To be clear, I have not watched the silly little Derek Jeter baseball documentary on ESPN, nor do I plan to, on account of having self-respect. I only learned today that it was called The Captain. The only review I’ve seen is what Chris—who had made the unfortunate sacrifice of watching some of it—put in Slack this morning after also reading a nauseatingly self-pitying/aggrandizing interview with Ben Roethlisberger, which was that “it should be illegal for retired athletes to speak at all about what motivated them during their careers, or really anything at all.” (Obligatory “How Tracy Austin Broke My Heart” mention.)
I will probably go the rest of my life without watching the documentary and very happily at that. But seeing the general concepts of “Derek Jeter” and “retirement” placed next to one another triggered a memory deep within me, and it suddenly felt very important. You know, like when you remember something seemingly insignificant that ends up explaining a fundamental part of your psyche, and in this particular case, it was remembering that time I was made to watch a Derek Jeter retirement video in a middle school assembly.
I grew up in a Central-ish (I will not have this argument), North-ish Jersey town that is so insignificant that even David Roth hasn’t heard of it. There were many Yankees fans and a good number of Mets fans and occasionally those fans would get into arguments. Once, our band director—who was a Yankees fan and also, fun fact, a former member of The Four Seasons—lost a bet to a kid who was a Mets fan and then had to wear a Mets hat during the jazz band portion of the concert, which was a very big deal for everyone involved. Anyway, the point is that the Yankees were very much a thing where I lived, and at that time, Derek Jeter was already halfway along to the sunset, certain to be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
Going to assemblies was a hallmark of middle school, or at least my middle school, where we would all be shuffled and seated into the disproportionately nice auditorium in order to gain important knowledge. It probably would’ve been our favorite part of school because it meant that we could miss class, if not for the fact that we were missing class in order to watch guest speakers attempt to teach us important life lessons.
They once tried to use one of these assemblies to teach us about respect. How did they do this? By talking about RE2PECT, of course!
I didn’t actually know that the video they showed us was an advertisement until I tried to locate it again, but the fact that it’s advertising Nike and specifically Jordans truly heightens the experience. It still remains one of the worst things I’ve ever seen in my life. Jon Lester tips his cap to Derek Jeter. Then Yankees fans do it. Then some cops and firefighters do it. Then some blurred-out Mets players. You run the whole gamut of New York famous people with Spike Lee, Billy Crystal, and Jay-Z. Rudy Giuliani is there. You get Michael Jordan at the end because this is an advertisement for Nike shoes. Don’t you understand? the person standing on the auditorium stage says, face blurred by the projection light. Even Red Sox fans are acknowledging Derek Jeter! This is what respect is all about!
It’s a painstakingly targeted marketing scheme that’s supposed to oblige you to feel touched and thus tempted to buy some shoes or, if you are watching it in a middle school auditorium, learn how to respect others. It extracts sentiment and processes it into profit and, along the way, cons Youtube commenters and middle school administrators alike into believing it’s actually something meaningful. Sentimental marketing is part and parcel of Jeter’s career; his Twitter launched only a couple of months ago and, one day into its lifespan, immediately plugged the premiere of The Captain.
But this is not about the cynicism of corporate marketing or the insipidness of cultural production in sports. This is about how I was forced to watch a video on Derek Jeter in middle school and how it changed me irreparably. I was not a Yankees fan, I did not care for Derek Jeter, and yet there I was: crammed in with too many other middle schoolers being lectured on how I should respect everyone, especially Derek Jeter. Looking back, this moment was probably the root of any resentment I have ever felt and will ever feel about the Yankees, among other things.
I do not re2pect Derek Jeter.