July 21, 2003

Do we do professional athletes any favors...: ...by allowing them to lead such a coddled existence? This SI writer thinks so, in a time when athletes seem to be able to get away with all manner of stuff that would land any "normal" citizen in jail (Latrell Sprewell, for one).

posted by Jaquandor to culture at 06:37 PM - 14 comments

I see where the writer is trying to go, but I don't think he quite makes it there. First of all, it's not just athletes. Politicians, movie stars, musicians, CEO's all get the same treatment to a varying degree. The difference is that athletes, by their nature, are usually more physically fit and virile and their vices might be more likely to take the form of sexual prowess. I have no data to back this up, I guess I just base it on comparisons of Jeff Skilling, River Phoenix, and Kobe Bryant, and how many more examples I could think of like it.

posted by vito90 at 07:54 AM on July 22, 2003

This is just more of what Living Colour nailed years ago in their song Cult of Personality, though I would emphasize that the idea itself is much older. They just had the best song about it.

posted by billsaysthis at 11:27 AM on July 22, 2003

Watch the Kobe thing pretty carefully, I say. It will be an exercise in how we prop up our celebrities only to smash them down. I have to say, I find most of it endemic of our society, we trade in human misery as entertainment on a daily basis - it fuels us, it's all we talk about (people) and we feel justified in doing because they have money, or fame, or both. A lot of it is self-loathing in a modern consumerist sense. I'll just shut-up now.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:16 PM on July 22, 2003

Well you know Weedy, that's exactly the opposite of what they'd have us believe over here. Britain (and in particular) our media is pilloried for putting our sports stars/celebrities on pedestals and then revelling in, or even contributing to their downfall. America on the other hand is portrayed as a society where success in all fields, sporting or otherwise is respected and rewarded without any envy or recrimination. I think the guy has a point in his article about the cossetedness (is that a word?) of major sports stars. However, I'm unwilling to let that play any part in condoning the unacceptable actions of our sportsmen. They are grown men and should face the consequences of their actions. Perhaps sports organisations and teams should be made to educate them in their responsibilities as citizens.

posted by squealy at 12:30 PM on July 22, 2003

Squealy: I think the coddling of sports stars is a reality, and that the media and society at large play a large part in granting them the 'keys to the castle' so to speak, while letting them get away with a number of questionable behaviours. Is it wrong? Yes. However, I also believe that here we hold athletes to higher standards then we hold ourselves because of their success, or ability, or skill and justify our envy or contempt when they act human becuase they get paid so much. It's the hero-worship thing, and I find it rather distasteful. It's a bit of a catch 22.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:26 PM on July 22, 2003

we prop up our celebrities only to smash them down we hold athletes to higher standards then we hold ourselves I don't think expecting athletes not to rape women is "holding athletes to higher standards then we hold ourselves." If a jury eventually decides that he did rape her (and none of us has any idea whether he did), he'll go to jail (I hope) for rape, and that will have nothing to do with celebrity culture or "smashing down" our idols. The massive publicity is another matter, of course, but let's not confuse the flashbulbs with what they're illuminating.

posted by languagehat at 01:32 PM on July 22, 2003

languagehat - you provided kind of an example to that which I speak - he wasn't charged with rape - he was charged with sexual assualt, which is a rather different affair. At this time all we know is that he slept with her by his admittance. Yet, the story grows and changes and the media fuels the fire. It is the very presence of the flashbulbs that affect what they illuminate. I think you'd agree that a trial involving a celebrity will have everything to do with celebrity culture and idolitry. Kobe was not merely appluaded prior to last week, he was deified in the media as a wonderful example for all our children. Did he fool us? Did he fool the media that covered him day in and day out? Personally, I think its all just bullshit anyway - invented characteristics, and personality idioms - the story makes the facts, not the otherway around. In fact, his squeaky clean image was so spotless that it was argued in some circles that he needed more 'street cred' to be the biggest star in the circus. Well now he has his mug shot - and the same people that told us how great he was, will be the same to point out how selfish he was with the ball, or how he is aloof and unresponsive to his teammates, or any number of traits that could be corollated with anti-social or deviant behaviour. We bring them up, then take them down. It's a fact as far as I'm concerned.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 01:58 PM on July 22, 2003

oops - apparently 3rd degree sexual assault is rape. My mistake.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 02:30 PM on July 22, 2003

