(Photo by NationalPost.com)
In a time when many sports stars publicly acknowledged that they’re not interested in being looked at as role models for fans and aspiring athletes, Jeter was always standing there as a beacon of virtue for all to idolize. Growing up I watched too many Yankee games to count and was a Jeter fan first, a Yankee fan second. To me (and I’m sure to many fans my age and younger), Jeter was the Yankees. He embodied and symbolized the greatness that the franchise had always been known for.
Some believe athletes have a responsibility to be role models for young fans and others don’t. It’s been my belief that it’s a parents responsibility to instill values and morals in their children; but there’s no harm in a child looking up to and/or idolizing an athlete that does it the right way. Let’s be honest, there has never been an athlete that defined “doing it the right way” more than Jeter. From the commercials to his interviews, there was never a moment where he seemed disingenuous or disengaged from the moment. He held himself to a moral and ethical standard that not many public figures (let alone athletes) will ever reach. He’s not just a transcendent athlete, but a true role model for fans both young and old.
Jeter treated his private life the same as his public life, with grace and humility. In the most eccentric and volatile market in all of sports, there was never a bad word printed or said about him. An eligible bachelor his entire career, there was never a scandal or a tabloid headline about any of his relationships. Even as social media hit its peak, Jeter stayed away from that world and kept himself accessible on the other platform that mattered, the field. There was never an autograph he didn’t sign or a picture he wouldn’t take. He’s always said that Yankee fans are the greatest fans in sports; his actions towards them showed the sincerity of his words.
Last night was his last game at Yankee Stadium, and possibly his career. Never shying away from the moment, he hit the game winning single in the bottom of the ninth. Jeter has always been considered clutch, and that moment was the icing on the cake of a hall-of-fame career. Hollywood couldn’t write up a better script and yet, I don’t think anyone was surprised.
As Jeter was standing on the field hearing a congregation of over 40,000 fans chanting “THANK YOU DEREK” he interjected a reporter (who had been asking the same question four different ways) and responded to the fans saying, “What are you thanking me for? I’m just here doing my job. Thank YOU.” (ESPN)
That quote embodied the humility and class that this man has shown every game of his career. For everything that Jeter has been, the one thing he wasn’t was selfish. For the first time in his career, the always stoic and humble shortstop couldn’t deflect the attention away from himself. Finally, The Captain had to soak in the moment and realize that 40,000 men, women, and children were thanking him for being an icon that they never knew personally, but a legend they would never forget.