This is Spirit Week at All Saints’ Episcopal Day School. I was invited to be the speaker at our middle school Spirit Chapel yesterday, an honor not bestowed in recognition of my athletic prowess or accomplishment. Nonetheless I was delighted to have the opportunity.
I found the inspiration for my remarks from an article I spotted on foxsports.com in which Cincinnati Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips expressed his opinion that major league baseball needed more swag, a term among the most overused contemporary expressions. He illustrated his point by citing various baseball players who epitomize swag for him. I agree with Phillips that the NFL and NBA have more swag than MLB, but I disagree with him that we need more swag. I countered by suggesting that we need “more class, less swag” in our society, not just the world of sports.
I then attempted to illustrate for our middle schoolers the types and levels of swag. Much of it is relatively harmless, but the most distressing examples are those in which team members draw attention only to themselves, players second guess officials, and above all when swag is a means of demeaning one’s opponent. (Unfortunately there is no video available to document my choreography demonstrating such examples of swag.)
I then cited a few athletes whom I admire who stand out without the need for swag. Actually Phillips would describe such stars as epitomizing “undercover swag,” so un-swag that they are paradoxically swag. Two local examples are Larry Fitzgerald and Paul Goldschmidt. Fitzgerald is always elegant and always team first. Goldschmidt is frequently described as “old school”- a star who practices his craft with the same excellence and lack of showiness that many heroes of old displayed. On the national level the newly retired Mariano Rivera excelled in the same admirable fashion. The term “old school” applied to Goldschmidt and the poignant nostalgia of Rivera’s long goodbye suggest that the qualities these athletes embody may be endangered.
What they embody is class, the antithesis of swag. Swag needs props and gimmicks to make its point, and the message is about arrogance, conceit, and boasting. Class speaks for itself without adornment, and the message is one of quality, integrity, and dignity. May we never lose those qualities.
Finally, I referenced a hero on another plane from whom we had just heard in our Gospel proclamation: Jesus- All class, no swag.
Until next time…