In sports today, it is not often that you see professional athletes respond to criticism in a positive or professional manner. The concept is foreign in most sports’ interviews and professional etiquette doesn’t quite sell like the rage or immature outbursts that athletes sometimes display. Attitude and emotion sells in sports and the business of sports’ reporting focuses on this concept. Their job is to channel that emotion and attitude and craft out a story that grabs headlines and the attention of fans across the world. It isn’t often that a reporter sheds a favorable opinion for the athlete’s newsworthy, immature or rage-filled actions. Why not, you may ask? Because professionalism doesn’t sell, nor does it grab headlines.
With all of that in mind, what is to make of Tony Gywnn Jr.’s response to heckling fans at a Los Angeles Dodgers’ game vs. the Colorado Rockies two years ago? A legitimate question may be: why are we talking about Gywnn’s response almost two years after it happened? The answer is related to a YouTube video that has surfaced of, what appears to be, Rockies’ fans heckling Gywnn during a game vs. the Dodgers. You can view the video and make your own judgments by clicking here.
In the video, you hear a heckling fan running his mouth and trying to get a reaction of Gwynn with the phrase, “Don’t act like you’re playing.” One can assume from the circumstances that this berating had likely gone on for quite some time before the video was even shot. Seeing that the fan wasn’t going to stop anytime soon, Gwynn seized the moment and provided a memorable and humorous response to the fan that brought entertainment value to the fans, while maintaining his professionalism.
Gwynn placed his glove at his back and began opening and closing the glove as if to mimic a person talking, similar to what people do with their hands to mock people when they are ranting on about pointless information. As Gwynn continues to do this, he remains focused on the game while the fan becomes irritated that the fans around him are beginning to laugh with Gwynn and at the heckler. After the heckler tries to increase the volume of his voice by shouting, Gwynn remains consistent with his glove mimicry and the fan starts looking like the joke and not the joker. Shortly after that, the inning ends and Gwynn heads back into the dugout.
While you may find this response, or any response for that matter, to be unprofessional, I would argue that it is professional simply because the athlete is handling a volatile and uncomfortable situation in a way that doesn’t compromise his character or his commitment to the game of baseball. Gwynn doesn’t shout at the player nor does he make any offensive gesture towards the fan. Instead, he chooses to use humor.
The type of behavior displayed by Gwynn is both entertaining and refreshing. It is great to see players interact with fans during the game and it is even better to see them take the high road and use humor when fans try to heckle them. It has become a ritual for fans to heckle the opposing team’s players when they are in the field, as if to establish some type of “home-field advantage” or to make their experience miserable.
As fans try to distract the player by shouting insults and clever puns, normally the fans around the heckler either join in the berating or laugh at the heckler’s comments. This provides incentive for the heckler to continue because they know they have established an audience. Often you see a fan hope to get a reaction out of the athlete and sometimes they do, but usually the reaction they get is a negative one that reflects poorly on the athlete.
Gwynn’s reaction was entertaining and refreshing because it kept the atmosphere at the ballpark fan friendly, but also discouraged and ended the heckling that the fan was attempting to establish. While it may have taken two years for this video to surface, it certainly has garnered plenty of attention and may prompt future responses of a similar fashion from athletes toward hecklers. While I would prefer that athletes demonstrate no response to heckling fans, I may concede to an occasional response like Gwynn’s. Just think, if all of the responses can be as entertaining and fan friendly as Gwynn’s was, professionalism and positive reactions may once again become newsworthy.