Individualism: It's a double-edged sword

January 16, 2011|By BOB PARASILITI
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Let’s start with an informal survey.

If you believe in individuality, raise your hand.

Ha. I got you. If you were an individual who flexed your elbow upward (mentally, of course), then you are part of a group. It may be a group of individuals, but it is a group all the same.

All around us, many in the masses make a stand to be individuals. It’s human nature to want to stand out and be different or unique. We want to be remembered.

You can see that kind of behavior all the time. We’ve all pointed at the person with the purple hair or someone who dressed outrageously. For me, I was hoping I would be recognized for being a class clown.

Some have been given exotic names or common ones spelled differently just to be unique. I fall into that category. I spell my first name backwards (still trying to be the clown).

The bottom line is it’s all an effort to make a few minutes of fame last a lifetime. We all want to make a mark on the world in some way, shape or form.

And that is never more apparent than in athletics.

Sports are the world’s label gun. Athletes get to wear imaginary identification stickers that say, “Hello, my name is -----.” Fill in the blank with winner or loser, starter or reserve, star or role player, naturally talented or hard-working overachiever.

Nowadays in sports, there seems to be an overwhelming drive to have “star” scribbled on the sticker, no matter the cost. Playing fields and basketball courts have become canvasses for self-expression in a quest to be noticed.

All is right with the world if you are the star of the team. It’s like winning the Showcase Showdown — you get the hottest date on your arm and a prime spot on the cool kids’ roster, not to mention the intimidation of your opponents, the favor of your coach, the awe of recruiters and parental pride and bluster.

Finally, you get guys like me who put your name in print, which is perceived to be a free pass to scholarships, fame and fortune along with new batteries to power that dream to play professionally.

You get all this if the spice is right.

Or so you think. Individual stardom doesn’t equal entitlement.

Lost is the fact that in sports, like in life, individualism means little if it can’t benefit a team. Who wants to spend all that work becoming an individual star on a losing team or in an unsuccessful venture? Ask LeBron James.

If you strive to be an individual, you straddle a very thin line between leadership and egotism. Players can only get so far by themselves. Soon, they realize they need help to remain great.

Coaches salivate over the chance to work with a huge talent, but only as a piece of the puzzle that is a successful team. Often, the best player is counted on to be an example to make the rest of the team better, while the team, in turn, helps the huge talent improve.

It is the basic formula for winning. Every great drive by a star was probably the result of a rebound and a pass from two other teammates.

Team membership doesn’t mean one can’t be a star individual.

Ask Michael Jordan, Tom Brady or any member of the Smithsburg volleyball team, all of whom achieved greatness as front men for a team. And while you’re at it, quiz Norman Schwarzkopf, Steve Zuckerberg, James Cameron, Donald Trump and Mark Cuban — all ultra-successful individuals surrounded by great teams.

Here’s a news flash: In reality, individualism creates a large group. Being a successful individual allows you to be the lead dog. You can’t pull the sled alone, but you can point the direction for the team.

Anyone who understands that, please raise your hand … individually.

Bob Parasiliti is a Herald-Mail sports writer. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by e-mail at

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