Name an athlete more unlike Donald Trump than Moeen Ali

by Harry on May 25, 2017

I stayed up on election night to watch the results come in (can’t wait till June 8th, that’s going to be a thriller!). I had a bad feeling about the whole thing starting the moment I walked on campus that morning, and I had pretty much resigned myself to the result by about 7.30 pm (Central). But I stayed up anyway, partly because I that’s just what I do, and partly because the first test match between England and India started at 10 pm, and I couldn’t wait to see Haseeb Hameed, whom everyone was talking about. And, indeed, you could see why they were talking about him (as Aggers said, in frustration at the England camp trying to dampen down pressure: “Are we supposed to pretend we’re not seeing what we are seeing?”; or, imagine being 19 and hearing Geoffrey describe you as “a proper opening bat”).

But the player who really shone that night was Moeen Ali, who, fortunately, was still in when I awoke the next morning. And that seemed particularly fitting to me, because he seems to be the embodiment of everything Donald Trump isn’t.

He’s a team player: in 62 innings he has played in every batting position between 2 and 10 and when interviewed never hints at irritation or even ambition; he has put enormous work into becoming England’s main spinner simply because that’s what England needs; he fields flawlessly but without a hint of showmanship; whenever the camera catches him after another bowler has taken a wicket he looks more overjoyed than when he has taken one. On his day as a batsman he is, as Geoffrey put it, splendiferous. Both he and Hameed look like throwbacks to some Golden Age of the 1930s to 1950s I had in my head growing up: I imagined Len Hutton batting exactly the way Hameed actually does bat, and I imagined Jack Hobbs and Denis Compton [1] batting exactly as Ali does — graceful but seemingly effortless. He looks no more muscular than I am and yet somehow those apparently light flicks soar into the stands. So, two startlingly unTrumplike traits — spectacular talent, and loyalty to a team. What is the third? I think about Trump every time I hear Moeen Ali being interviewed. Because either he is entirely genuine in his modesty, or he is a stunningly good actor. I’ve heard athletes deflecting glory from themselves to others, or to the team, and sometimes they even sound genuine. But yesterday, after winning Man of the Match for an innings that was, well, splendiferous (and match-winning), his remarks (quite typical for him) included “There’s loads of better players than me in the team” and “To be honest, I’ve not been batting or bowling well recently. Paul Farbrace gave me a few tips with my batting and that really helped me today.” And he means it. He finished yesterday’s interview by dedicating the win to the victims of the Manchester bombing. Imagine Trump dedicating a victory to other people.

Oh, and he and Hameed are both Muslim. I don’t know why that pleases me, and maybe it shouldn’t, but it does.

Ok, so. I’ll temporarily put aside the fact that I don’t care at all about any other sport than cricket [2]. Name me a top-flight professional athlete, male or female, who is even less like Donald Trump than Moeen is. And make your case. And just in case it is not clear, I hope you can come up with lots of contenders!

[1] I actually saw Compton in a fundraising match at a village ground when he was 60. I was too awed at the time for me to rely, now, on my judgment, but he did seem special.
[2] Not strictly true — I started following Badgers softball this season, which I find a bit worrying.



Ebenezer Scrooge 05.26.17 at 12:05 am

My candidate: Eddie Murray, a baseball star of the 1980’s. He once explained that he occasionally gave interviews, because the press would pay more attention to him if he were completely silent.
(I’ll admit that everybody I know who is bilingual in baseball and cricket prefers cricket.)


LFC 05.26.17 at 1:14 am

A few years ago, I played, rather briefly and for the first and only time, in an abbreviated cricket match (i.e. it didn’t last 20 hours or whatever), most of the other players in which were British. They were very nice/helpful to someone who’d never played before and had little idea what he was doing. The game still sort of mystifies me, I mean I find the paraphernalia and the rules, to the extent I grasp them, a little strange: this is purely a result of growing up in the U.S. (at any rate from the age of eight on) and not being exposed to it. (When younger than eight, I lived abroad a lot, but somehow managed to avoid much exposure to cricket then too.)


derrida derider 05.26.17 at 1:44 am

Ahh, Test cricket. Far, far more pleasant to discuss than the state of the real world (or baseball, for that matter). Please, Harry, don’t pollute your cricket posts with He Who Must Not Be Named.

