Earlier this week, Terry Francona released a new book about his years as manager of the Boston Red Sox. Francona: The Red Sox Years, details every aspect of his days as manager of one of the most storied franchises in all of sports. From the glory days of winning two World Series Championships, to the historic playoff collapse that led to his resignation, Francona details every part of his eight years in Boston.
Francona discusses the Red Sox front office change in approach to winning. He says that the men in suits wanted the team to start playing “more sexy,” so TV ratings would improve and more merchandise could be sold. The ownership lost sight of putting a winning team on the field and became more obsessed with the numbers that didn’t matter.
In sports, winning is everything. If you don’t win, you don’t succeed. Winning makes everything else better. If you want to sell more tickets, more fans to wear your apparel, and want people to know the name, the answer is simple: win. Players, coaches, and front-office executives can point the finger at anything they want, but the only thing that makes life better is winning.
As kids, we’re taught to remember that there are more important values that come out of sports. Sportsmanship, character, attitude, positive outlooks, these values should all supersede the idea that is winning. But when you get paid millions of dollars to do something, and people pay hundreds of dollars to watch you excel at it, winning better be the only thing on your mind.
Win the 2012 football season began, everyone had their eyes on the team from the Big Apple, the New York Jets. The Jets had built their roster around players with big personalities, good looks, and a lot of talent, thinking their team’s bad boy stereotype and excessive team coverage would lead them to a Super Bowl. To make things even more dramatic, the Jets traded for the greatest mediocre football player of all time, Tim Tebow. With all the characters and personalities, the Jets were banking on this team excelling under the bright lights and hoping the vibrant personalities would mesh well together. Not only did the Jets not make the playoffs, they compiled a 6-10 record and completely fell apart. To make things even worse, they became the laughing stalk of the league with the infamous “Butt Fumble.”
It seems more than ever these days teams are getting caught up with trying to win by playing sexy. Having stars with big personalities and coaches who love the media attention seems great when things are going well, but at the core of sports, there is nothing sexy about winning. Winning isn’t supposed to be easy. You’re not supposed to be able to just show up and act like your opponent is worthless to you. The true legends in sports always made it look easy, but never acted like it was easy.
One team I always love to point to is the San Antonio Spurs. You never hear anything about them, but they always beat your favorite team. They win because they don’t spend time worrying about the little things. They care about one thing: winning. Gregg Popovich is one of the best coaches in the NBA, yet it seems like hardly anyone has ever heard his name. Can the same be said about Rex Ryan? The Spurs are the consummate example of how to win. There is nothing sexy about this team, but they always make it look easy, and most of the time, they win.
With things like Twitter, Facebook, and the evolving world of social media, getting caught up in the sexiness of a player or team seems to have become a glorified aspect of sports. Fans care more about the image of a player or team than the production they put on the field. Playing sexy can make a team look or feel better, but it will never replace the ultimate goal of professional sports, that is winning.
Who doesn’t love being sexy? Anything that’s not sexy is boring, unappealing, and in the world of sports, doesn’t sell. Trying to sell an image of a player who lacks the representation of being sexy may hurt the franchise in some respects, but the measure of a player’s greatness shouldn’t be bound by his ability or inability to put people in the seats. If Tim Tebow is on a team simply to put more fans in the seats, not only is the team sacrificing their chances of being successful, but also they’re hurting their own image by saying it’s okay to sacrifice winning for more exposure. I have a problem with this, and hopefully you do too.