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Commentary: Don't act; 'act as if'

Generally speaking, professional athletes are terrible actors.

See: Giant, Andre the; Jabbar, Kareem Abdul-; Smith, Bubba; O'Neal, Shaquille; Chamberlain, Wilt; Long, Howie; and, of course, Flacco, Joe.

At 6-foot-9 I loved watching ballers like Lamar Odom-Kardashian, LeBron James and Tom Brady make cameos on shows like "Entourage," for the sheer humor-filled, light-shedding effect such appearances revealed about the relative slightness of stature of the majority of Hollywood's actors; actors that are intentionally made to look larger-than-life [See: Cruise, Tom].

But, that was it. I watch games with an eye toward an appreciation for the world-class athleticism that is put on display therein. I watch movies to be entertained in a different way. But, with a similar appreciation for talent that, while different, is still world-class.

Outside of athletes playing the roles of athletes in sports movies [See: Taylor, Lawrence] - and even then, limiting the believability of their characters to the scenes spent playing their sports - the only exceptions to the atrocity that is athletes-as-actors may be Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson; and, even he's not earning People's Choice, Golden Globe, or Emmy nods anytime soon.

Maybe The Rock has an unfair advantage; as the WWE's version of "wrestling" is as scripted, and his persona's role(s) as rehearsed, if not more so, than those of any movie character role he may play. The WWE's athletes are characters in the ultimate sports-based soap opera; live sport-inspired, dramatic meta-theatre.

Maybe it is to this point that The Rock can lend his fellow athlete-come-actors a few valuable pointers, which they can apply to their day jobs, as athletes. Namely, know the camera angles; leave the acting to the on-screen professionals; stop faking; and, keep it (the acting) off the court/field.

The whole world is tuning-in to watch athletes play; in HD; digitized; instantly-replayed; sent viral; (re)tweeted; posted to Facebook. Watched; re-watched; and watched again. And yet, soccer players continue to feign on-field injuries, basketball players flop, baseball players argue about checked-swings and over-runners beating out throws; and referees blow calls.

Thankfully, FIFA now issues infractions against players for faking injuries.

The NBA fines players for flopping, which, like most of the NBA's bastardizations of the applications of the rules of the game of basketball, may make sense in theory. But, in application, makes it harder to teach kids the fundamentals of the game, and/or, specifically, the value of taking a charge.

It is probably not by coincidence that the decline in popularity of boxing - a sport made infamous in recent decades by and for its phantom punch conspiracy theories - has coincided with the advent and increased availability of and to HDTV by the masses.The Rock and the WWE are missing-out on a real revenue stream here. The WWE's cameramen (and women) should be being sought-out by, and should be in high demand with, the TV production arms of the NFL, NBA, and MLB.

Talk about a reality TV show worth watching; WWE "personalities" teaching the tricks of their trade, in character, to professional athletes, in uniform. I would tune-in to watch late-80's era Hulk Hogan (in character) teaching Tony Allen (in uniform) how to convincingly sell being the recipient of a phantom flagrant foul; or, Ricky "The Dragon" Steamboat coaching Robin Van Persie on how to sell a fake head-to-head injury (including the use of blood capsules), or coaching him on the art of selling being kicked in the ankle, including the proper amount of time to stay down and/or for how long RVP should fake a limp.

Or, athletes could "act" like the role models kids look to them to be; epitomizing and embodying the right lessons to be gleaned from sports. I do not tell a single kid I coach to watch NBA basketball. Like athletes lacking acting chops; NBA basketball, on the whole, is not a film-study in fundamentals [though, Jesus Shuttlesworth's jumper is textbook].

Kids wear shooting sleeves, mouth guards, and $15-a-pair "Elite" socks because the pros do. It only follows that the same kids complain about and over-(re)act to every call and/or incidental contact because the pros do that too.

Professional athletes, please leave the sport-inspired slapstick to the "wrestlers" of the WWE.

Walter Payton became known for urging players to "act as if" [they had been in the end-zone before]; a sentiment borrowed from Vince Lombardi.

If you're an athlete today, the whole world is watching, and re-winding and watching again, in HD. Stop acting; and, start "acting as if."

Reach columnist Matt Laczkowski via email at coach@with-character.com.

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