When I finished reading the Derek Jeter book that Matt reviewed earlier, my first thought was that even after reading 15 years worth of press clippings and quotes about Derek Jeter, I know little about the man. We know all about his on-field play and persona, his leadership skills, and all the supposed intangibles that he possesses, but rarely do we ever get a glimpse at his personality. We are lead to believe that he is man of family and integrity, that he values friendship and loyalty, and that he enjoys a good practical joke. Other than that, we see little past the curtain that he has placed between himself and the fans, and the skeptical nature of fandom in the internet age leads many, myself included, to doubt the seeming perfection of the image that he has cultivated. Yet, when I finished the book, I wondered whether it was possible that we do not know anything more about Jeter because there isn’t anything to know. Jeter seems to be closed book, but maybe that is simply because the pages are not that interesting or scandalous.
As I noted above, I tend to be skeptical about these things. When someone tells me a player is a great leader, I want proof. When an argument is built upon intangibles, I usually scoff and dismiss it as an argument that could not be made with tangible evidence and therefore had to resort to “you’ll have to believe me” type reasoning. In regard to Jeter, though, it may be time to concede that there is something to the “leadership and intangibles” argument. He’s been in the league for 15 years, yet I have never heard anyone say a negative word about him. While people sometimes disparage his play, his work ethic and leadership have gone largely uncriticized, and are actually held up by teammates, opposing players, managers, and media members alike as examples from which others should learn. I am frequently amazed by the number of people within the game that buy into the Jeter mythos, but now I wonder whether they buy into it because they have observed him up close and find it warranted.
The personal life portion of this equation is admittedly a bit more speculative, as we do not have anything in the way of news stories or quotes to give us any sort of clue as to what he is like away from the ballpark. But that might be the greatest sign there is that Jeter is simply a quiet guy who is close to his family and does not do anything too risque in his free time. He is a huge star on the biggest stage who dates actresses and supermodels, yet he has rarely made a blip on the gossip pages and has never been embroiled in a serious scandal. Of course, after the Tiger Woods debacle nothing would surprise me, but I think the lack of evidence to the contrary suggests that it is conceivable that Jeter is in fact the ideal sports icon; the good looking boy from the Midwest who respects his parents, works hard at his craft, gets the girl, and wins the game as well as the respect of his peers.
What do you think? Does the Derek Jeter that we know represent all that there is to know? Or is this all just a carefully cultivated image hiding a person no different from any other athlete?
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