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Mastering the art of the humble brag

The word “humble” has been casually thrown around during recent NFL playoff press conferences, but because it rarely made sense in context, I compulsively re-checked the definition.

Humble: “Having or showing a modest or low estimate of one’s own importance; not proud or haughty, not arrogant or assertive,” according to the Oxford English Dictionaries and Merriam-Webster respectively.

Turns out I did have the definition right, but NFL players apparently don’t. The Ravens’ two most prominent team leaders — Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs — particularly need to visit dictionary.com.

In a roller-coaster season, Ray Lewis, one of the greatest linebackers of all time, not only returned from a seemingly season-ending triceps injury, but also sits one game away from a second Super Bowl ring in his final NFL season. His renaissance is no small feat, but his postgame pressers have grown increasingly stale in recent weeks.

Throughout the playoffs, Lewis has frequently used “humble” to describe himself and his team. Yet a humble man does not constantly highlight his humility. A humble man deflects praise onto his teammates, like Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III and Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck regularly do. Griffin, one of the most electrifying young players in the league, admittedly stretched the definition with his “Work Hard, Stay Humble” Adidas socks line, but he also said he would vote for fellow Redskins rookie Alfred Morris for Rookie of the Year rather than himself. To me, that’s a humble teammate.

In an on-field interview with ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio immediately following the Ravens’ defeat of the Patriots, Lewis mentioned his team twice, and both were about what he did for it. His interview was all about himself and how much he sacrificed as a leader. He repeatedly mentioned how it was God’s will for him to make it back to the Super Bowl, as if any supreme being would be concerned with an NFL game not involving Tim Tebow.

Even in his official postgame press conference, Ray spared no praise for Ray — although he did share a little bit with Joe Flacco, the rest of his defense, and the Patriots.

I accept these larger than life personalities in the NFL and am not condemning their excitement about the game. It frustrates me, however, when these same self-promoting athletes also insist that they try to “stay humble.” As the old saying goes, you can’t have your cake and eat it too. When you repeatedly refer to yourself as humble, that adjective is no longer fit to describe you.

Maybe the day of the humble athlete is on the decline. Lewis’ own teammate committed a far greater offense after the Ravens’ win. Terrell Suggs, a humble graduate of “Ball So Hard University,” yelled that the Patriots should “have fun at the Pro Bowl,” and that they are “arrogant f———!”

I doubt T-Sizzle cares about anything I have to say, but to call an entire team arrogant is absolutely ridiculous. Maybe some of the Patriots are arrogant, but to stereotype an entire organization is absurdly hypocritical. Guys like Tom Brady, Wes Welker and Vince Wilfork are considered consummate professionals — Welker’s wife, not so much — and it’s almost amazing that Suggs could be so ignorant to insult arguably the most successful NFL franchise of the last decade.

Maybe Suggs meant Bill Belichick or some particular Patriot was arrogant, but he should have saved his comments for the locker room if he absolutely had to share his feelings. True champions win with class. Suggs and the Ravens know how much it hurts to lose in the AFC Championship — see: 2012, Billy Cundiff wide left — so his comments showed especially poor sportsmanship.

Just like Suggs must learn to win with class, the Patriots should lose with class, which most of them did. But Belichick declined CBS for an on-field postgame interview, a move that led Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe to lay into Belichick for his lack of humility.

I agree with Sharpe that Belichick should have given a quick interview with CBS, a network that paid the AFC more than $600 million for television rights this season. The coach did give his contractually obligated postgame interview later and sought out John Harbaugh after the game for a handshake. Maybe I’m grasping at straws, but after such a crushing defeat I empathize with Belichick’s behavior far more than Suggs’.

This NFL postseason is swimming with story lines, but I’ll most remember poor sportsmanship overshadowing the majority of players’ graciousness.

Unsportsmanlike conduct is certainly nothing new in sports, but as it rises within the NFL’s older corps, I hope young athletes take after Luck and Griffin — players I could never imagine calling another organization “arrogant f———.” Hopefully this younger crop of athletes will prove to be better role models than some of their older teammates.


Published January 23, 2013 in Sports







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