Every so often — and "so often" is now frequently — an athlete will proclaim he "loves my haters."
This notion isn't exclusive to sports. Many people in the public sphere spout this worthless bromide.
In essence, it posits that all critics are inherently jealous of those they critique, and that embracing the hatred makes the criticized stronger, not unlike a feared Aztec chieftain consuming the hearts of the vanquished.
An ability to brush off criticism is a crucial part of the psychological makeup of successful athletes (and successful humans, generally). But a mature individual would at least examine the criticism for nuggets of insight — however nitpicky — and work to eliminate the shortcomings. Simply dismissing critics as jealous is a child's response.
Take Kenny Britt. Please.
After a woeful performance in the Titans' Week Two loss at Houston — Britt was benched for mental errors, dropped passes and two crucial holding calls — the once highly regarded, now almost always injured receiver took to Twitter, proclaiming that he was being shut out of Tennessee's offensive game plan, but that he'd make the most of it.
He embraced his haters.
It would be better if he embraced the football.
To Britt's credit, he never backed down from the tweet. He spoke his mind about the play-calling, realizing he's probably not returning to Nashville next season.
What he didn't do, however, is say that he was going to work to improve his game so that he might, perhaps, might be a larger part of the Titans' plans this season.
Certainly, that would benefit Tennessee in the short term. But even if he isn't part of the Titans' long-term plans, it would benefit Britt as well. At the very least, it would demonstrate to 29 other teams that they should pay him handsomely for his services when he hits the market next summer.
Britt was given every chance to prove that he had, in fact, taken steps toward improvement in Sunday's home opener against the Chargers. Jake Locker fired his first pass to Britt ... who dropped it. Two plays later, Britt was penalized for a false start, stretching a third-and-10 into third-and-15. On the thrilling game-winning drive, Britt watched helplessly as literally every other receiver on the Titans roster caught a pass in the 94-yard march up the field.
And he watched as rookie Justin Hunter made his first career NFL catch, a 34-yard grab from Locker for the game-winning touchdown — a deft piece of receiving that showed why the Titans traded up to grab the former Tennessee Vol star, now penciled in as Britt's replacement.
So what from Britt in the post-game? More finger-pointing at the coaches? More social-media sulking? That's what he'd set us up for, after all. What we'd come to expect. The jilted, selfish athlete, refusing to shoulder the blame, refusing to share credit, refusing to acknowledge that his personal failings aside, the greater good of the team was served.
That's what Week Two Kenny Britt would have done, after all.
"It was definitely a frustrating game for me, I'm kind of mad about how it started and how it ended," Britt said in the post-game.
OK, sure — but let's hear the vitriol. It was the system that made you drop passes, right? It was the play-calling that caused the false start, wasn't it?
"The drop and the penalty in the beginning — that first series was definitely all on me," he said. "I take full blame for that because we could have had a great start."
Those are the words of a man who — suddenly, unexpectedly — is taking ownership of his failings. His enthusiastic celebration of Hunter's touchdown was punctuated with a fraternal tug on the rookie's face mask and a hug that oozed genuine joy in the post-game schmozzle, the kind of joy teammates should have for one another.
It was volte-face from Week Two — and when he turned around, Britt saw it wasn't the haters to blame, but himself. If only he could make the rapid improvement on the field that he made off of it.
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