Wednesday, January 30, 2008

What Matters Most: Randy Moss – The freedom to be whatever we make him

Normally, TiT throws up the Five That Matter each week, discussing the important games to be watching for. This is the Super Bowl, however, and in two weeks, everything is going to matter. But because we can't discuss every single part of the game, we're going to spend the time in between now and then looking at the characters, settings, and conflicts that matter most to Super Bowl XLII. Today, Patriots WR Randy Moss.

In most great historical figures, it is a personal dichotomy that allows different people to have such stark contrasts between their opinions of a single person. The recent death of Benazir Bhutto, as well as the “martyr or corrupt politician” debate that has followed, is the most poignant recent example of this, but it’s been true forever, in every walk of life. Thomas Jefferson was either the father of the ideals of this nation or a bastard who took advantage of those whose social status he viewed as beneath him, betraying the very ideals he espoused in his writings, depending on who you ask. The same is true in sports figures. Ty Cobb is a baseball legend to some and a horrific bigot to others. Ask any of Michael Jordan’s teammates about him and the results are equally polarizing, depending on whether they choose to remember the way his game made his teammates better or the isolating arrogance with which he commanded the court. The point is that great figures usually, on some very core level, have a dichotomy within themselves, one that gives rise to an easy dichotomy of perspectives.

Randy Moss is different. Unlike the Cobb (athlete/racist) or Jordan (teammate/misanthrope) dichotomies, Moss’s dichotomy is one that exists purely with regard to perspective. That is to say, Moss is not liked or disliked based on what one chooses to accept from his personality; that would imply that the division can be neatly set out in terms of “I know he is X, but I choose to ignore that and see that he is Y.” Divisions on Randy Moss tend to have the same root, with differing opinions hinging on how two people respond to the exact same trait, one which defines everything about Moss’s career: Defiance.

Randy Moss defies pretty much everything about what we think a receiver can do. At 6’4”, he’s tall enough to take advantage of small corners, yet has a speed that can make bigger corners look foolish if they miss on their attempts to jam him at the line, the only way to really begin to account for him. On top of all of this, he has a leaping ability that defies gravity; the man twists and moves in midair in ways that I’ve only seen in NASA footage of astronauts. Add to this a sort of “screw you” that permeates his movements on the field, in part because of his joining a team that is defined by it and in part because of his own innate desire to defy expectations, and the picture is one of the ultimate rebel, laughing in the face of his limitations and drawing hordes of fans along the way. If you’re a Randy Moss fan, that is. Otherwise, all you see is the same defiance twisted in horrific ways. His comments regarding the death of the 1970 Marshall football team defied our ideas of respect for the dead. His story relationship with the law has defied our notions of athletes as role models. His professional relationship with his former employers, one based in his choosing to perform at his best effort only when it suits him, defies our ideals of sportsmanship and discipline. Note that none of this is based in anything different than the same qualities that Moss’s fans adore; they are two inseparable sides of the same coin. Moss’s unity of character is precisely what makes him so divisive.

As such, there’s something very fundamentalist about Moss; his adherence to who he is above all else makes him at once admirable or despicable solely because of that adherence, less because of anything he does than because of the way in which we choose to view him. As with any fundamentalist, he is practically impossible to feel neutrality towards; his nature forces you to respond to him the way you respond to any force that is quite so imposing. The Super Bowl will be the yet another field for us to respond to his defiance, this time as he attempts to defy the way we define legends. Traditionally, legends are endearing figures to at least one group of people. If Moss can achieve the Super Bowl in which he has played an instrumental role, he will have opened the door to the possibility of mercenary legends, athletes of the highest caliber who move seamlessly from team to team throughout their prime, selling their greatness to the highest bidder. If he succeeds, we will all once again respond with either rapt awe or visceral hate, less because of his own influence than the way in which we attach ourselves to the root of that influence.

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Anonymous said...

This was a great, accurate, amazing read....up until "he will have opened the door to the possibility of mercenary legends, athletes of the highest caliber who move seamlessly from team to team throughout their prime, selling their greatness to the highest bidder."

What? He was traded, twice...that's not really selling yourself.

Zac said...

Fair, but I would argue that he forced the hand of his employers in both of those situations. Certainly, you can say he did that in Oakland, and his behavior in Minnesota was similarly inflammatory.

Anonymous said...

Can you blame him with the Raiders they obviously have no idea what they are doing over there and I would have a hard time working for an organization that has no vision for success whatsoever. Also given what occurred after Moss' departure in Minnesota I wouldn't exactly peg hi as the one malcontent on that "all-American" team as the media did. It really depends upon whether you believe the media spin on people or not. Me I'm more sympathetic than your average "all-American" fan.

Ariel Schneller said...

This is kind of a silly article. You basically use the fallacy of equivocation to make it seem as if the same characteristic is at the root of Moss' divisiveness but clearly the "defiance" of his physical abilities is not the same as "defiance" in the sense of eschewing traditional roles. You got a bit too cute for your own good on this one.