Ambassadors in Sports: There Is Great, and Then There Is “The Great One”

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Ambassadors in Sports: There Is Great, and Then There Is “The Great One”
Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

At this time of year on the hockey calendar, the news is pretty bare. Other than the occasional (and usually erroneous) trade rumor, most of the stories about free agents signed after July 1 have run their course, and the arbitration battles between players and their clubs are still about a week away.

So, with no new hockey news to report, Derek Jeter’s decision to not attend the All-Star game is as good a topic as any to talk about. The only exception is that this article doesn’t focus completely on Jeter, but compares him to an athlete who was the epitome of excellence on the ice and, like Jeter, was praised for the way he conducted himself away from his sport: Wayne Gretzky. 

When Jeter decided to skip the All-Star game, there was controversy about whether it was the right decision, and were his reasons valid for doing it. Although he felt enormous pressure to get hit No. 3,000 at home, the game would have been a chance for all baseball fans to get a chance to congratulate him on his accomplishment.

Even though you can make the case that Jeter is the biggest name in baseball at anytime these days, there is no doubt that he was after last weekend and coming into the two days in Phoenix.   

Like Jeter, Gretzky knows what it means to be the biggest name in his sport. He holds 61 NHL records, and put an entire sport on his back and changed the way the sport was played during his 20-year career. However, unlike Jeter, Gretzky knew what he meant to his sport, and how he acted reflected the sport.

When asked about playing in All-Star games, Gretzky said, “The reason I never turned down the All-Star game, and the reason I was excited to play in the All-Star game, is because I knew there were 10 guys on my team that would kill to play in the All-Star game that were never going to get a chance to play there.”

In addition to being the best player in his sport, Gretzky realized he needed to sell the game to an American audience, and particularly the Sun Belt. Gretzky was a supernatural athlete, and was also able to be a supernatural person. His media-conscious personality, while guarded, helped the league expand from 21 teams to 30, with most of them in the Sun Belt.

Although Jeter is a great player, missing the All-Star game shows he doesn’t have the same sense of responsibility to the sport that Gretzky has. At a time in baseball where attendance is on the decline, and the ratings for the All-Star game took massive hits in recent years, the league would have undoubtedly benefited from Jeter’s presence in Phoenix.

However, Jeter doesn’t have the same selling appeal of his sport to a national audience. Even if it’s by choice, it is because there is only one "Great One."

As longtime Edmonton Oilers’ trailer Lyle “Sparky” Kulchisky said, “He’s (Gretzky) always been a better person than he has been a hockey player. When you really get to know him, then you know why they call him ‘The Great One.’”   

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