Golf’s Darren Clarke is another sporting ambassador. The Northern Irishman is a devoted father, but not only to his two sons. The 43 year-old is seen as a father figure throughout the European Tour, always at hand to aid the younger players. Most sportspeople – or even people in general – will do their bit, earn their money and take care of number one – not Darren Clarke. It is this caring, selfless nature that holds Clarke endeared in the hearts of so many, even more so after his Open win last year; the trophy was lifted in emotional circumstances as he duly dedicated it to his late wife.
Across the Irish Sea to Manchester and the same can be said for Paul Scholes. The ‘ginger ninja’ is a consummate, exemplar professional, a man who doesn’t even like to give interviews as he is reluctant to stand in the media spotlight. When all those around him (the Rooneys, Ronaldos, Morrisons) appear to be losing their heads, the experienced talisman lets his positive persona guide the Manchester United team. Such an approach has led the Red Devils to unrivalled success in recent years, proving that flamboyance and publicity won’t bring success, but dedication and having your heart in the right place just might.
…get their money’s worth and feel…
In the end, the ‘nice guys’ end up with a win-win situation; their sportsmanship only enhances their performance, taking nothing away from their fierce drive towards victory. At the same time, the fans get their money’s worth and feel as though they can really relate to the performer they have just watched. People like a ‘people’ person. Who can forget Paolo Di Canio’s display of genuine humanity when he refused an open goal to allow the injured Paul Gerrard to be treated? Similarly, who can question the charm of Rory McIlroy, the 22 year-old who has graced the game of golf with nothing but professionalism? The Northern Irishman always smiles and has spoken of his determination to ‘hang on to his ordinariness’.
Of course, the ruthless sportspeople with that nasty edge can achieve as much on the field of play as their more compassionate colleagues, but they will never be spoken of in the same light. A key part of sport is keeping on side the very people who pay to watch you play – the people who essentially pay your wages. Contrast the aforementioned names with the likes of Joey Barton or the viciously-spoken David Haye. And if the England rugby team had won this year’s world cup… with their catastrophic off-field behaviour, would we still hold them in such high regard?
…athletes lack that natural personality…
You don’t need the reputation of Mario Balotelli to remain in peoples’ memories. Indeed, the antics of the Bartons and Balotellis of this world appear to suggest that these athletes lack that natural personality that supporters can really connect with. Eccentricity has to come from within – or it invariably ends up a front that’s masking a more conventional and boring truth.
Fundamentally, sport is a game, a contest, a separate world constructed to pit competing factions against each other – and this world ends as soon as the final seconds transpire. As such, sport must be played with integrity, discipline and valour, with every sprint, kick or throw fought for until the very end. But once the end comes, it is then the duty of the sportsperson to shake their opponents’ hand, wave to the crowd and offer an optional smile. The sporting ‘nice guys’ who do so are those that we will admire, respect and never forget; if we all took this approach in our separate walks of life, the world would simply be a better place. Indeed, the gentlemanly Djokovics, Nadals, Clarkes and others aren’t just successful sportsmen – they are the truest of champions, in every sense of the phrase.
Image courtesy of The Good Guys