09th May 2011

Remembering Seve: A Lesson in Charisma


Saturday 7th May witnessed the passing of a true sporting great – Spanish golfer Severiano Ballesteros, at only 54 years of age. Universally known as Seve, he will be remembered for his many considerable achievements (5 Major championships, 45 other tournament wins, his success as a player and captain in the Ryder Cup); his impeccable role as a representative of both his country and his continent (golf is one of the few sports known for its European team, again vis-a-vis the Ryder Cup competition played bi-annually against a United States team); and, above all, Seve will be remembered for his magnetic personality.

One of the key terms I discuss with my Sport, Media and Celebrity students at Leeds Metropolitan University is the concept of charisma. Pioneering German sociologist Max Weber views the charismatic individual as a superhuman, god-like figure who can captivate his/her followers by means that evade and transcend rational thinking. In other words, certain celebrities, political leaders, etc. possess charisma because they attract us in ways difficult to explain. Yet nonetheless – and here comes the great paradox inherent to the concept – charisma is something that we (us ordinary mortals) ordain on others. Charisma is not an individual, radiating quality; it is a quality perceived by the millions and placed upon an individual. No hierarchical brainwashing here. Public consensus is final.

And the public consensus in relation to Seve, especially during the height of his success in the late 1970s and 1980s, pointed collectively to a charismatic sporting great.

When I look back on my early childhood, before the age of about 8 (after which football and music took over), the role models that really inspired me were all sporting ones. Seb Coe in athletics; Steve Davis in snooker; Jimmy Connors in tennis; Ian Botham and Graham Gooch in cricket. All men, interestingly, or perhaps not, given that I was a boy wanting to be a man! In golf, two men stand out: Nick Faldo and, of course, Seve. Those who remember these individuals will have noticed an intriguing conundrum. Not of all of my sporting heroes had charisma. They were all hugely successful, but not all of them had a magnetic personality worthy of universal affection.

Which leads me to conclude that charisma is not the be all and end all; success is. But success and charisma combined make for a true media darling. Like Ali, Connors, Clough and Shankly, Seve had both.

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