Sports Does Not Build Character, It Reveals It

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Two embarrassing news stories draw attention to one very salient point.

First, the University of Florida (and, full disclosure: I’m a Georgia guy so I take great glee in poking fun at the Gator Nation), made the tragic error of putting Aaron Hernandez, the former Gator and New England Patriot tight end who is sitting in jail awaiting trial for murder, in this year’s calendar as “Mr. July.”

Secondly, UFC president Dana White announced that the mixed martial arts league is severing all ties with Chael Sonnen, the middleweight and light-heavyweight contender, for repeatedly failing drug tests for steroids and human growth hormone.

So what do these two stories have in common? Simple: both reinforce the axiom that sport does not build character: it reveals it.

Anybody who spent five minutes around the Florida football program during the Gators’ championship run knew that Hernandez was the worst kind of thug, an unbridled sociopath who made you want to keep your distance. It might have shocked the casual fan when he was arrested for murdering one man who was allegedly threatening to expose Hernandez’s role in the killing of two others, but those who knew him from college simply nodded and said, “What took so long?” You only had to see him in a locker room once or twice to know that this guy was missing a chip.

The same is true for Sonnen, a man who copped a plea to felony mortgage fraud and conspiracy. Did any really think he was clean in all other aspects of his life? MMA insiders long suspected that he was dopping. The only question was: what would Dana White do about it?

The moral of the story is easy: image and PR consultants can’t hide your true character during the heat of competition. The character you see on the field, on the course or in the ring – the guy you suspect is a class act or a phony or a really bad dude – is, more often than not, exactly that.

Just as alcohol tends to loosen the tongue on what you really think, top-level competition almost always drops the mask and reveals your true character.


Steve Eubanks

Steve Eubanks is a New York Times best selling author and award winning sportswriter. A former PGA golf professional, he lives in Georgia with his wife and family. His latest book is called ALL AMERICAN: Two Young Men, the 2001 Army-Navy Game and the War They Fought in Iraq.

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