21 Why athletes are celebrated and entrepreneurs are not

“Why do we only turn out, wave flags and cheer for sports achievements? Why don’t we do the same thing for successful businesspeople? Other countries celebrate their dealmakers!”

This was the gist of a Slovenian article a friend shared. He shared the author’s perplexity at the sad lot of the Slovenian capitalist.


Why is a rock not a bird?

At one level, the answer is completely tautological. The obvious reason cheering crowds don’t turn out when a team of lawyers, accountants, and bankers returns after a successful M&A is that the team of lawyers, accountants, and bankers are not a football, basketball or hockey team.

The topic is so stupid, what is there even worth saying?

Still, I kept returning to the question. Like every great banality, it hides a deeper truth.

Obviously, the author merely wanted to argue that we should celebrate business, give greater heft to entrepreneurs, and listen to their wisdom. The author wasn’t really asking why bankers aren’t as popular as basketball players. He was asking, “how can we make businesspeople more popular?”

For the record, business people are not popular in Slovenia. They are seen as amoral, greedy, sneaky, rapacious, back-stabbing, nasty thieves.

I think that’s going a bit far.

But. That banal rhetorical question. Let’s dig into it. Why do we celebrate athletes and not accountants?

The athlete is a paragon. Everyone, at some level, wants to be as strong or as fast or as nimble or as tough as a world-class athlete. If you’re older, it’s nostalgia, if you’re younger, it’s dreams, if you’re an office worker, it’s if only.

The athlete is a personification of physical virtue: the hunter and warrior. There’s a reason every culture has its demigods like Hercules and Achilles. The athlete is an inspiration and a motivation and a story.

The athlete fighting to the finish line with a broken rib to clinch a silver medal. That is epic. That is memorable.

There are a few other archetypes we celebrate. The artist: musician, writer, painter. The orator: king, priest, actor. And the trickster: adventurer, voyager, thief.

All of these archetypes are as old as human culture strike a deep chord in everyone, everywhere. They are carved into our myths and legends, because of aspiration and inspiration (and a dash of sympathetic magic).

We teach our children to be strong like Rostam, wise like the Buddha, creative like Michelangelo, and – occasionally – adventurous like Xuanzang. Ok, we don’t. I mixed cultures for effect, but each culture has its archetypal heroes.

And none of these epic heroes is celebrated as a businessperson.


Because business is banal. Business is ordinary.

Every housewife who manages the household finances is a businessperson. Every stallkeeper is an entrepreneur. Every street merchant is an investor. Every waitress is an accountant. Every door-to-door salesman is a business developer. Every person that lends money is a banker. Every couple that moves in together performs an M&A. And every startup is just a small business trying to make it in a harsh world.

Nobody celebrates entrepreneurs because we are all entrepreneurs, and an entrepreneur who makes more money is not special. They’ve just done more of an ordinary thing.

But all of us ordinary people, those with money and those without, all of us wish we could be a bit more epic now and again. That we could climb a higher mountain, paint a sharper painting, sing a lovelier song, have a wiser thought. All of us wish we could be more special.

And special is what we celebrate.


P.S. – and I will also address Slovenia’s case. Slovenians shouldn’t celebrate businesspeople. But they shouldn’t vilify them either. What would really do wonders is to simply see them as the ordinary, fallible, foolish and frail housekeepers, gardeners, hairdressers, accountants, lemonade stall operators, and bankers that they are.

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