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Mark Messier: An Exploration of Personality

Mark Messier, Messier, Youth Hockey

Born in Edmonton, Alberta on January 18, 1961, Mark Messier is one of the most famous people in the history of the National Hockey League. An unbelievable player, he accumulated over 1,850 points in his illustrious career, which ranks second place in history. He played in the NHL for 23 years, and played the second most number of games in the league’s history. Messier’s personality is well known in the hockey world, both on and off the ice (Klein, 2003).

Messier was born into a three-child family, in addition to his parents, Doug and Mary-Kay. Mark was introduced to hockey at a young age, due to his father being a professional minor hockey player, and later a coach. Messier learned everything about the game from his father, and on his way through the ranks of youth hockey to the highest levels in Canada. When Messier turned seventeen, his father got him a five-game tryout contract with the Indianapolis Racers, a professional team in the World Hockey Association. After failing to register a point in those five games, Messier was released, the signed by the Cincinnati Stingers of the same league (Klein, 2003).

Although scoring just one goal all season in Cincinnati while playing alongside one of the top scorers in the league, the Edmonton Oilers drafted Messier in the third round of the 1979 NHL Entry Draft. Though he took a few years to develop in the NHL, Messier began to dominate, becoming one of the league’s preeminent leaders and prolific goal scorers. Playing on the Edmonton Oilers alongside arguably the best player in NHL history in Wayne Gretzky, Messier won four Stanley Cups, then won two others on his own without Gretzky, one with the Oilers and on with the New York Rangers. Even since retiring in 2003, he is still very similar to the man of his playing days, even when he was an 18-year old rookie coming into the league (Klein, 2003).

According to Hans Eysenck’s personality theory, there are many different personality traits that are used to describe a person. These personality traits are used to classify a person’s personality into different types. Messier exhibits many of the traits and factors offered by Eysenck as part of his theory, making him a great example of the theory (Feist and Feist, 2009).

There are four different levels of behavior organization, according to Eysenck. The lowest level includes specific acts or cognitions, or individual behaviors that may or may not characterize the specific person . The next level is habitual acts or cognitions, which are responses that recur under similar conditions (a habit). Many habitual responses form a trait, which is the third level of behavior. A trait is defined as an “important semi-permanent personality disposition” (Eysenck, 1981, p.3). These four levels help to create a sort of flowchart that can be organized in a way to show parts of someone’s personality, the top part of the chart being the personality type (Feist and Feist, 2009).

Eysenck also explained that there are different dimensions to personality. The three dimensions that he believes exists are extraversion, neuroticism, and psychoticism.

Each one, of course, has an opposite; extraversion and introversion, neuroticism and stability, and psychoticism and superego. Eysenck specifically stated that although the personality dimensions seem to be bipolar, a person does not have to be at one end of the spectrum or the other; they can be somewhere in the middle (Feist and Feist, 2009).

Mark Messier’s personality traits are a good fit for Eysenck’s hierarchy of behavior organization . For example, starting at the lowest part of the flowchart, a specific behavior could be playing hockey with friends after school one day as a child. The habit for that would be loyalty to his friends or persisting with hobbies. The trait for that would wind up being sociable. The overall type would be extraversion.

It could also be argued that Messier has a bit of psychoticism in his personality. A specific behavior would be him checking a player while playing on the outdoor rink he had in his neighborhood . The habit would be intimidation, which Messier indeed utilized both as a child and throughout his life. Aggressive would be the trait, and the type would be psychoticism.

Eysenck classifies another trait, the aforementioned “aggressive” behavior that Messier exhibited, in the psychoticism category. Messier was indeed aggressive, but not to an extent that it harmed other people. As a young hockey player, Messier, a skilled forward, would play with children who were one or two years older than he was. As a friend remembered, Mark was “big, strong, and very tough” (Klein, 2003, p.11). Messier would push people around, try to intimidate them, and even hit them against the boards in order to show them what kind of player he was. Sometimes, though he would indeed go too far. “He was a little bit mean,” that same friend said. “He always played with older kids, and he’d lose his temper” (Klein, 2003, p.11). This behavior is a perfect example of what Eysenck classified as psychoticism.

Take for example, “emotional,” a trait that Eysenck used in his classification of neuroticism . Messier was a leader, but a very emotional one at best. As a young hockey player, he was a star player and a captain on the team that was coached by his father. Messier, as captain, “took it on himself to take emotional charge of the players” (Klein, 2003, p.10). Doug Messier, Mark’s father, would get ready to go into the locker room to give his team a pregame talk, whereupon he would be informed by the trainer that his son already gave the team an emotional talk. Doug claimed that he “had a lot…to talk to them about…[he] walked in and…looked around the dressing room and everyone looked ready to go…[he] realized then that Mark had already given the talk” (Klein, 2003, p.11). Eysenck would classify this behavior under neuroticism.

