The “next big thing” is always the best thing in American sports and entertainment. Young superstars burst onto the scene and enamor us. In just the past several months, names like Johnny Manziel and Yasiel Puig have embedded themselves deep in the public consciousness.
Manziel is the scintillating quarterback for Texas A&M who, as a mere freshmen, led the Aggies to wins over national powers like Alabama and Oklahoma and earned the nickname “Johnny Football.” Puig, a 22-year-old Cuban, burst into the major leagues straight from double-A ball for the Los Angeles Dodgers by hitting .436 in June and breaking the team record for hits in a single month, falling just four hits shy of the all-time MLB record set by Joe DiMaggio. Manziel, Puig, and others like them capture our attention, are compared to all-time greats, and get heaped with superlatives.
We saw the same kind of elation over Tim Tebow and Jeremy Lin not even two years ago, and where are they now? Not in the public’s imagination, that’s for sure. That’s what happens when young athletes are elevated to hero. We build a pedestal for them on a foundation of brief success, and we build it so high that the winds of criticism will undoubtedly batter it. These stars have little hope of avoiding the long fall to disgrace. Sometimes the fall is caused by their own youthful errors, like Manziel’s penchant for partying. Other times it is a snap character judgment people make, like the label some in baseball and the media have put on Puig of being “arrogant” because of his on-field celebrations. Most, though, are knocked off the treacherous pedestal simply because they stop being the next big thing and become yesterday’s news. (The same holds true for stars in music and movies, as well, and sometimes in the church.)
This set-up-to-fail situation is not something we do consciously. We simply ride the tide of culture. The praises are loud and the highlights prolific, so we fall in love. But then, six weeks or six months later, for some inexplicable reason, the tide turns and the golden boys become the whipping boys. We find ourselves following public opinion or the opinions fed to us through mainstream media channels, and we turn against our former heroes with antagonism or boredom.
Whether we’ve always been this way as a culture, I don’t know, but it’s pretty clear that most people are without real, solid opinions. We do not know how to develop our own views, so we just absorb what is around us. We don’t have the conviction to stand firm on the opinions we have, so we exchange them for those thrown at us.
Entertainment may or may not serve as an accurate litmus test of our convictions in more significant areas of life. But it is worth asking: Where else are we enamored with the next big thing and following the tide of culture instead of forming good opinions and standing by them?