Thursday, April 24, 2008

Introverted Athletes

This post is a slight departure from the topic of introverts in the church, but it's not far off. Any of you who follow my other blog know that I am a big sports fan, especially of teams from Seattle. It's always interesting to me to see how the introvert/extrovert dynamic plays out in sports. From what I can tell, it has the greatest impact on the relationship between introverted players and coaches and the media. My Seattle Mariners traded for an ace pitcher in the offseason, named Erik Bedard, and this guy is probably most notorious now for practically ignoring the media. During spring training he would go to a press conference and say "You've got three questions." And then he would answer exactly three questions, each response being one or two sentences. He has a reputation of being aloof and cold, though honestly, if he gets 18 wins this season, no one will care.

The head coach of the Washington Huskies football team, Ty Willingham, is also very clearly an introvert. And again, in the Seattle area, he is reputed for not handling the media very well. He is quite reticent, speaks in monotone, and withholds information and emotions that other coaches express more. A previous head coach Rick Neuheisel ("Slick Rick" - how long until UCLA goes on probation?!) was very extroverted and had far more lively exchanges with the media.

Of course there are other factors involved in how players and coaches handle the media - some have been burned by people prying into their private lives and they are understandably coy in public settings. And Bedard and Willingham are not representative of all introverts. Certainly there are other introverted athletes who have a more playful relationship with the media, because introverts aren't necessarily quiet or reticent. But it does feel like most of the most beloved athletes these days are extroverts whose outgoing personalities match their amazing abilities - think Payton Manning, for example.

However, some of the greatest athletes of our day are introverts. Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, and Michael Jordan are all introverts. They have incredible focus, perseverance, and seem unrattled by pressure. But all three of them have tenuous relationships with the media - Jordan always seemed distant, Kobe seems arrogant, and Tiger (though after getting married and having a kid has become much more sympathetic) receives criticism for not speaking out about racial and social issues.