Why would Indiana Pacer, Paul George, take a picture of himself on vacation wearing his OWN jersey?
Why would John Wall, who plays for the Washington Wizards in the NBA, be criticized for wearing a Dallas Cowboys jersey to watch the Cowboys against the Washington Redskins… in Washington, D.C.?
Why would a grown man be seen walking around town in a jersey with another man’s name on it?
Why is that kid wearing her softball uniform as she walks through the Wal-Mart?
Jersey sales are an indicator of an athlete’s popularity. In the NBA, Steph Curry, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kyrie Irving, and Klay Thompson are the Top 5 jerseys sold on NBAstore.com. How many of these names sound familiar? Ezekiel Elliott, Tom Brady, Odell Beckham, Jr., Cam Newton, and Rob Gronkowski lead the NFL in jersey sales according to NFLshop.com. How many of THESE names sound familiar? In addition to listing the Top 5 player jerseys sales, overall, NFLshop.com also lists the Top 5 selling jerseys by position: QB, RB, WR, TE, and Def. That’s a minimum of 25 jerseys being sold on the NFLshop.com website. Can you name the Top 25 players on the ATP tour? Or on the WTA tour? I didn’t think so. How about the Top 5? Maybe. Jersey sales are an indicator of an athlete’s popularity. But tennis doesn’t sell jerseys.
The jersey also has tremendous psychological significance. It not only represents a personal accomplishment; the ability of the individual to overcome adversity and to pass the test of “tryouts”. In terms of jersey sales, it represents a player’s overall popularity. But more importantly, the jersey represents acceptance by the group. When an Ohio State Buckeye fan sees another fan in an Ohio State jersey, there’s an instant bond between the two of them. They have something in common. They’re on the same team. But when they see someone in a Michigan Wolverines jersey, their eyes glow red. Just kidding. It’s ‘scarlet’.
There are billions of people on the planet. Each of us is unique in some way, but we all have one thing in common: a desire to be noticed. We need attention. For some, the desire leads to a loving, caring, long-term relationship full of family and friends. For others, that desire leads to jumping out of a hot air balloon at 25,000 feet without a parachute hoping to land in a net 100′ square (what?!?). But for many of us the desire to be noticed leads us to tryout for the football or volleyball team. And we stick with our sport for a very long time because we like the people on our team. And they like us, too. Sport is something we have in common, and a friendship grows out of that.
But how do you know who to be friends with? Look at your jersey. What starts as an obligation to work together for the good of the team can blossom into lasting friendships where players spend time together away from the playing field, at a birthday party, going to the movies, or on a trip to Walt Disney World. The more time people spend together, the more their friendship grows. But the same is true when teammates split up.
LeBron James left the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010 to play for the Miami Heat. The “decision” was met with mixed reactions. In Miami they welcomed him with open arms, believing they now had what they needed to bring a title to Miami. And while the Cavaliers’ fans felt the same way about their chances of winning with LeBron on the roster, losing him was equally devastating. There was outrage coming from every corner of
Cleveland, from the fans to the front office. Even the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, wrote a letter expressing his disappointment. Cavaliers fans were seen burning ‘LeBron James’ jerseys. It was a very dark time. LeBron would go on to win 2 titles for the Miami Heat and return to Cleveland in 2014 and the reaction was very much the same, but in reverse: Cavaliers fans were excited to have him back, while Heat fans were devastated, vowing to hate him for the rest of their lives.
Why the visceral reaction to someone coming or going? Why did one person’s “decision” affect so many people to the point of lashing out and destroying property? Because LeBron James was a part of their Team. It’s really very simple: if you can help us, we like you. If you can not help us, we hate you. It’s not about you, it’s about ‘Us’. This is true not only for really good players, but for the not-so-good players, too. Like when a player is under-performing, the fans ‘boo’ him and take to social media calling for the player to be traded because he’s hurting the team. The same reaction is not witnessed in tennis when a player is playing poorly. Why don’t tennis fans ‘boo’ the bad tennis players?
Professional tennis players do not represent the fans. But rather they play only for themselves. And as a result, tennis fans are much less animated when a player wins/loses a match. Of course, the USTA/ATP/WTA will show snippets of crowd reactions that make tennis appear to be as exciting as a soccer match, but that’s all stock footage, and isn’t necessarily tied to any one player. How do we know this? Tennis players don’t wear jerseys so you never really know who the fans are cheering for. Sports fans wear their hearts on their jersey. I guess tennis fans wear their hearts… in their chest?
