Derek Jeter: a lackluster speaker

By Brendon Kaufman ’15

As Hamilton College counted the days until Derek Jeter’s arrival, I was also excited to see the prolific figure. How could a long-time baseball player such as me miss out on someone with Great Bambino-esque?nicknames, such as?“Captain Clutch” and “Mr. November?” Clearly, the man is accomplished, with five World Series championships and 14 all-star selections, all done without so much as a speck of dirt on his professional record. I told my friends  who are Red Sox or Mets fans that going to see Jeter is?a no-brainer. However, I wasn’t going out to the ballpark where Jeter is sure to shine. Instead, I headed out to the Bundy Field House. Having only heard his short, post-game interviews, I wondered about his talents for public discourse.??

Turns out, they’re nothing to write home about. Jeter started out with the subject of his new book, The Contract, which is based on an agreement Jeter and his father made when he was young. Every year, he would sign a “contract” stating that he would work hard in school, and only then could he play sports. What’s the moral of the story? Focus on your academics. Be committed. Does that sound like anything new?

Jeter’s description of his path to success echoed that of so many before him: he valued education. He relied on the structure implemented by his father, and was determined to fulfill his childhood dream. Although the jersey-wearing children in the seats around me were brimming with excitement, I just didn’t hear anything of note. His speech simply paralleled the oft-repeated mantras of any other American hero. 

Maybe it was the fact that Jeter was prompted by some less-than-creative questions from interviewer Harold Reynolds, who rarely answered with anything more than an empty “That’s good stuff,” or “You’re a funny guy, Derek.” Perhaps Jeter was tired from a long trip through the Central New York tundra, followed by sessions with Hamilton student-athletes and a press conference open to local media. The point is that, when friends asked me what I thought about Jeter’s speech, I had little more to say than “meh.”

Now, I certainly don’t think Jeter’s lackluster performance resulted from his being overly protective about his image. Rather, Jeter simply lacked the magic required to weave a story into something inspiring, a feat accomplished by many other athletes and coaches. For example, Vince Lombardi comes to mind. Lombardi is the namesake of the Super Bowl trophy and was the?Green Bay Packers coach in the 1960s. Along with others like Jimmy?Valvano, Lombardi knew how to take their experiences and transform them into?inspiring speeches. They mastered rhetoric, employing myriad techniques such as intonation, metaphor and narrative.

You might ask why I would expect such impressive discourse for someone who is only known for their skills at shortstop. On the contrary, I really didn’t expect much. However, I suppose spending thousands of dollars should not go unquestioned. Jeter’s responses just made me think that I was simply watching another press conference of a long-serving senator. This begs the question: Why did we bring Jeter here in the first place?

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