Which nation has the most arrogant sportsmen? Many of you are thinking of one country. However, on-field gloating isn’t unique to Americans, nor is it the norm amongst them. In fact, this “arrogance” has little to do with nationality, and almost everything to do with context.
There’s little room for boastfulness in baseball. A good catch or well-executed double play is met with little more than the acknowledgement from a teammate of a job well done. The pitcher shows little emotion at all – for him, absolute concentration is a must. If he gets an out he has no time to celebrate, because he’s got another batter coming along immediately. Only at the end of an inning do you tend to see passion, particularly if he has got out of a difficult situation.
Nor will a hitter often over-emote – perhaps some fist-pumping if he drives in a run, but little more. Even after hitting a home run – the single most impressive sight in baseball – celebration is not (unless it’s the game-winner) excessive. The hitter may not, having struck the ball, stand and watch the result with self-indulgent admiration; he must immediately round the bases, and not too slowly. When Manny Ramirez (a frequent offender) dwells too long upon his brilliance, you can bet they’ll be discussing his “lack of respect for his opponents” on ESPN’s ‘Baseball Tonight’.
Compare cricket. A batsman doesn’t celebrate after hitting a four, for two reasons. Firstly, because a boundary is relatively meaningless in the wider context of a match. Secondly, because he has to prepare for the next ball. There simply isn’t time for chest-thumping.
A cricket dismissal is more boisterously celebrated than a baseball out – again, for two main reasons. Firstly, there’s more time to do it before the next batsman arrives; more crucially, it is usually of greater importance. In an ODI, your side can take 10 wickets at most. In baseball, you’ll need 24 or 27 outs. In cricket, when a batsman’s out, he’s out, and you bring the tail closer. In baseball, strike out Albert Pujols first time up, and he’ll be back three or four more times to try again.
Basketball features less on-court self-indulgence than you might think. A show of arrogance might come after a crowd-pleasing dunk or block, but you’ll see the acknowledgement of a teammate’s good pass at least as often. Again, the chief factors are time and import. Once you score, the other team comes right back at you. And really, how important are the 2 points you’ve just scored in the context of a game in which the teams will probably combine for 200 points?
Finally, let’s compare rugby and American football. For our purposes, one notable difference is that an American football player will strut around after making a tackle, no matter the context. A rugby player will just get on with it – usually only a try-saving tackle gets acknowledgement from his teammates. The “time” rationale works fine here. While in rugby play tends to continue after a tackle, in American football play usually stops - there’s plenty of time for celebration.
However, unless a touchdown results, a quarterback won’t celebrate a completed pass, nor will a running back start to strut after any but the longest runs. Even those showboats, wide receivers, will usually flip the ball to an official after a successful catch and run, rather than leap around conceitedly. Why the restraint? Because, as in other sports, there’s no point celebrating something of little actual significance. There’s always the next pass, the next run, until a touchdown ensues. So why the defenders’ post-tackle strut?
This is, indeed, boastfulness - but with reason. While a quarterback throws between 20-50 times in a game, and a running back will run 20-30 times, the receiver that, say, a cornerback is covering may only get thrown to a few times – thus the defender has to make the most of his opportunities (this explains receivers’ notoriety for braggadocio, too). Perhaps just 3 or 4 times a game, his reputation, and maybe his contract, is on the line. If he celebrates as if to say, “Look at me, I’m good at this”, can we begrudge him that?