Odell Beckham Jr. spent some time on a boat last week. Perhaps you heard?
The official Hot Take of the Day™ revolves around the Giants’ wide receivers taking a day-off trip to Miami six days before their playoff game at Green Bay. We’ve already seen three permutations of this particular Hot Take. There’s the Classic Hot Take, that Beckham cost his team the game by taking the trip and not being focused on his craft and the upcoming playoff game. There’s the Hot Take Reaction, where it’s ludicrous to think that a one-day trip had any affect on a players’ performance six days later. There’s the Hot Take Reaction Reaction, where it’s not the trip that was the problem but rather the perception that it created (this allows people to have their cake and eat it too. By acknowledging the Classic Hot Take, they can distance themselves from that while still criticizing for similar reasons).
Frankly, I don’t care a lot about this story. I don’t care what your Boat Take is. What I am interested is thinking about where these takes come from — specifically, the Classic Hot Take. It’s not just middle-aged white sports writers complaining about what young black athletes are doing. I’ve seen the Classic Hot Take come from fans on Twitter as well as from former athletes-turned-broadcasters.
So what’s the root of this particular Hot Take?
To me, the answer lies in The Sport Ethic — that collection of norms and beliefs that sports sociologists Jay Coakely and Robert Hughes found are accepted by elite athletes and coaches. From their research (Positive Deviance Among Athletes: The Implications of Overconformity to the Sport Ethic. Sociology of Sport Journal) and a paper I wrote several years ago:
“Being an athlete involves making sacrifices for The Game:” (p. 309) Hughes and Coakely define this as the athlete’s desire to “subordinating other interests for the sake of an exclusive commitment to their sport.” (p. 309). In order to be an elite athlete, you must be willing to subjugate every other aspect of your life, make everything second to your sport and your team. “They must be willing to pay the price to stay involved in sport.” (p. 309).
If we accept the notion that sports journalists have also accepted The Sport Ethic due to their reliance on athletes and coaches as official sources, then the roots of this Hot Take are clear.
Under The Sport Ethic, athletes are supposed to care about The Game and nothing else. Everything else in their lives must take a back seat to The Game. There is a single-mindedness that elite athletes must have, and in fact that they celebrate among themselves.
Anything outside the realm of The Game shows that an athlete is “not willing to pay the price” to be elite.
Like taking a trip to Miami the week of a playoff game and posting party pictures to social media.
This is not to say that the Classic Hot Take is correct. In my view, it's not. But it does explain where it comes from and why it’s so pervasive. Viewed through this context, the trip was not just a distraction or anything like that. Viewed through this lens, the trip is a violation of one of the core principles of being an elite athlete. Viewed through this lens, it’s a betrayal of what Odell Beckham Jr. is expected to do.
And that’s this Hot Take’s origin story.