All of these examples do not necessarily conclude that Messier’s personality was either one type or the other (e.g. extraverted, psychoticism, neuroticism, etc) . Mark Messier exhibited various parts of each personality type, and could very well be included in any of the categories, based on Eysenck’s personality theory. Eysenck suggests that the three main personality types are psychoticism, neuroticism, and extraversion. However, one does not have to fall into all three of these categories. Like Messier, a person could fall into various categories, whether they are the three main types that Eysenck suggested, or their opposites (Feist and Feist, 2009).

As previously stated, every one of Eysenck’s personality types has a trait that has its own habits and specific behaviors . Although Messier exhibits the “emotional” trait that is classified in the “neuroticism” type, he exhibits more of the “stability” type than the neurotic type. One of the traits in this category is “bold” or “daring” (Feist and Feist, 2009). Messier is indeed bold and daring, and takes many chances. As the captain of two different teams that he was on throughout his career, he often had to take many chances with what he said to the media, to the players, and how he acted on the ice (Klein, 2003).

A great example of this bold and daring behavior is Messier’s famed guarantee . On May 25, 1994, while in the Conference Finals against the New Jersey Devils, Messier’s Rangers were facing elimination from the playoffs. That year, they had a team that finished the season with the league’s best record and was one that many people predicted to win the Stanley Cup. Knowing that he needed to do something bold and daring, Messier came to the media and announced with all certainty before game six of the third round, “I guarantee we’ll win tonight” (Simmons, 2007). With just five simple words, Messier gave the hockey world a prediction that everyone thought was preposterous.

However, that night, Messier took matters into his own hands, scoring three goals, leading his team to victory, and eventually winning the Stanley Cup for a city that had previously not won one since 1940. Messier explained that “one of the things that was lacking when I came to New York was that nobody wanted to talk about [the Stanley Cup drought], nobody wanted to get the expectations up too high, in case they get let down. But if you’re expectations aren’t high, then you’re never going to try to achieve what you want” (Rosen, 2005). Messier was a proven leader, always doing whatever he could to ensure that he was fulfilling his duties as a team captain.

The aforementioned story is also a great example of Messier’s self-esteem. Messier was extremely confident, and though he expressed this trait, it was in moderation. Messier was never arrogant or over-confident. He was confident in his ability to help his team and motivate his team to victory. Thus, with this simple action and the ability to back up what he said, Messier cemented his place as one of the most daring and confident captains in the history of the NHL (Simmons, 2007).

Another trait in the “stability” type is relaxed. Messier was almost never stressed out, and if he was, he never showed it. Before games, whether an exhibition game or game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals, Messier could be found hanging out with his teammates, joking around, having a good laugh, calming everyone’s nerves in order to ensure that no stress went around the locker room (Klein, 2003).

The one type that Messier clearly exhibits is extraversion . Eysenck once stated that “extraverts often take part in social interaction and physical pursuits to a greater extent than introverts” (Eysenck and Eysenck, 1985, p.313). Messier not only took part in social interaction by leading many teams as a kid and an adult, but he also took the term “physical pursuits” to a new level by becoming the second-leading scorer in NHL history by using his physical strength and skill to dominate his opponents.

Besides being extremely talented on the ice, Messier was also a lively member of every locker room that he was in throughout his time in the NHL . In Jeff Klein’s biography of Messier, he includes pictures of the 1984 Stanley Cup Championship celebration in the Edmonton Oilers’ locker room. In every picture, Messier is shown leading the party, taking charge of the festivities, controlling the music playing in the locker room, and making sure every one of his teammates is included in the celebration. Messier was an extremely lively person, always staying active and making sure others around him did as well (Klein, 2003).

The last type that Eysenck spoke about was psychoticism and superego . Messier is in the middle of this scale, showing personality traits at both ends of the spectrum. He was more of a superego personality type, but exemplifying traits of both types, it would be unfair to classify him either way. The aforementioned trait of “aggressive” that Messier exhibits is one of the big reasons as to why he was so successful. As previously stated, Messier was indeed aggressive, but not to the extent of harming others. He was intimidating, and extremely rough in the way he played the game. However, off the ice, he was as warm and generous as anyone else (Klein, 2003).

Often in pro sports, a player is completely different while playing the game than when he is not . The same idea applies with Mark Messier. Although he is a big, tough guy who will run someone into the boards on the ice and do whatever it takes to get a goal, when off the ice, Messier was a calm, warm, and generous human being. Having a family with three kids and hosting many charity events, he clearly is not an aggressive person off the ice. Being aggressive and intimidating on the ice and calm and warm off the ice is just one of the ways that Messier can be put at both ends of the spectrum in Eysenck’s classification of psychoticism and superego (Klein, 2003).

