Loose use of “legend”

THE GAME OF MY LIFE - Bill Velasco (The Philippine Star) - September 21, 2020 - 12:00am



an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.

“the man was a living legend”

We have a problem in the Philippines. We overuse the term “legend,” particularly in sports. It seems as if we are awash in them, that they are practically everywhere. Whereas the term refers to someone with a mythic quality or impressive volume of accomplishment, it is tossed about almost casually, like a filler or go-to descriptive of a past athlete, trainer or coach. Why is this, and how did this dilution take place, particularly in the media?

To begin with, there is no transliteration for the word legend. The closest comparable Filipino term is “alamat,” which defines a legend as a story, folklore, mythic tale, or fable. It refers more to feats on the scale of the 12 labors of Hercules than a modern-day person or sportsman. “Alamat,” though still used occasionally, is awkward, an ill fit for the need. Then there is the almost-never used “leyenda,” a derivative from Spanish, which translates more to a story or history. So that doesn’t work, either.

Having failed that, “legend” has pretty much become a catch-all, a lazy, undefined way to confer hazy respect for subjects who, at times, we cannot clearly classify. Retired athletes, former professionals, one-time wonders and the like are clumsily lumped together with true one-of-a-kind heroic figures in one general category. While at one end, it bestows a certain status on those near the lower, foggier end of the spectrum, it waters down the respect for those at the higher end. That’s bothersome. There has to be a point of differentiation. For example, how can we lump together a multiple record holder, a consistent, long-term champion, with a journeyman also-ran? It doesn’t make sense.

This may have started with the advent of exhibition basketball games and similar events. Fans naturally want to see all-time greats in person and in action. But it’s expensive to hire an entire team of true legends or All-Stars for one game, more so if it’s outside Metro Manila. Scheduling is also tougher. To lower costs, organizers would mix in the less accomplished (and therefore, less expensive) PBA veterans of different eras, for example, and simply brand them “legends.” Problem solved.

This trend has become much more pronounced during the pandemic. With the drastic diminution of stories at one end, and the proliferation of online interviews at the other, sports content is spread way too thin. Once the top tier of athletes has been covered, who’s next? We take a step down to the more anecdotal, which, albeit interesting, is harder to define in strict journalistic terms. And there are more athletes at that level compared to the most elite, which makes it more convenient to coordinate. While these interviews have value, it is irresponsible and somewhat disrespectful to group them with the former as “legends.”

What is the solution? There is nothing wrong with introducing the interview subject by way of enumerating their years of service or statistics, or mentioning which winning teams they were part of. In boxing, we introduce contenders or non-champions by their ring records, who they fought, and how often they fought for regional or world titles. The interviewer could also add that he admires that person for certain qualities he or she possesses. It’s still factual. No need to embellish by adding titles like “legend,” which is subjective. The simple adjustment will show that we take the person more seriously, and gives the audience a reason to pay attention.

  • Latest
  • Trending
Are you sure you want to log out?

Philstar.com is one of the most vibrant, opinionated, discerning communities of readers on cyberspace. With your meaningful insights, help shape the stories that can shape the country. Sign up now!

or sign in with