This isn’t about women in the locker room. This isn’t about ballplayers missing out on a trip to visit wounded soldiers. This isn’t about Reggie Bush’s Heisman, Clinton Portis’ insensitivity, Luis Castillo’s squeamishness.
This is about unrealistic expectations.
We, America’s sports writers and sports fans, have them—and I’m not quite sure why.
Because our professional athletes are our heroes, and because they are paid insane amounts of money and because they appear on television and because they have cameras and microphones thrust upon them and because they wear $5,000 suits to the ESPYS and because they fist-pound movie stars and because they sit in the VIP section of Jay-Z’s club and because they date Kim Kardashian and Abby Clancy and Tila Tequila and Cheryl Cole and because the universe deems them to be cool and hip and sharp and snazzy and amazing, we expect great things. Not merely great athletic things—great worldly things.
This makes no sense.`
A couple of days ago, in a so-called “breaking news story” that went from 0 to 60 in about three seconds, Ines Sainz, a so-called “sports reporter” for TV Azteca, was apparently sexually harassed by a handful of New York Jets players and coaches. They did some stupid things, made some offensive comments, acted like the testosterone-loaded dolts they have subsequently been exposed as. The ensuing reaction was predictable—a couple of NFL players, given the chance to speak off script, moaned incoherently about females invading their space. Clinton Portis, the Redskins’ halfback, explained how any woman worth her salt would be turned on by looking at 53 naked athletic bodies. His words were echoed—though with less idiocy—by Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears. “I don’t think women should be in the locker room,” he told NBCChicago.com. “The locker room is the place where us guys, us football players, we dress, we shower, we’re naked, we’re walking around and we’re bombarded by media.”
Predictably, we responded to all of this with anger and outrage. Bad Clinton! Bad Lance! How dare you say such things! Terrible! Horrible! Inane! Portis apologized under pressure. Briggs almost certainly will, too. Maybe the Republic will survive. Maybe it won’t.
Put simply, we expect too much. Way too much. Professional athletes are, with rare exception, the most sheltered creatures on the face of the planet. They have been handed everything since youth; have had teachers pass them along (in exchange for free tickets) with Ds and Fs and INCOMPLETES; have been told they are God’s gift to [FILL IN THE BLANK) more times than one can possibly remember. They read Maxim and laugh uproariously at Will Ferrell movies and comb the land for free meals and long legs.
Then, when they say/do something absolutely stupid, we pounce.
Professional athletes are created, in part, by a stunting of the social skills. They focus on catching passes and throwing fastballs and landing checks into the boards, and if other areas pertaining to development fall behind, well, what’s a slight maturation lag in the name of a $5 million contract?
Does anyone here really expect Clinton Portis, Lance Briggs, et al to express worldly takes on the roles of women in society? Did anyone here actually think Reggie Bush was going to turn down the money to play college football? Last week, in a column I came to regret, I attacked three Mets (Castillo, Carlos Beltran and Oliver Perez) for not visiting the wounded troops at the Walter Reed Hospital in Washington. But why would anyone expect them to go in the first place?
More to the point, why do we keep asking athletes to live righteously … when we don’t? Yeah, Portis’ words were offensive. But how many of the men ripping him have made lewd comments to friends on Erin Andrews or Amy Fadool or the newly minted Sainz? Bush was clearly wrong accepting money to play an amateur sport. But would not most of us do the same were our family in financial need, as Bush’s was? As for the Mets—sure, the three were boneheaded to skip out on the Reed trip. But how many visits have I made? How many letters have I written to soldiers? How many meals have I cooked?
The time has come to step back and stop holding athletes up to an impossibly high standard of thinking, living and expounding.
After all, we are the ones who made them who they are.
We have created the monster.