How is it possible that the most gifted and talented people in the world may be household names and recognizable to observers of their respective careers, but virtual nobodies to those who don’t share a passion for what they do?
Believe it or not, not everyone would know Tiger Woods, Barack Obama, LeBron James, Tom Brady or A-Rod if they met them on the street.
Even though these famous people would be recognized by millions, there are millions of people who wouldn’t know them if they showed up at the front door.
Early one morning on Jan. 12, 2007, a young musician wearing jeans, long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap took his position against a wall in a Washington, D.C., metro station.
In the book “Outlive Your Life,” author Max Lucado writes, “He opened a violin case, removed his instrument, threw a few dollars and pocket change into the case as seed money, and began to play.
“He played for the next 43 minutes. He performed six classical pieces. During that time 1,097 people passed by. They tossed in money in the total of $32.17. Of the 1,097 people, seven—only seven—paused longer than 60 seconds. And of the seven, one—only one—recognized the violinist Joshua Bell.
“Three days prior to this metro appearance staged by the Washington Post, Bell filled Boston’s Symphony Hall, where just fairly good tickets went for $100 a seat. Bell’s talents can command $1,000 a minute. That day in the subway station, he barely earned enough to buy a cheap pair of shoes. But scarcely anyone noticed.”
Maybe it’s not too surprising that a talented musician isn’t readily identifiable in public, but it may come as a shock to some professional athletes that a lot of the public don’t know who they are, and frankly, could not care less who they are.
Compare the story of the violinist to former baseball superstar Roger Clemens. During jury selection last month for Clemens’ trial on six counts of lying to Congress about drug use, Clemens must have experienced a dose of humble pie.
Washingtonians weren’t giving the former pitching great a lot of love. Although there were some sports fans in the jury pool, most said they didn’t know much about him.
“If he were sitting there, I would not know who he was,” one woman said, as Clemens sat facing her about 15 feet away. Ouch, so much for fame and fortune.
For all of the so-called famous athletes who act like the world revolves around them, the time will come when they will have a Roger Clemens moment, a time when they realize they’re not bigger than life.
The experiment and humbling experience involving the musician performing out of context is a case of people on the go not taking the time to recognize greatness in their midst.
Similarly, although in a much more serious vein, Clemens has had a humbling, if not humiliating, experience of being a relative unknown. For all those in the jury pool knew, he was simply a well-dressed man charged with lying under oath.
For those of us who followed Clemens’ outstanding career, the context of his appearing in a courtroom doesn’t compute any more than a talented violinist plying his craft in a subway station.
But there’s one significant difference in examples cited. One was staged.
Given all the scrutiny he is under, I wonder if at times Clemens wishes he could trade places with the violinist, or with you and me?