Dear Baset Chaudhry,
You know you are truly tactless when the “Grinch who stole the 21st Winter Games” (see my last column) lectures you on decorum.
My aim, Mr. Chaudhry, is not to chastise you for having flexed your ego during your recent match at Yale, against our own Kenneth Chan ’13 — ego is inherent in sports (as well as journalism). I respect you for withdrawing from the individual championships; it was the right thing to do. My question is, where was that sense of shame last Sunday when you tarnished what would have been a great moment for yourself, your team and for the sport of squash as a whole?
For the purposes of my letter, let me paraphrase Webster’s definition of ego: the organized conscious mediator between the person and reality, especially in the perception of and adaptation to reality. Important to note in this definition is that this mediating function of the ego can be considered “organized” and “conscious.” That seems obvious enough — we have full control, if not awareness of the role that we play in the reality that we construct.
The sports world offers a particularly colorful variety of egos. This is natural to athletics; there are cameras constantly rolling and inherent to competition is the assertion of yourself over your competitor.
Shaquille O’Neal, despite perpetually amending his long list of self-anointed nicknames, has displayed a consistent ego; the Diesel, the Big Aristotle, Witness Protection (dare I say Superman?) sees himself as the most dominant big man ever to play in the NBA. Without question, the Shaqtus is one of the most egotistical athletes in the sports world; that said, Baset, his ego, his conscious arbitration between his self and reality, has helped make him a four-time NBA Finals champion, a rapper, an actor, a reserve police officer, a United States Deputy Marshall and an indisputable fan favorite, albeit a horrendous free-throw shooter.
Baset, as we have yet to meet, I doubt you know what a fantasy football junkie I have been for the last few years. In my third season as manager of teabaggers FC, I was fortunate enough to have one of the league’s top receivers — and top egos — in Cincinatti Bengal’s wideout Chad Ochocinco. Can you believe it, Baset — this guy is so egomaniacal that he changed his legal name from Johnson to Ochocinco, a nickname he adopted due to his jersey number 85! Not only that, his Twitter account (are you on Twitter, Baset?) is constantly referenced in the sports news media for hilarious one-liners and taunts to other players. Ochocinco strongly projects his ego out into the sports community, thriving off of controversy and arrogance at the cost of fines and bad press. Chad Ochocinco is confident in his ego, whether we like it or not.
Now Baset, I don’t know if you are a college football fan, but I imagine that most in this country would not dare call University of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow a man of ego. Our definition, however, seems to indicate that we are all men and women of ego; our perception and adaptation to reality is our ego. So Tim Tebow, a college senior like you Baset, has placed himself in a reality in which he is a dominant competitor, an inspiring teammate, a devout Christian and a man impressively self-assured in these roles. He may not be as seemingly self-obsessed as Ochocinco or Dr. Shaq (adapted after the Diesel earned his MBA online from the University of Phoenix), but his ego is equally powerful in asserting his own self-understanding to a nation of fans and observers.
These three fellows have distinguished themselves by their play, and their respective egos have elevated them to superstar status. You too, Baset, have separated yourself from your peers as a two-time singles’ national champion. Having never met you, it is difficult for me to say really what kind of ego you have cultivated in your illustrious squash career, however for myself and others, the only one that really matters is the one you showcased at the team nationals last weekend.
You flexed your ego in the most natural way you knew how at that given moment. Primordial, instinctual, impulsive and rash, certainly, but for that instant when leaned into your opponent’s face and your own to emit that shriek, you momentarily perceived yourself in a reality in which such boorish behavior was acceptable. Competition may often blur reality, but if Tim Tebow, a man your age, can maintain a glistening PR image throughout four years on college athletics’ largest stage, is your self-conception so uncultivated that the greatest moment in your college career will be forever shrouded in shame? This was your moment, and now you’ll forever be known as “that guy.”
Every college athlete dreams of being on SportsCenter, and you were! You were on SportsCenter, Baset, not because of your overwhelming dominance during your four years as one of college squash’s undeniable best. You were on SportsCenter for being a jerk.
Looking at your respective resumes, one might mistake your accomplishments for those of Tebow. But after your classless performance Sunday, I think we can safely say that no one would confuse such a poor sport for the respectable man of equal age. Come on, Baset, you’re educated, you’re experienced, so what were you thinking? I would die to be on SportsCenter, PTI and Around the Horn. These are dreams for athletes like myself that envy your talent. Sure, had you behaved like a college senior should have, I doubt that you would have been mentioned on these ESPN programs, but I don’t think I am alone in saying no press is preferable to Merril Hoge mocking your “verbal spray” and your “buttocks seal block” on an oversized touch-screen.
So permit this author some ego-flexing of his own. At 6 foot 5 inches, 210 pounds, dimensions that you and I share, you must have felt like a real tough guy getting in the face of, and subsequently shoving a man of not-so-equal stature, your more-than-worthy five-foot-four opponent, Mr. Chan. Having just secured your team the national squash title, that impressive display of your oozing machismo must have really made the moment that much more special.
Next time you’re in New Haven, Baset, pick on someone your own size.
Sam Goldsmith is a junior in Branford College.