If Sir Geoffrey says Hameed is “a real opening bat” then I can’t wait to see him facing our Aussie quicks on a green wicket – then we’ll know if the last great Real Opening Bat’s judgement is correct. Indian medium pacers on dustbowls call for an entirely different skill set.


JimV 05.26.17 at 1:47 am

Well, my idol Bill Russell was an extremely proud man, so he doesn’t qualify on that count, but he was tremendously talented and worked enormously hard. He bonded with all of his teammates and respected his competitors, such as Wilt and Jerry West. He thinks autographs are superstitious nonsense so his response to requests was, “I won’t sign anything, but I’ll shake your hand.”

My favorite play of his was against the Philadelphia Warriors, who had Wilt, Hal Greer and Wally Jones, and a young, 6’9″, 260-lb. power forward named Luke Jackson (if I remember correctly). Wally Jones, a fast, fancy dribbling and fancy passing guard, had the ball and he and Luke Jackson were racing up the floor toward their basket on a fast break, with Russell between them and matching their speed step for step. As they reached the basket, Wally Jones, on the right, went up as if for a layup, and the long left arm of Russell extended up to block it – but then Jones quickly whipped the ball behind his back toward the waiting Jackson. Except the right hand of Russell darted back at the same time and snatched the pass out of the air with his long fingers wrapped around it. Russell then turned and threw the ball back down court to a Celtics four-on-three.

His left hand had been a fake to a fake. He know Jones would throw a behind-the-back pass and was ready for it.


JimV 05.26.17 at 1:49 am

I forgot to mention that this all happened in mid-air.


dominic 05.26.17 at 1:52 am

Learie Constantine? I don’t have time to explain why right now, but I will mention that he fought (and won) the first anti- racial discrimination case in British history.


Alec McAulay 05.26.17 at 2:14 am

John Ritchie. Tall dark and handsome. Towards the end of his career the Stoke City programme described him as “looking like a rejuvenated Governor of California” (3 weeks on the Costa Brava). Modest, honest, physically and mentally brave (he never let any of his innumerable missed chances get him down). Strongly objected to the introduction of Sunday football on the grounds that he liked a few pints on a Saturday night after the match.
Oh, and 221 goals in 11 seasons in the top flight.


TheSophist 05.26.17 at 3:42 am

Eric Liddell?


TheSophist 05.26.17 at 3:47 am

Also Kareem. I’ll grant that he’s obviously more physically gifted than Moeen (slightly loosely defining height as a gift), but otherwise…
He once spent a year coaching at a small high school on the Navajo reservation.


Glenn 05.26.17 at 8:02 am

Nnamdi Asomugha. He’s better known as Kerry Washington’s husband these days.


Glenn 05.26.17 at 8:04 am

Oh yeah, Kareem’s a good one, too.


faustusnotes 05.26.17 at 10:21 am

I don’t know if it sullies the thread to say this, but would pretty much any decent rugby front row player count? They play a grinding, exhausting role that doesn’t get any of the glory of the backs, if they get a try it’s usually by accident or invisible under a pile of bodies, they’re often pilloried as slow and stupid and sometimes body-shamed, their ears get mashed and nobody seems to really understand what they do, but they still turn up and rumble week in and week out. And they almost never get interviewed, let alone given great fame.


sanbikinoraion 05.26.17 at 10:55 am

Lucia Roberta Tough Bronze, England footballer.

* She is widely regarded as the best right-back in the world (unlike Trump, who is not widely regarded at being anywhere near the best at anything in the world).

* She is a team player, often pushing the ball to other people rather than selfishly taking a shot on goal herself (so she not only works well with others but understands her own weaknesses).

* She understands how to read the game and plan her attacks accordingly.

* She has relentless stamina (unlike Trump, who was “exhausted” 3 days into a 9-day Middle-Eastern tour), repeatedly running the length of the pitch in a game.

* She is actually successful when she attempts to tackle other players.

* She doesn’t sexually assault or threaten or demean women.

