I have always been fascinated by the way sports fans react to information, particularly when it is in the negative variety, regarding their favorite players.
And over the past few years we have certainly had some interesting disclosures made by many of them that have made us stop and rethink our commitment to them.
And why do we seem to embrace some athletes, in spite of their personal foibles, but find others so hard to cheer for even when they’ve not had so much as a speeding ticket to damage their image? Let’s take a look at a few of those situations today to see if we can get to the bottom of that dilemma.
One of the prime examples of an athlete that has never been at the heart of the American sports fan is Carl Lewis even though his accomplishments in track and field are unparalleled. He has nine career gold medals; he has won the same event (long jump) at four different Olympics; and he has been named the Olympian of the Century by Sports Illustrated. He’s had a few endorsement deals but none like Bruce Jenner, Mark Spitz, or Michael Johnson.
Some have blamed his apparent “lack of humility” as one reason. But I don’t buy brashness and cockiness as a plausible reason because if that were a necessary commodity in our athletes, we’d never have the likes of Muhammad Ali or Terrell Owens, to name just two.
Maybe it is because track and field is only in the spotlight every four years and so we seemingly say, “out of sight, out of mind.”
That reason doesn’t explain then why stars like Jackie Joyner-Kersee and even Winter Olympic-star Apollo Ohno are so revered. I think I’ve got it! It’s because of the way Lewis butchered the singing of the National Anthem. If you’ve never seen the video of that horrific attempt, don’t bother to YouTube it! Please save your ears the trauma of suffering through it. We’ve never forgiven him for that.
But on the other end of the spectrum is a player that I have such a disdain for that it is difficult for me to even mention his name. There is no question that he is ferocious on the gridiron and one of the best defensive players currently playing pro football.
The fans in Baltimore and, I daresay, other cities in the league think enough of him to make his jersey one of the most sought-after today. He is brash. He is loud. And he is pompous. And, oh yes, he should be sitting in a prison cell instead of earning millions of dollars playing football.
His name is, of course, Ray Lewis and for some reason he didn’t receive the same verdict that his two companions did when two men the three of them were arguing with were mercilessly beaten then shot to death.
The other men are serving life terms while the two families of the men who were killed can do nothing but grieve. Certainly the two slain men share some blame in the confrontation but why was Ray Lewis allowed to walk out of the courtroom a free man when several witnesses put one of the smoking guns in his hands. And now, many people each Sunday cheer for him. I don’t understand it!
It seems so easy for us to forget the transgressions of our athletes. Chipper Jones has a child out of wedlock and we forgive. Players are caught with illegal substances and we forgive. Plaxico Burress thinks that he is above the law and carries a loaded weapon into a public place and we forgive. And I bet if you took a poll of current NBA fans, many of them would be hard-pressed to recall exactly what Kobe Bryant got in trouble for a few years back. Why? We forgive.
For those of you who read this column regularly, you know that I am a fan of Tiger Woods. I think he is the most focused athlete playing any sport today. I cannot place him as the greatest golfer of all time yet. That title still belongs to Jack Nicklaus until Tiger takes it away from him as I believe he will someday do.
But I found it very interesting that last week at the Masters the only negative commentary many of the broadcasters, including the great Jim Nance would make, was about Tiger’s anger issues and not about his infidelities. I can excuse a slip of the tongue and an occasional tossed golf club a lot easier than I can what he did to his wife and children but it seems that once he stepped on the first tee at Augusta, all of that was forgiven.
And now we have the saga of Ben Roethlisberger. I’ll just refer to him as “Big Ben” from now on because it’s too hard to spell Roethlisberger. The kid is a good quarterback- of that there is no mistake.
But he obviously has a problem dealing with his emotions and I say that because one accusation may be someone trying to pin something on a famous celebrity but twice is a signal that all is not what it seems.
Roger Goodell, the best commissioner in all of sports, has given him a six-game suspension but mark my words, when he steps onto the field for the first time next season, Steeler fans will be yelling their hearts out for him.
And you’ll notice that I haven’t even mentioned Michael Vick in this context. The reason is simple — I’ve made my feelings on that subject pretty well known that I think it is ridiculous that he is even being allowed to play pro football before so there is no reason to rehash it again.
So, why do we forgive? Forgiveness is a good thing. My favorite book and the lessons of one of its heroes tells us clearly that we should forgive and I do my best to live by those standards, so I do forgive.
But I don’t forget and that seems to be the case with many sports fans today. They forget too easily. Don’t be so doggone fickle! Quit buying their jerseys! Quit cheering for them! Make them atone for their wayward ways. Maybe it will help upcoming athletes see that there are repercussions for doing stupid things.
Randy Blalock is a columnist for the Barrow Journal. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.