I love sports just as much as the next guy or gal. I participate in Fantasy Football and fill out a pick sheet at work every week detailing who I think will win that Sunday’s (Thursday’s and Monday’s too) NFL matchups. I have a passing interest in Baseball, enjoy Hockey, and will even tolerate a NASCAR race or PGA match if those are the only things on TV. So I don’t have it out for sports or for professional athletes.
Like many of you, I was extremely disheartened to read about Adrian Peterson’s alleged child abuse against one of his many children with different mothers (and now there may be another case out there). The video of Ray Rice beating his wife in an elevator shows that, despite him being a man of incredible physical ability, he is a coward. The public outcry against the alleged actions of both players was loud, and it was that outcry which resulted in the suspension of both players more so than any sense of decency on the part of the teams and NFL. It is for this reason that I feel the actions of the teams and NFL were, and remain, extremely disingenuous. If these stories never came to light, and if the outcry was not there — both players would be suiting up on Sunday. The only reason they are not is because of that public outcry, recent corporate sponsor pressure (because no doubt those sponsors feel the pressure from that same public outcry), and the bully pulpit of a Governor.
The beating of wives and girlfriends (and the opposite occurs too — more often than we think) and abuse of children are not crimes in which professional athletes have a monopoly. In any business or organization in any sector of society, you will find it within its membership if you dig hard enough. But when we do find these things going on, where is the demand for action on the part of the public with the employers of those perpetrating these activities? With some exceptions, it doesn’t occur. The outrage isn’t there (or at least to the degree we see it with professional athletes and professional sports) because we generally are willing to accept that the employer sees this as a matter between the alleged abuser and the courts. So why the double standard?
I believe part of that is because we want to have role models to look up to, and for very misguided reasons we have placed professional athletes on that pedestal. There could be many reasons why this happens, such as:
- There have been some decent guys and gals who have played sports in the course of history
- They have provided us tremendous excitement (and disappointment if you are a Vikings fan)
- They offer us an escape from reality
- We are envious of their ability
- We envy the beauty and numbers of women in their lives
- We envy their salaries (never mind that the average NFL back only has a shelf life of about a season and a half, and if they have developed no other talents what they earn in that season and a half may be all they will ever have)
Those reasons are poor ones though. But with that placement on a pedestal comes some expectations that are too often not going to play out, because the men (and sometimes women) attracted to this profession too often do not possess the requisite moral character to be placed on that pedestal. A lot of the time it has not been developed, too often because they are given breaks in life that others of normal physical ability don’t get; and thus they don’t realize until later in life that actions have consequences. Those breaks more often serve the ones giving the breaks than receiving them too.
Other times it is simply because, for whatever reasons but ultimately through their own choices, too many are just not good people. Peterson, for example, has a great outer facade — but what good person has several kids by several mothers? What good person feels it is ok to take corporal punishment to the levels he did? We, and he, can claim he doesn’t know better because that is how he was raised, but that is simply an excuse. An excuse is nothing more than a lie we tell ourselves when we choose to use one. If he wasn’t a pro athlete, he would never even remotely be considered a role model nor a good person. But only because he can run fast and take it to the house, we decide to make him one.
That isn’t his fault. It is ours for putting him on that pedestal, and then reacting with shock and outrage when he lets us down through his reprehensible actions. We should be disgusted with what he did, but we also should not expect a higher standard from him because we have made a decision to idolize him due to his athletic abilities. That is a pretty stupid reason to idolize someone, but it is a choice we continue to make.
Perhaps the good that can come out of the pain and suffering of the children and wives involved with Peterson and Rice is we will finally start to learn to put people on pedestals — to idolize them — based on their character rather than profession and/or athletic ability. We can do this, and still enjoy our football on Sunday too.