why be understated? Can it be taught? Is it something you value? Why or why not? Here's my thought.

I would like to make a case for understatement. One who is understated, values simplicity and  humility. They embody the "less is more" approach. The way I see it, in sports, to be understated is to know it's about you and it's not about you. You have a role, you have a responsibility and you are expected to do it well. You do. The understated is not a martyr. He or she accepts praise where praise is due—nothing more and nothing less. It's not that the understated scoffs at the spotlight. But, they don't soak it up either.

I would argue understatement, might make a bigger impact or lasting memory because it is so counterintuitive. It requires personal discipline and a strong sense of self. Some may see understatement as modesty, and I don't think that's far off. But to be understated is to be comfortable in one's own skin. 

One of the phrases that captures being understated is "act like you've been there before." Coaches, you can remind your athletes of this mantra and praise them when they put it into practice. You might want to add, your opponents might not like what you do against them, but they will certainly respect you. I also think understatement is "caught more than taught." In other words, using examples is an effective way to help others understand what it looks like. 

A long time fan of defensive end, Justin Tuck, I took note when his record for sacks in a single season at Notre Dame was broken by Isaiah Foskey in the Irish's 44-0 win over Boston College. I am a fan of Foskey too—he graduated from De La Salle High School— and this moment stayed with me. Why? Not only is it significant but it's understated. I thought to myself, this moment could easily serve as a good example....but were others seeing what I saw?

I asked the varsity football coach at SI to take a look at this clip. I didn't mention my bias or my focus. I simply wanted to see what he saw. He wrote "Another day at the office.  He seems excited to get the record, but I like what is shown on this clip of him acknowledging it, but focused on his teammates and the task at hand." I thought to myself, that is exactly how it should be when an individual achieves a record on a team sport. Noted. Promoted. Understated.

Earlier this week, I went to a 3+ hour rock concert on a school night. The great American band, The Eagles were playing at SAP Center in San Jose with Vince Gill. Gill, who has had tremendous success in country music for signing and song writing is also an incredibly talented guitar player. He is known for his picking and sheer ability to play with anyone. Every great guitarist acknowledges his talent and Gill simply shrugs his shoulders, smiles and continues to play. When Don Henley introduced all the members of the band, the crowd's response to Vince Gill on vocals and guitar was tremendous. Gill waved his hand, nodded in gratitude and played on. He said a whole lot more, without saying much at all. And it stays with me.... that's reason enough to be understated if you ask me.

Look for it. You'll know it when you see it. Pass it on. 

Photo Credits
Eddie Murphy
Vince Gill: From the concert!

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