* She is not a rich person, as no women footballers (apart from maybe Hope Solo) are.

* Her middle name is literally “Tough”.


Salem 05.26.17 at 11:13 am

Miguel Indurain. The endurance, the fortitude, the modesty, the self-effacing nature. The years spent toiling for an obviously inferior rider, with never a word of complaint.

What about the most similar? I’ll go with Robbie Savage.


DavidtheK 05.26.17 at 11:22 am

I’ll start off with Arthur Ashe while I think of more. Charles Pierce, whom many here may read, I’m sure would like to nominate Jean Bealiveau.


reason 05.26.17 at 1:40 pm

“unlike Trump, who is not widely regarded at being anywhere near the best at anything in the world”

Come on – surely he is the best placed complete idiot – by far!


LFC 05.26.17 at 3:39 pm

DavidtheK @15
Yes, Arthur Ashe is a good choice, for several reasons.
(and there also may be good choices among those unsung pro tennis players whom nobody has heard of, though they manage to make a living on the tour)


JakeB 05.26.17 at 8:52 pm

Kareem might be my choice, but let me also throw in Pat Tillman, who gave up a successful NFL career to join the US army after 9/11, and of course died in a clusterf*** from friendly fire.


DavidtheK 05.26.17 at 9:10 pm

Still thinking of people to add; but it should be noted that I think Mary Carillo (who covers sports) is the best journalist working for any of the USA large USA corporate media companies in any field. If we had someone of her caliber covering politics or national affairs, we’d see changes.


Alan White 05.26.17 at 9:24 pm

Echoing Glenn above, Abdul-Jabbar. If you haven’t read his insightful political or social commentary, especially in recent years, you should. And I detest pro basketball, especially with today’s so-called preening stars. Give me women’s college b-ball anytime.


DavidtheK 05.26.17 at 9:45 pm

Coach Greg Popovich – who personally can’t stand Trump. And Tim Duncan. And maybe any Spur from the whole time Coach ‘Pop’ has been there.


Val 05.26.17 at 10:04 pm

Cathy Freeman

When she first carried the Aboriginal flag and the official Australian flag together at the Commonwealth Games in 1994, when she was only 21, she offered us a vision of what we could be, of hope and reconciliation – the opposite of what Trump offers America.


Layman 05.26.17 at 10:52 pm


Manu Ginobili? Humble? The mind boggles.


J 05.27.17 at 3:33 am

What about Clara Hughes? She is the only athlete to win multiple medals in both the Summer Olympics (in cycling), and the Winter Olympics (in speed skating); Immediately after winning gold in 2006, she donated her life savings to Right To Play; She is the national spokesperson for a mental illness awareness campaign, for which she cycled across Canada, and, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia, is “known almost as much for her smile and sunny disposition as for her athletic accomplishments”.


Anonymous2 05.27.17 at 8:42 am

Bobby Jones, golfer, reportedly hit the ball into some trees, where no one could see him. Addressing the ball, he accidentally touched it. Coming out of the trees, he said what had happened thereby adding a shot to his score. When commended on his honesty he dismissed as immoral the idea he might have done anything else.


shoebill 05.27.17 at 1:27 pm

Craig Hodges. From Wikipedia: “When the Chicago Bulls visited the White House after winning the 1992 NBA Championship, Hodges dressed in a dashiki and delivered a hand-written letter addressed to then President George H. W. Bush, expressing his discontent at the administration’s treatment of the poor and minorities.”


shoebill 05.27.17 at 1:37 pm

(Hodges was also a sharpshooter who knew his role, and didn’t try to do anything he wasn’t extraordinarily qualified to do.)


chris y 05.27.17 at 1:50 pm

Moeen, of course, attributes all his good qualities, on and off the field, to his faith, which is extremely unlike President Trimalchio. (Currently 24 not out off 15 balls, having come in at the death with Rabada bowling yorkers as if he didn’t know how to do anything else. If asked, Moeen will just shrug it off.)


anon/portly 05.27.17 at 5:39 pm

I don’t care at all about any other sport than cricket

A cricket fan comes to the US, and develops no interest in baseball? And is a philosopher, to boot? Hmmm….