Can somebody link me some examples of Kobe's 'media deification'? (And please, not his defication.) Being held up as a wonderful example for our children? Please. Show me who wrote that. Yes the media, not too mention we everyday fans, tend to build these guys up more than they deserve, but let's not go overboard. Talent aside, Kobe was somewhat notable for the things he hadn't done - he hadn't gotten in trouble with the law, he doesn't have 400 square inches of body art, he hasn't fathered any children out of wedlock, etc. So maybe there was a general sense that he was a decent guy, but I never got the impression he was being marketed as the golden boy. Did I miss something?

posted by kloeprich at 05:13 PM on July 22, 2003

This guy's way off-base. Are we to assume that all athletes were never taught to be respectful to women? That everything that moves is fair game? Didn't they have mommies? Strip it all away, and Kobe Bryant is what we all are (sorry, jgirl) just a man. His superstardom means nothing in view of the moral standard. If he, or any other man, athlete or not, is too sick or too stupid not to realize that rape is wrong, then that man deserves whatever he gets.

posted by wfrazerjr at 07:21 PM on July 22, 2003

What the author describes is probably part of what creates the attitude and general selfishness some athletes display, but there's a big gap between acting like Barry Bonds and committing a felony. I do think the combination of coddling and money makes a lot of these guys believe they can get away with or buy their way out of anything. I don't believe for a minute they can't tell right from wrong.

posted by kloeprich at 10:17 PM on July 22, 2003

Kloeprich - I agree, its the sense of entitlement that I think drives these guys to do questionable things - that's kind of what the author is getting at when he speaks of coddling. But I think that it can lend itself to confusion over right and wrong - certainly not in issues relating to violence, but there's lots of grey areas, too. And hindsight is 20/20 and all that. I'm thankful my mistakes aren't given the critical treatment in newspapers from coast to coast. "Area man sleeps with woman, claims she's a 7. Sources indicate she was really a 2" Shit - I re-read all my previous posts and I didn't explain myself too well. C'est la vie.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 09:57 AM on July 23, 2003

Well, it can have consequences. In this case, a number of New Zealand Maori players have been bounced from a rugby tour of Canada for having criminal convictions. In one case, the player left Argentina after garnering an assault complaint and hasn't returned to face charges. Sadly, the NZRFU is trying to retaliate by suggesting that Canada shouldn't recieve tours in the future if the government won't make exceptions for convicted criminals. Here's a better idea: if you stop teaching young men that professional sports aren't a get out of jail free card, they may behave a little better. Sheesh.

posted by rodgerd at 10:48 PM on July 23, 2003

I think the writer has a good point that sports icons like Kobe have little or no real interaction with real women on a regular basis, from which people learn the appropriate ways to interact with people of another sex, race, religion, etc. Simplistic as it is, I went to Catholic school in high school. Although it was a mixed-sex school, I had a lot of friends who went to single-sex Catholic school. Trust me, these boys and girls had NO IDEA how to react to members of the opposite sex in a normal, healthy way. None at all. Because the only time they interacted was at dances or things like that, where the other sex isn't seen as "friend" or "peer" material, but as dating material. Same for Japanese men who don't know how to treat professional women when they come to America on business trips. They don't interact with any professional women in japan, so they have no idea how offensive they are to women in American. Same with people of different races who never interact with others of different races. The list goes on and on. Same with these guys. The only women they see are never seen as peers. It doesn't help that a vast number of the women they do interact with only want them for a booty call, money, and status. Of course they don't know or perhaps care what proper behavior is with a woman. I'm not making excuses for it, but I don't blame them entirely. They shouldn't be the superstars they are made to be, they shouldn't make the money they do, they shouldn't be coddled the way they are. And Kobe, if he raped that women, deserves jail time. but I think we need to seriously re-evaluate the iconic staus and isolation our "sports heroes" (although what makes them "heroes" is another whole discussion) experience here in America.

posted by aacheson at 12:13 PM on July 25, 2003

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