The “Derek Jeter is Awesome” narrative has been pretty well done to death by now, so I won’t belabor the point. But his retirement on Sunday marks the end of a lot of things, above and beyond a baseball career.
Sports, celebrity and politics have undergone a sea change in the last 20 years. Everyone is a reporter now, everyone travels with a camera, and everyone is looking to be the person who has the next breaking story that goes viral. Nothing is secret, nothing is sacred.
And we have become a culture of extreme behaviors, sound bytes and cheap celebrity… how else can we explain the fame of people like Paris Hilton and Kardashians, who as far as I can tell, have absolutely no talent whatsoever, other than for self promotion. We have become a culture where celebrities even try to create their own signature line… “You’re fired!” “Duh, winning!” “Seacrest out!”
Every celebrity is all about “me, me, me,” and everyone wants to be the person to take the next celebrity down. Some celebrities even seem to want the notoriety of being taken down, so they can turn their lives around and cry on Oprah’s show.
But none of this happened to Derek Jeter. He has been arguably the most famous athlete in the country, playing the premier position for the most famous team in sports, for 20 years. He has lived in New York City his entire adult life, with a string of A list ladies on his arm, and lots of urban myth about an incredibly active social life.
And yet there has never been a single scandal. He is one of the few athletes I would bet my life has never done performance enhancing drugs. He has never said the wrong thing in public, never disrespected an opponent, never been thrown out of a game, never mouthed off in the press, never talked about himself, never been caught in an embarrassing scandal of any kind, never been shown on TMZ… nothing.
And along the way, he has also been a pretty good ball player.
But his lack of self-promotion and his avoidance of scandal of any kind only stands out more because he has been surrounded by a culture that is constantly neck deep in scandal, and surrounded by people who would have loved to have taken him down with an embarrassing photo or video.
Derek Jeter would have been a standout athlete and person in any era. But he stands out especially in this era, because so few others have conducted themselves with the dignity and respect that he has. He shines brighter in comparison to everyone around him.
I was lucky enough to be at Fenway Park on Sunday, September 28 for Jeter’s final baseball game. It was a meaningless game between two rivals who were mediocre in 2014. But the park was packed, and many like me and my dear friend Phil, were there to say goodbye to an athlete the likes of which we may never see again. The Red Sox paid him a warm and classy tribute, and I found myself emotionally cheering and chanting his name. Because the retirement of Derek Jeter not only represents the end of a golden age of Yankee history. But it also represents the end of a dignified and successful career that none of us are ever likely to see again.
We wish you well, Mr. Jeter. You are a class act, and will be dearly missed.
Photo by Keith Allison used under the following license.