Yeah, cricket is better, I get that[1], but still: how can such a person not explore and learn to love baseball? It’s not like the Brewers are a million miles away….

There are so many interesting affinities and contrasts with the two great ball/bat sports. E.g., in cricket the play is slow (players bat and bat) but the competition is quick (5 days at most); in baseball the play is quick (a player might see one or two meaningful pitches in a game) but the competition is slow (months and months). And of course – philosophically speaking – “slow” is always a feature and “quick” is always a bug. Right?

Really, how can someone effectively contemplate ethical decision-making without reference to the context of “strike zone” judgment vs. “LBW” judgment?

Well, at least women’s college softball is finally making a dent. It will really be a great sport when they go to an electronic strike zone (the importance of the umpire’s definition of the strike zone in baseball vs. softball is proportional to the size of the ball, if not its square).

[1] I get it but Harry B obviously has no idea – maybe a worry that it’s the other way around?


anon/portly 05.27.17 at 5:59 pm

When it comes to sport, Donald Trump is actually somewhat interesting.

To his credit, he’s a good golfer, but:

In my own article, I did write nice things about Trump’s courses. But Trump, nevertheless, was upset. He called the editor of Golf Digest to complain, and then he called me, on my cell phone…. He was upset that I hadn’t written that he’d shot 71—a very good golf score, one stroke under par.

I hadn’t written that because he hadn’t shot 71. We hadn’t been playing for score, and we had given each other putts and taken other friendly liberties—as golfers inevitably do when they’re just fooling around.

David Owen doesn’t say how long the given putts were – if they were 1 and 2 footers, not such a big deal but if they were 3 and 4 footers, then holy cow – or what the “other friendly liberties” were, but any golfer who would want credit for a 71 that wasn’t really a true 71 is, well, the kind of guy who wants credit for record inauguration crowds that didn’t materialize or a large election victory that didn’t really happen.


anon/portly 05.27.17 at 6:55 pm

I’ve heard athletes deflecting glory from themselves to others, or to the team, and sometimes they even sound genuine.

Well, if you followed American sports, not only would you hear this, you’d hear it, and hear it, and hear it…. The cosmos of sports clichés.

Really, Harry B’s case for Moeen Ali is that he’s just better, better at cricket and better at deflecting glory. What you really need for “unTrumplike” is someone who does the opposite of “taking credit for a 71 when they shot 75,” which I think is more than taking credit for a 75 when they shot 71, which they all try to do, but being willing to let everyone think they did shoot 75, as Trump was unwilling for people not to think he’d shot 71. That’s tougher….

If anyone listened to LeBron James’ post-game 5 remarks the other day, he talked a little bit philosophically about Michael Jordan (whose career playoff scoring record he had just broken), in particular about scoring vs. passing. James is obviously aware that in the greater NBA media world, Jordan is (and players or superstars in general are) revered for “taking the last shot.” James is aware that this idea is kind of silly, since obviously if the superstar is always going to take the last shot, then the defense will know this and the last shot will often be a bad shot. (Hence, I would say, and I think the stats back me up, Kobe Bryant).

Anyway, James I think was trying to say that he feels the right thing to do is always make the right play, which often is for him to pass and not shoot the ball in crucial situations. Which of course he gets criticized or denigrated for (often in comparison to Jordan, the whole who-is-the-GOAT thing)…. There was a sense of James saying (not his words) “if people think I’m wrong to pass in certain situations, so be it,” i.e. what he was really talking about was being willing to let people think worse of him.


Jonathan 05.27.17 at 7:41 pm

Pat Nevin. Publicly condemned Chelsea supporters for racist abuse when he played there. Solid union man. Impeccable musical taste.


Bill Murray 05.27.17 at 8:04 pm

JimV @#4 It would have been the 76ers not the Warriors if it was Lucious “Luke” Jackson and Wali Jones as neither played for the Warriors. Also, a misreading of Lucious Jackson, led to the name of the musical group Luscious Jackson.