Under the “psychotic” tag, Messier also exhibits Eysenck’s trait of creativity . Messier was creative both on and off the ice throughout his life. On the ice, he was one of the most creative players, using his hockey sense, skills, and skating ability to create plays that most would be unable to make. He had “the explosive speed, the uncanny creativity, the constant threat to score” (Pelletier, 2008). Messier was also creative on the other side of the puck in making sure that the opposition would not score, ultimately giving his team an opportunity to score a goal as well (Klein, 2003).

Off the ice, Messier was just as creative as he was when he was in full equipment playing hockey . Messier created numerous organizations and hosted various charity events. After the celebration in 1984 when the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup, Messier asked his coach what they were supposed to do with the Stanley Cup. When his coach responded, “Mark, it’s yours, you can do whatever you want with it,” Messier took that literally (Klein, 2003, p.66). Mark brought the Stanley Cup to hospitals, bars throughout the city, and created a tradition that still stands today, because of his creativity and ability to create something out of nothing. From an image of the Stanley Cup sitting in the middle of a quiet locker room, Messier created an annual tradition in which players take the Stanley Cup to places all around the world, including Europe, Australia, and more (Klein, 2003).

A big part of Messier’s personality, though, and one that gives himself such a positive reputation is his selflessness . There are so many examples of his selflessness that one could go on forever about this side of Messier. However, a few moments of his life stand out over anything else. When the Oilers won their first Stanley Cup in 1984, Messier lifted the Cup at center ice, and immediately skated over to members of his family in the corner of the rink. He put the Cup up to the glass to show them, as if to say, ‘this is yours as much as it is mine.’ Messier always thought of others before himself, and when a moment arrived that he could easily be selfish, his personality automatically changed to become that of a selfless man who was grateful for everything that his friends and family ever did for him (Klein, 2003).

When Mark Messier won the Stanley Cup in 1994 with the New York Rangers, it is tradition for the captain to be the first one to lift up the trophy, and then pass it on to his teammates . However, when the commissioner gave the trophy to Messier, he immediately called his entire team over so that they could experience the same exuberance that he was experiencing at that moment. As the announcer stated, Messier was “a great champion” (“Mark Messier’s Guarantee,” 2006). The same act of selflessness continued during the Stanley Cup parade, as he allowed other members of his team to hold the Stanley Cup, usually done only by the captain. This is just another of many examples of Messier’s selflessness (Klein, 2003).

When Mark Messier retired after the NHL lockout in 2006, the New York Rangers, Edmonton Oilers, and Vancouver Canucks (all three teams that he played for) retired his number by raising Messier’s number to the rafters of the teams’ respective arenas . In his speech to the crowd in New York the night they held this ceremonious event, Messier stated that “my jersey hanging from the ceiling is going to be a symbol of the hard work of the people I played with” (“Mark Messier Quotes”).

He continued to explain that he “never really spent a lot of time thinking about [his] individual accomplishments, actually” (“Mark Messier Quotes”) . Winning, he explained, was the only thing that matters, and no matter how many goals or points he had personally, if his team did not win, it did not matter. I haven’t celebrated coming in second place too many times,” he concluded (“Mark Messier Quotes”). Messier is constantly relaying his personal accomplishments towards his teammates and his history of winning. His most prized accomplishment is not how many points he has or how long he played, but the fact that he won six Stanley Cups throughout his illustrious career. He is always quick to attribute that to his numerous teammates. Messier’s selflessness is one of a kind, and unmatched by any player in history.

On the way to his Hockey Hall of Fame induction ceremony in 2008, Messier explains in his speech that he was approached by an “older man trying to make it on the streets” (“Mark Messier’s HHOF Induction Ceremony Speech Part 1”) . The man, although begging for money, approached Messier in order to congratulate him on being given the prestigious honor of being inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame. Instead of doing what the average person would do, namely back away and ignore the man, Messier stopped, talked to the man, and thanked him for his support. Many celebrities would not be found within ten feet of a homeless man, yet Messier took time out of his busy schedule to speak with one who had confronted him. As mentioned above, Messier’s selflessness and generosity is unmatched by any professional hockey player throughout history (“Mark Messier’s HHOF Induction Ceremony Speech Part 1”).

Eysenck’s theory deals with traits, behavior, habits, and personality types . He even created four types of personality tests in order to have people understand what kind of person they were. These tests included the EPI (Eysenck Personality Inventory), the MPI (Maudsley Personality Inventory), the EPQ (Eysenck Personality Questionnaire), and the revised version of the EPQ (Feist and Feist, 2009). Mark Messier exhibits Eysenck’s personality theory a great deal, because of his various traits. Messier fits into the extraverted category a great amount, is slightly a stability type, and is split on psychoticism and superego. Messier has had a long and illustrious career in hockey, yet his personality has been constant from the time he first started to talk until today. Messier fits very well into Eysenck’s theory of personality, and could very easily be an archetypal character to advocate the theories that Eysenck created.


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“Mark Messier’s HHOF Induction Ceremony Speech (Part 1).” (2008).


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