The other night I saw something incredible. The Chicago Cubs were playing the Washington Nationals and it was the bottom of the 9th, two outs, three men on, with the go-ahead run at bat. The Nationals were up 3-0, and I was about to turn off the game because the Cubs put in David Bote, a 25-year-old rookie who was only playing his 34th professional baseball game, as a pinch hitter.
To my amazement, on a 2-2 count, Bote connected with the ball, sending it sailing towards the center field wall. He knew it was a home run. Unfortunately, in his excitement, Bote committed an unforgivable sin.
He flipped the bat. If you’re not a baseball fan, that means that he didn’t just drop the bat after hitting the ball, he did so with a little pizazz.
Bote broke one of those silly, unwritten rules that seem to plague baseball. To baseball purists, it is disrespectful to flip the bat out of your hand when you hit a home run. Watching the replay and listening to his side of the story, I don’t think Bote meant to be disrespectful. He was just so excited. As he ran around the bases, his arms outstretched in victory, I’m sure it never occurred to him that in less than 12 hours he would be apologizing for his celebration.
A rookie hitting a grand slam to win the game in the 9th inning, with two outs, deserves more than the quiet, staid celebration expected by the purists of the game. It’s a moment kids fantasize about when they’re pretending to be pro ball players in their backyard. It deserves a big celebration because celebrations matter to the morale and culture of a team.
The best teams celebrate their victories.
Sean Newcomb was just one out away on Sunday from becoming only the 15th Atlanta Braves pitcher to throw a no-hitter. Then a two-out single in the ninth by Chris Taylor of the Dodgers broke up his bid. After the game, he fielded the standard questions you would expect after almost reaching such an achievement. But 30 minutes later, Newcomb emerged from the locker room to answer a wholly different set of questions.
This time about his social media history.
Back in 2011 and 2012, Newcomb tweeted a racial epithet and several other of his tweets included gay slurs. The 25-year-old pitcher was just a senior in high school at the time, but he had to answer for his actions all the same. "I just wanted to apologize for any insensitive material," Newcomb told the press. "It was a long time ago, six or seven years ago, saying some stupid stuff with friends. I know I've grown a lot since then. I didn't mean anything by it. It was just something stupid I did a long time ago, and I didn't mean anything by it, for sure."
When Newcomb says, “I didn’t mean anything by it,” that is disingenuous at best. Of course, he meant something, he posted it. Did he really not consider that using that kind of language was wrong in some way? No, what he really meant was that, at the time, he thought that his language and actions on social media didn’t matter. At 18 years old, he didn’t envision a world where his lack of sense would be put on display and rob him of a pretty special moment of professional glory.
Eventually, as Newcomb learned under the bright lights, our actions on social media catch up with us.
Ghosts of Social Past is not just a problem for Newcomb, it’s haunting people across sports, politics, and entertainment. Just in the last month, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Josh Hader and Washington Nationals shortstop Trea Turner had to apologize recently for their offensive “teenage tweets.” Inappropriate tweets brought down former Congressman Anthony Wiener. Even big Hollywood directors aren’t immune. James Gunn, director of the $1.6 Billion (and counting) Guardians of the Galaxy franchise was removed from the third installment because of some exceedingly questionable and inappropriate tweets commenting on pedophilia and rape.
Brooks Koepka won the U.S. Open for the second year in a row on Sunday, only the seventh golfer in the 123-year history of the U.S. Open to do so, and it was anything but easy. The wailing wind played havoc with drives as the hard greens, dried from lack of water, sent anything but the perfect putt soaring into the rough. Shinnecock Hills proved to be a challenge this year and the scores proved it. In a sport where some tournaments are won by players who hit 20 shots fewer than the course was designed to require, not one golfer ended this Open below par overall, with Koepka coming out on top with a +1. It was a rough weekend.
Throughout the 2018 U.S. Open, plenty of golfers took time to complain about the conditions, griped about the USGA’s continued bungling of the U.S. Open, or just simply lost their cool. Phil Mickelson missed a putt on the 13th hole, and instead of letting it roll to a stop, he chased after it and tried to putt in mid-roll. This is obviously against the rules, but it shows the frustration everyone was having that day. No one was doing well.
No one except Brooks Koepka.
Koepka wasn’t having the tournament of his life. He ended -16 while winning the U.S. Open last year, but that was on a different course, an easier setup. But that win meant nothing for 2018. Now, Koepka was playing the same difficult course as everyone else. He had to face the winds and the hard greens just like his competition. While everybody else was frustrated by things they couldn’t control, he let the hardships run off his back. He didn't say a word. He didn’t jump into the melee or pile on against the USGA for messing up (again) – he just played his game.
Ricky Elliot, Koepka’s longtime caddy, commented on this mental toughness, “He's just a real strong mental guy, he's unflappable. When he hits a bad shot, he never gives me any grief. He gets on with it. I mean, to this day, if we hit one over the back [of the green], he'd probably just turn around to me and go, ‘Well, I hit that quite a bit hard.’ Which is unusual for a good athlete or player. He takes a huge responsibility in what he's doing out there.”
It's not like Koepka had some advantage over his competition. They were all playing the same golf course. So, what is gained by complaining? They’re wasting precious time when they whine about their setup or the hand they were dealt. I'd be frustrated too. Yes, it stinks. But, everyone else is competing on the same course. What are you going to do about you? Are you going to whine or win? Descend to a world of blame or transcend to Greatness?
Brooks Koepka of the United States lines up a putt on the 13th green during the final round of the 2018 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Golf Club on June 17, 2018 in Southampton, New York. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
It’s about how you frame your situation when you’re challenged. Do you let yourself get caught up in the negative dialogue, the negative conversation, or do you say "Hey, you know what? I can't do anything about that, all I can do is go out and play the course in front of me."
Koepka clearly showed the right approach. While others struggled, he succeeded.
That’s a philosophy for Koepka that we can all borrow. Last March he texted Trey Jones, his coach from Florida State, saying, "I am telling you, I will win in the next two months. No one is more excited about playing than I am." This was during his nearly four-month rehabilitation from a wrist injury that kept him from playing in the Masters. In sharing the story of the text, Jones told the Tallahassee Democrat: "In the rules of golf you don't compare your weakness with other people's strengths. It just basically means he doesn't pay attention to anyone else. He focuses on what he needs to do. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve ever coached."
I love that. Don't compare yourself to others or let a bad break define you. Don’t waste your mental energy on the irrelevant. Just focus on what you can control. Don't pay attention to anybody else, but focus on what you can do.
Leave the whining to everybody else.
There’s no doubt that you will face your own trials and tribulations. Life will send you setbacks and hardships. You will make mistakes and others will make mistakes that affect you. Do you whine about how unfair it is? Do you let frustration consume you? Or do you take the opportunity to step up, focus on your game, and embrace Greatness?
Let’s leave the whining to the losers. Winners focus on what it takes to win.