I would add in Megan Rapinoe and Etan Thomas. Thomas especially fits as an anti-Trump, as he is a former NBA player; published poet and author; chosen to be a member of an important Obama administration task force


Steve Williams 05.27.17 at 10:27 pm

Basically any athlete is significantly unlike Trump, a man who apparently believes that humans are born with a finite amount of energy, like a battery, and that exercising brings people closer to death.

Moeen is great, yes. No question there.


kidneystones 05.27.17 at 11:52 pm

This is an astonishingly naive discussion about people we imagine to to be entirely good good, or entirely corrupt. The notion that professional athletes at the highest level are ‘modest’ is remarkable enough. But singling out virtue in ethnicity within the current context reads like a lament for the days of the Raj, and Kipling, with Moeen Ali assigned the role of Gunga Din.

As for the integrity of the sport versus the corruption of politics, the parallels are remarkable and the ironies noteworthy.


JimV 05.28.17 at 1:26 am

Bill Murray, thanks for correcting my failing memory, and loved you in “Caddy Shack” and just about everything else, most recently “Rushmore”.

Anon/portly, I tend to feel the same way about people who cheat on their gold scores, but we’re in the minority. As long as it’s not a tournament, everybody cheats on their score except you and me and a very few others. I’ll beat even the Dali Lama does (big hitter, the Lama).


bos 05.28.17 at 6:02 am

Irish footballers Niall Quinn and Gary Kelly. Both donated proceeds of testimonial matches to charity.

Contrast to trump whose approach to charity is marked by self-interest and dubious transactions.


bos 05.28.17 at 6:45 am

+1 for Pat Nevin

He stopped supporting Celtic because of the chants and songs.

Also a very perceptive and highly intelligent commentator on the game.


Saurs 05.28.17 at 9:50 am

But singling out virtue in ethnicity

Who did that?

within the current context

What is the context you’re referring to, beyond Trump being both mediocre and a blowhard?

reads like a lament for the days of the Raj, and Kipling, with Moeen Ali assigned the role of Gunga Din.

Can you explain that?


DavidtheK 05.28.17 at 11:29 am

Ayrton Senna wanted to spend his post retirement career addressing the problems of poverty in his native Brazil, ( had his life not been cut short) and I think expand that to work on global poverty generally. That may qualify him for this list; but the fraught subject of his relationships whith his fellow drivers and those who were his team mates may say no….


Tom Hurka 05.28.17 at 12:59 pm

I second Jean Beliveau, gentlemanly Montreal Canadiens hockey player from the early 50s through 1971. Later in life he was invited to be Governer-General of Canada but declined. And wasn’t Eddie Murry in fact a pretty nasty guy?


maruku 05.28.17 at 3:18 pm

He thinks he’s Viv, is actually Tony Grieg.


edwardgrundy 05.28.17 at 6:03 pm

salem @14

That’s a bit unfair on robbie savage. Not the most talented, but worked hard for his team.


edwardgrundy 05.28.17 at 6:06 pm

I reckon Andy Murray’s worth a shout. Talented, incredibly hard working, honest and doesn’t go out of his way to make people like him but I think an incredibly genuine and nice guy, and a feminist – first female coach for a player of his level, and didn’t take any nonsense from people that had a problem with that.


Suzanne 05.28.17 at 11:18 pm

25: Jones also called a penalty on himself in the U.S. Open later. (Nowadays the players get called out by sharp-eyed television viewers.) He served with distinction in WWII, as you likely know.

On the less happy side, his belief in the principle of amateurism sometimes showed itself in condescension and rudeness to pros off the course, although he was friendly with Walter Hagen, the player who did the most to legitimize professional golf and who (superficially, be it noted) displayed some Trump-like tendencies.


Helen 05.29.17 at 1:55 am

Gillian Rolton, a member of the Australian Olympic equestrian eventing team – a dangerous and gruelling sport in which male and female riders compete on an equal basis in the same events (and wouldn’t the Donald hate that, if he had the guts to enter such a competition, which would never happen.)

