Friday, August 1, 2008

Creating Character(s)

All of this character talk makes my gears shift, my wheels turn, and my head crave diesel so I can get as much out of each fill-up as possible. There are quite a few situations out there that cause wonderment and raise the question: can a character have character and does character cause character? Confused? Me, too.

John Wooden said that sports do not build character -- they reveal it. Others believe losing in sports reveals character… and then may proceed to help build it. And, others state that winning reveals it as well, whether one is empathetic and congratulatory to the losing side or finds success construed with semi-illegal videotaping of opponents.

The Patriots built a franchise with the mindset that putting the right individuals (or characters) together creates an overwhelming character-istic that is necessary for a championship team – proof that an outlandish or hard-to-figure character can be pulled into a scene of mutual respect, dignity, and glory without disrupting the foundation that was built. (e.g. Corey Dillon – check. Randy Moss – check.) And then the team is tainted with the taping allegations. Oops. Is the character of the franchise intact, leaving one of the characters a bit frayed around the edges like his sweatshirts?

The Red Sox patterned the same character theory. Bring in players that will fit the mold of the already established character-types. I supposed Manny was a character for a long time, then stopped being so much of one for a short time, and then couldn’t really maintain the desired sports definition and blew up his newly-found image faster than a Tyson Gay sprint. Solution: ship him out to LA where he can be near another character, one who was fresh, then frazzled, then forgotten, then fake, and then formed.

All of a sudden, Kobe Bryant is a great guy as well as the best basketball player on earth (unless you’re a Lebron fan). Did you catch the halftime “family” show during one of the NBA finals late-nights? Kobe with his loving wife and kids on a couch in their living room (actually, and not surprisingly, it looked like a familiar Jordan scene in his Rare Air book). Most recently, Kobe was interviewed about the Olympics redemption squad and its chances of winning back the gold. And his response as well as various teammates’ featured all-too-familiar chemistry terms. Is his reincarnated character shining through? (By the way, I wish Fran Fraschilla would explain the FIBA officials’ “three or four times a game you’ll scratch your head with bad calls” commentary – are they characters officiating with less than 100% character or do they have something against the US characters?).

Kevin Garnett seems to have great character. His flagrant f-bombs aside, he cares about winning, his teammates, the staff, the fans, and his friends. Didn’t he buy all of the Celtics players gifts (suits) during training camp as a token of his humanity and inner self?

I recently finished The Assist, the book about Jack O’Brien and his championship Charlestown teams in Boston. O’Brien, although a character in his own right, had a knack for not only building character out of characters, but also teaching them how to reveal it.

By definition, character entails the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual. We often think of someone with character as good, people who do right by others and are positive role models. Conversely, we may think of characters as people who don’t necessarily conform. When we recruit at MIT, we look for student-athletes that demonstrate character in the former realm – upstanding citizens who are coachable. Yet, I also envy the character who will take his role seriously with a bit of flavor, as long as its bearable and regularly controllable rather than distracting and perplexing (see Dennis Rodman as a “Bad Boy”, as a Spur, as a tamed Bull, and then as a, well, I’m not sure). We refer to the latter as personality and creativity, and maybe even as leadership if molded in the right way.

The bottom line: I believe that playing, coaching, and watching sports helps to develop character and build characters, all the while teaching us how to reveal our character to other characters.

Characterize that.


4114 said...

It's weird. Most people I know would probably say I'm a decent guy. But out on the playing field I can be a little "sore" if you know what I mean. How do I reconcile these two character-istics? Not sure. Still haven't figured it out. But it does point to what you are talking about. Sports definitely have a unique way of showing character...

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