Holst: Cocky athletes make sports fun, love them or hate them


Brian Achenbach/Iowa State Daily

Senior guard DeAndre Kane is blocked by Kansas’s Joel Embiid during Iowa State’s 92-81 loss to Kansas on Jan. 29 at Allen Fieldhouse. Kane scored 22 points on the night.

Josh Holst

If you follow sports, you likely have your favorite athletes. However, it is incredibly likely that you have more athletes you hate.

Hate is the most powerful emotion in sports. I would venture to say that Duke gets put on ESPN a lot, not because they are really good or everybody loves them, but because most people can’t stand them.

And what factor motivates the hatred of an athlete, perhaps more than any other? 

Their attitude.

I have heard people complain about athletes talking trash or showing off more frequently than I can count, and I am not sure why this is the case. These cocky athletes, like them or not, drive interest in sports to another level. I would be far less interested in watching the Philadelphia 76ers if Joel Embiid was not such a delightfully cocky guy (to be fair, Ben Simmons is every bit as confident, but he’s less delightful about it).

Nothing gives me more of a thrill than hearing stories about Larry Bird or Paul Pierce literally telling people what they were going to do to them before they do it.

What’s more, this level of overconfidence is absolutely necessary for an athlete to be great.

Do you really think Aaron Rodgers would’ve made this throw if he did not possess the genuinely absurd confidence, dare I say, cockiness, required to look at the level of difficulty on the throw and still think “oh yeah, I can do this.”

Every time Michael Jordan went up to dunk on somebody or Stephen Curry takes a 30-foot jump shot with 10 seconds on the shot clock, they exhibit an absurd level of arrogance.

Yet even with all of this, you will still hear people complain about Cam Newton’s touchdown dances or LeBron James openly talking about how he is the greatest player in the world. And I just don’t get it. Cockiness is annoying when it is unearned, but haven’t these guys earned the right to be so wildly overconfident?

Even the middle of the road guys, like the Lance Stephensons and Dion Waiters of the world, have to play with the confidence to think they are better than LeBron James and Kevin Durant. That cannot be an act. They have to believe that. And they’ve worked unbelievably hard to get to the level they’re at. If that bothers people, so be it.

Consider this: even if you don’t like this attitude, even if athletes saying cocky things and acting overconfident is something that makes you hate them, that means you will still probably tune in the hopes you get to watch them fail.

Just don’t bet on that happening, because they’re the best in the world at what they do. And they will tell you about it, no matter how much you hate them for it.