That is why, when All American Team Tennis takes its players on field trips, we go to see college tennis teams: because they play on a team! We know who to cheer for. They are playing for all of us. And since I can’t be out there, they’re playing for me, too. And as a show of support for what they do for me, I wear their jersey. And if I can’t find one, I make my own because…
We’re on the same team.
The state of Florida has a number of very good tennis teams to pay attention to including the Gators, Hurricanes, Seminoles, Seahawks, Owls, and Sailfish. But we have a number of great players playing for the Buckeyes, Hurricanes, Sailfish, and Seminoles of Palm Springs, too. And you can find the jersey of your favorite player’s team at franchiseteamtennis.com. So take in a match. And remember to wear your jersey to the game.
A long time ago, when All American Team Tennis was just getting started, we would award our players with trophies; nothing too grand, just the oval, pewter plates with crossed checkered flags on them. Since then we’ve graduated to championship rings because they’re WAAAAY cooler.
But I remember stopping by the trophy shop to pick up the name plates and while I was waiting, a man with a little girl came into the shop. You could tell they were tennis players by the way they were dressed, and by the trophy she would receive. The man spoke to the clerk, asking for the trophy they had ordered. The clerk went into the back and came out with a pillar trophy, no more than a foot tall, and handed it to the little girl. Then the man (who may have been her coach) and the clerk looked at the girl and said “YAY! Good Job!”
Seeing as I was there for the same reason, except I was getting awards for a Team to be recognized at an Awards Ceremony, I immediately drew comparisons. I would never say anything to them in the shop, but I held onto the image in the back of my mind because it’s one of the reasons I run my tennis program as a tennis League. Community.
All too often I hear tennis players complain about how much the people around them get on their nerves: How they prefer singles because there’s no one to make them lose. I often hear from adults who say the conflict of teammates in other sports drove them to tennis. Which begs the question: are you running FROM something or running TO something. Are you playing tennis because you wish to be left alone? Are you playing singles because of your inability to get along with other people? Listen, no matter where you go in life, there will be other people there. And like it or, you need them as much as they need you. Like it or not, we all need each other.
I watch as much college tennis as I can because I prefer the synergy of people working together, like in football or basketball. And the way college tennis matches are conducted can be very exciting. They start with 3 courts of doubles and the team who wins 2 out of 3 wins one point for the team (we’ll talk about that debacle in another post). Then they move onto the round of singles where many of the doubles players, but not all of them, will get a court to themselves. Six matches, all being played at the same time, until one team wins a total of 4 points, including the doubles point. Meaning, if you won the doubles point, all you need are three singles, but if you lost the doubles, you need four singles. It’s a ‘Best-of-seven’ much like the NBA Playoffs, or Major League Baseball. It is this combination of individual achievement paired with team accomplishment that I find intriguing. And over the course of 7 games, either team could win. But even more important than winning and losing is the feeling of Community that develops between players because they all depend on each other. When they need something they have someone to turn to, and they are also there when someone needs them. And the celebration when they win is better than anything I’ve seen on the pro circuit (why are they lying on the ground?)
That is why I found the scene at the trophy store so sad. This little girl had achieved something no one else had done and she had no one to share it with. In her respective division she had climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest and the person at the top, waiting to congratulate her, was the gift shop owner selling mini Everest snow globes and souvenir pins.
Yes, the girl received a trophy as a reminder of what she had done, but who’s going to see it? Will she take it to school and show her friends or will they come to her house? What if her friends don’t play tennis? What if her friends DO play tennis and she beat them in the tournament? Will she show her parents, teacher, family? How does it feel to accomplish something and have no one to share it with?
Tennis is full of players who believe they are superior to every other player, including players in other sports. But how can this be when the tennis “experts” tell us the reason we don’t have an American at #1 in the world is because “America’s best athletes are playing other sports”? LeBron James, Peyton Manning, Clayton Kershaw could have been tennis players… if the sport were more appealing. So this holier-than-thou attitude of tennis players is simply misplaced. It also makes it hard to become friends with other people. And what is life if you live it alone?
I enjoy playing tennis because I like hitting things. That’s it. In fact, I believe WE ALL enjoy hitting things. But it has to be about more than just hitting things if we are going to get back on TV (ESPN3 doesn’t count as TV). So why don’t more people play/watch tennis? Ask the little girl in the trophy shop.