He’s a cool guy

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This morning, while reading Deadspin’s thorough, disgusting chronicling of the Darren Sharper awfulness, I was thinking about a huge flaw in the sports-journalism system as we know it.

I call it the “He’s a cool guy issue.”

Most people who cover sports on a day-to-day basis are young. They’re 20-something, only a couple of years out of school, still raw and fresh and new and a bit star struck. They relish the access; the excitement. Hell, I’ve been there. It’s a pretty blissful feeling—your college pals work at banks and law firms and hedge funds, and you’re walking through the Dodgers clubhouse, talking with Matt Kemp before the game. Then you sit in the press box, eat free ice cream and Tweet.

What comes with this combination (youth plus access plus giddiness) is a tendency to classify any athlete who speaks with you kindly as “a good guy.” Again—I’ve been there. I vividly recall being 25 … 26 … 27 and emerging from interviews with a Jim Edmonds or Gary Sheffield or J.D. Drew and thinking, “What a great guy! What a really great guy!” And then, if I’d return a few months later and said great guy remembered my name … well, craps. It was sealed in melted iron print.

Truth be told, no one’s great, and few are awful. There’s a gray area where 97 percent of us reside. We do nice things, we do awful things. We have highs, we have lows. We donate $100 to a charity, we rush into school and park in the handicapped spot. Good. Bad. Highs. Lows.

Darren Sharper, it seems, is not a member of the 97 percent society. He sounds like an awful human being. A monster. A guy who, if the myriad charges are true, will never see the light of freedom again. He also is a perfect example of the “He’s a cool guy issue.” Sharper is charismatic and handsome and friendly. Smart. Good talker. I’m sure tons of NFL writers, when asked during his career, would have said, “Wonderful dude. Just wonderful.”

When he wasn’t allegedly drugging and raping.

I don’t know the answer to this. Perhaps there’s not even a point. I just know that, in sports journalism, we enjoy classifying, when our methodology is flawed and limited. A three-minute conversation doesn’t make someone great. A three-minute conversation doesn’t make someone awful.

We never know.

3 thoughts on “He’s a cool guy”

  1. I think you should have used the word allegedly. There is so much stuff out there, that most likely he is guilty, But he is still innocent until it is proven he is guilty.

  2. Really good point. I would take it a step further: The public “knows” athletes and other celebrities through the filter of the media, which “knows” them through three-minute conversations. Millions of people have thousands of opinions about hundreds of famous people each, who they “know” from the media. We (the public) don’t know them at all. We decide they’re “good guys”—and also “bad guys”—based on sportswriters doing what you describe here.

    A college lit professor once warned us students not to try to psychoanalyze an author through his or her work. “The simplest person is infinitely more complex than the most complex work of literature,” she said. And we all think we know these people through a couple of 750-word features and the odd short video clip on ESPN.

  3. I live in New Orleans and a friend actually got to hang out with Sharper (in small group outings through a mutual friend) twice. Said much the same, that he was smart, funny, nice, etc…But the fact is if all psychopaths (and it should be noted that while the initial reports look very damning, Sharper has not been convicted yet) wore their true colors on their sleeves, then no one would ever be a victim of a crime b/c we’d be able to see it coming. None of us know what goes on in anyone else’s head.

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