We heard a lot this summer about temperament in the presidential campaign, with each side accusing the other of lacking a presidential temperament. This must be what H.L. Mencken meant when he said that Theodore Roosevelt had a second-rate mind but a first-class temperament. (Translation: Mencken didn’t think TR was that smart, but he knew how to lead.)
Temperament is defined as your nature, particularly as it affects your behavior. As a cultural writer who often covered artistic and athletic performances, I’ve thought a lot about temperament over the years and particularly of late as it pertains to two athletes who have been unsuccessful for vastly different reasons.
In his new book, “Shaken” (Waterbrook, 213 pages, $25), Tim Tebow considers the failure of his NFL career after his successful run with the Denver Broncos. He’s now trying to make it as a baseball player with the Arizona Fall League, where, once again, he’s been hailed for his good work ethic, leadership skills and clutch play but is still struggling to master the outfield. NFL legend and ESPN analyst Steve Young is among those pulling for him. But many who admire Tebow say he simply doesn’t have pro-quality aptitude.
He has, in other words, the temperament but not the talent.
Nick Kyrgios, it would seem, has the talent but not the temperament. His lackluster effort at the Shanghai Open earned him a suspension and a $43,000 fine. This is a player whom everyone from Roger Federer on down has hailed as a potential number one. But he’d rather play basketball and regularly registers how bewitched, bothered and bewildered he is on the court.
Tennis, perhaps the most individualistic of sports, has long had its share of prickly, disenchanted players – Ilie Nastase, Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe, to name a few. Andre Agassi, an abused child, said he hated tennis. Fed had his difficult moments as a teen. So did Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray. Even Rafael Nadal is not above some passive aggression on the court with his obsessive-compulsive behavior and complaining.
So there’s hope for Kyrgios yet, still, although time and patience are running out. McEnroe was much more successful at this point in his career. His genius excused a lot, but not everything. Kyrgios is going to have to shape up – or ship out.
But Tebow needs to do some soul searching as well beyond the platitudinous “God loves and has a plan for each one us” philosophy of “Shaken.” After reading this disappointing book – which sets out to explore his conflicting emotions after being cut by the New England Patriots and then goes all Joel Osteen on us – and mulling its revelations that Tebow had offers to play halfback in the NFL, you begin to see a stubborn pride that seems a little less than godly. OK, so maybe a halfback is a brutal comedown from being a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, but how great was his professional gridiron dream then? Lots of people take half a loaf professionally when none at all is the alternative.
After considering both “Shaken” – which will leave readers shaken but not stirred – and Kyrgios’ Shanghai escapades, you can’t help but conclude that talent without temperament and temperament without talent are each in its own way a special kind of hell.