What a Celebration Reveals About an Athlete

Recently, a panel of ESPN commentators were discussing football players who excessively celebrated in the end zone when they scored. Some teams had criticized Cam Newton for his dance and his lengthy antics after a touchdown. The panel took both sides of the issue—but most defended players who did it, explaining it was part of their “hubris”; it was all part of being a man.

I am not about to tell you how to evaluate the quality of a dance like Ickey Woods and his “Ickey Shuffle.” Personally, I enjoy watching running backs or receivers score and revel as much as any fan does. Sometimes, it adds a little spice to it all.

I believe, however, the celebration says a lot about a man’s heart and ego.

Celebration or Narcissism?

I recently watched two games where players scored and the display they put on in the end zone was embarrassing to me. Teammates were trying to congratulate them, slap them or pick them up—desiring to join them in the celebration. But, alas, it was not to be. The “star” was so into himself—no one could get near him. He was so very aware of the cameras and so unaware of anyone else but himself.

Wait a minute.

Didn’t he score because someone threw an accurate pass or a helpful block? Wasn’t the touchdown due to ten other men on that field, mostly outside of the limelight, doing their job well so their teammate could get in? This is how the game has changed during my lifetime. When we step into the limelight, we forget how to share it. We are so into building our platform, we’ve neglected to include all those “little people” (or in football’s case—big people) who helped make it happen.

To be clear, I enjoy the satisfaction of doing a job well. I believe males, especially, are hardwired for conquest. We love the thrill of mastering our craft. I also, believe however we are hardwired for community. When I played basketball as a student, I loved the feeling of scoring or assisting a score. There are few things like it. But our coaches always reminded us of John Wooden’s statement: “The player that puts the ball through the hoop has ten hands.”

That’s why I love what great basketball teams often do. When a player scores on an assist, he always points to the teammate who passed him the ball. He realizes he could not have done it without help. Sure he made the bucket, but he wasn’t alone. There were picks set. There were balls passed. There were lanes opened.

What to Watch

So, allow me to offer a little philosophy to teach your players. When a score is made, watch for two components in the end zone celebration:

  1. Length of time – How long did he celebrate, calling attention to himself? Did the celebration go longer than five seconds and was it disproportionate to what he just accomplished? Did the party match the feat?
  1. Inclusion – Did he quickly include teammates who helped make it happen? Did the player immediately join fellow players who enabled him to score? Was it about the team…or his ego and platform?

When teams score, the celebration should not look narcissistic but holistic. I love it when I see a player score and quickly look for teammates to share in the celebration. I believe it’s a sign of maturation. Mature achievers always recognize they don’t do it solo. Both humility and gratitude are marks of authentic maturity. It’s true about student athletes. It’s true about professionals. Babies are selfish. Children are selfish. As we mature, life should revolve around something bigger than “self.” It’s both conquest and community. I’m just sayin’.

A Little Perspective

One player defended his end zone antics by saying “we are gladiators.” Seriously? Do you know the history of those men? Gladiators were killers in a coliseum, often murdering innocent and unarmed people. It was the epitome of selfish conquest. Is that what players really are? Have we not grown past that?

New York Times journalist, David Brooks, remembers listening to NPR on a road trip. The radio program broadcasted a ceremony, recognizing World War II vets who’d been injured in battle. One after another, the former soldiers received a medal then spoke to the audience. Each one of them said virtually the same thing: “I was only doing my job. Every one of my fellow soldiers were happy to lay down our lives for each other and for our country.” Humility. Gratitude. Perspective.

These comments stood in stark contrast to what Brooks saw once he arrived at his hotel room. He turned on the TV in time to watch a running back strut two yards into the end zone—only to flaunt what he’d done for the next few minutes. The dancing, the screaming and the spiking over a two-yard run suddenly seemed so out of place. The celebration was so different than the men who’d helped to save the free world. They expected no fanfare; they were only doing their job.

So—what does your celebration look like?

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What a Celebration Reveals About an Athlete