I’m always fascinated by athletes’ self-perception. It’s a rare person who has a sober and accurate self-conception, but the challenge of self-knowledge for athletes is greatly multiplied.
Most professional athletes grow up with excessive adulation. Their handlers make a living by stroking their client’s ego. But the most deceptive factor is the relationship of age-related diminishing skills to an athlete’s conception of what their body can and cannot do. In this regard, I have rarely seen an athlete give honest self-assessments.
This is powerfully on display nearly every time Tiger Woods speaks. He keeps talking about how he’s “nearly there,” and “everything is almost coming together.” I think he’s completely self-deceived. Many of the golf greats “lost it” out of nowhere right around Tiger’s age. Tom Watson. Jack Nicklaus. Nick Faldo. Tiger’s game is slipping in precisely the way theirs did in a way that is very specific to golf.
Examples abound in other sports. Michael Jordan playing for the Wizards. Joe Montana playing for the Chiefs. Franco Harris with the Seahawks.
Athletes don’t know when to quit, and I think a huge factor is the relationship between their conception of what they ought to be able to do and how quickly skills diminish with age.
The fascinating thing for me, however, is the very public performance of self-deception. Christian identity demands sober self-assessments and inner truth-speaking. We need to recognize the specific ways that we tend to deceive ourselves and take steps to be honest. When we see athletes on the public stage failing to come to grips with reality, it’s good to remember that they’re just large projections of every human heart.