An example from the Atlanta olympics which demonstrates just how metal this woman was:

Gillian Rolton ended the Atlanta 1996 Olympic Games with a broken collarbone and broken ribs – and her second gold medal in a row. Rolton was a member of the winning three-day equestrian event team, along with Andrew Hoy, Phillip Dutton and Wendy Schaeffer. She suffered her injuries when her beloved mount Peppermint Grove fell and skidded during the endurance phase of the event. She remounted, unaware that she had suffered the fractures, and rode on, now unable to use her left arm. She and the horse came down again at the next obstacle, a water jump, and she somersaulted into the water. She then waded out, boarded the horse again, and galloped for another three kilometres, clearing 15 more fences, to finish the course. An ambulance took her to hospital, where she refused pain-killing drugs because she felt she might be needed for the final team jumping round the next day. She wasn’t, but Rolton’s gallantry served as an inspiration to her fellow riders, and the entire Australian team.

In a separate interview, Rolton revealed her coach Wayne Roycroft was livid following her heroic display.
“He came up to me and he was absolutely like thunder. He said, ‘Well, you couldn’t help the first fall but why the (expletive), (expletive) did you come off the second time.’ And I just sort of pulled my shirt back and there was this bone sticking up and he said, ‘Oh … mmm, you better get to the hospital then. But don’t take any drugs, we’ll probably need you to ride tomorrow,'” she recalled.


Even the legendary Man from Snowy River didn’t remount twice with broken ribs.


Philip 05.29.17 at 6:47 am

The other revelation last season as opening bat for England was Keaton Jennings. The season before he was in poor form. He worked on his game over the winter in South Africa and I think he got the most runs in the county championship. Durham were relegated and deducted points following the ECB’s disgraceful an draconian punishment for financial problems. Jennings had a clause in his contract so he could have left Durham for free but chose to stay. Sticking with Durham cricketers there is Paul Collingwood who was not the most talented test player but always worked hard to make the most of what talent he did have and captained England to win a t20 world cup. I think Ben Stokes is brilliant but he would be one of the cricketers least unlike Trump.

Also Brian Clough might appear to not be very unlike Trump, but his political views were very different.


Harry 05.29.17 at 6:39 pm

Philip — Yes. Also, Lancashire’s Glenn Chapple.

And — I do love Ben Stokes (and agree!), but a direct comparison between his and Moeen’s test stats is interesting — Moeen actually has a higher batting average (and slightly lower in ODI’s) despite never having been allowed to find his place in the order. Even their bowling isn’t as far apart as I’d have expected.

Clough was a great manager. So there’s that difference too.


Philip 05.29.17 at 9:22 pm

I think with Stokes the statistics don’t show the whole picture. He has the capability, that few players do, to react under pressure and take the game away from the opposition e.g 250 against South Africa. However, his attacking approach won’t work every time, so his averages have long tails and don’t show his match winning performances. Compared to someone like Chris Woakes, who is reliable to get 20+ but not go onto make a big score. Unfortunately Stokes never quite seems to be in his best form with bat and ball at the same time but like Collingwood he is always good in the field.

You’re right that Clough was arrogant and outspoken but had the talent to go with it. I can think of some footballers who seemed to have a higher opinion of themselves than their talent warranted or didn’t develop their talent after being awarded a good contract but they still have some talent so aren’t near Trump for levels of self-delusion.


derrida derider 05.30.17 at 5:58 am

Ok, back to the headline. The most un-Trump like athlete EVA has got to be Glen McGrath. Modest, quiet, thoughtful – and massively, massively competent.

He accumulated the most wickets (“outs” for baseball fans) of any bowler (“pitcher”) ever in the ~140 year history of Test cricket by being consistently underestimated. Gentle medium-fast pace bowling but the ball landing with the seam bolt upright and exactly where he aimed it every single bloody time for day after day and year after year.


harry b 05.30.17 at 2:42 pm

Good, that’s a nice way of explaining Stokes. ‘always good in the field’ is a bit of an understatement… On fielding — after years of not being able to watch much cricket, the huge difference I notice (more than the big hitting) is the astonishing fielding. They are all much fitter and much more athletic than cricketers were even 25 years ago.


Harry 05.30.17 at 2:51 pm

derrida derider – -most of any fast bowler, not of any bowler (behind Muri, Warne and Kumble).
And a spectacularly poor batsman!
I wish I’d been as able to watch as much cricket during the McGrath/Warne era as now.

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