Sports Stars Are People Too

What do we expect from our sports stars?  I expect people to appreciate what they do for a living enough to be humble, and understand that it is a privilege to play a game for a living.  I expect my heroes to not let me down, if I can find one.  Maybe I expect sports stars to be perfect. 

That is way too much to ask for. 

Serena Williams’ outburst at the US Open tennis championship over a foot fault call by an official showed that she is human.  It showed the emotion of the moment, a moment of competition where the match hung in the balance.  And, she let a lot of people down.  But I don’t see why.  Shouldn’t our sports stars be passionate enough to show emotion on the field of play?  Everybody cheers when Tiger pumps his fist after another spectacular shot, but if he is curt with the press after a bad round, everybody wants to crucify the guy.  Serena apologized for the outburst to her fans and the officials.  In this day and age, she could be fined or suspended from tournament play if she doesn’t admit some kind of wrongdoing in a moment of passion.  So she broke a racket.  So what?  She didn’t break it on her opponents head.  Serena’s the one who has to dig another thousand dollar racket out of her bag and keep playing.  So she yelled at an official.  She should treat the officials with respect, but she should be allowed to voice her opinion on the court without fear of retribution. 

This incident is different from what happened at the Boise State-Oregon game, when, after the game ended, a defensive back from Oregon sucker punched a defensive end from Boise State who rubbed in the fact that the Broncos had won the game.  He took his frustration out on the opponent, lost his composure, and, ultimately, lost his senior season, and maybe his opportunity to play at the next level.  Nobody wants to draft a kid who has problems controlling his temper on the field.  A kid who has stolen a car and has a checkered past when it comes to run ins with the law is okay, but a hothead who may cost you fifteen yards on the field can’t play on our team. 

I’m not defending what this kid did, and a suspension is appropriate.  But let’s apply some kind of common sense when it comes to making a kid a millionaire.  At the pro level, image is very important.  If you have doubts, ask Plaxico Burress.  You can visit him in jail.  Ask Michael Vick.  He had to declare bankruptcy.  Ask Marvin Harrison, who is two three years removed from a Super Bowl title, and now unemployed.  Ask Shawn Merriman, who was accused of smacking his significant other around (the charges were dropped).  If a guy gets in trouble off the field, he is going to pay a hefty price.  In Burress and Vick’s case, it was two years off of a career.  And Burress didn’t hurt anyone but himself.  Now, taking a loaded gun into a crowded club wasn’t smart, and the results could have been a disaster.  I’m not sure two years in jail is appropriate in this case.  Illegal possession of a firearm in New York is kind of on the serious side, I guess.  Maybe Plax should move to Birmingham. 

I’ve been let down by some of my childhood heroes.  I grew up watching OJ Simpson run with the ball, and a guy named Lyle Alzado harrass NFL quarterbacks playing for the Denver Broncos and Oakland (or LA) Raiders.  We all know about OJ’s saga.  Alzado admitted he used steriods when he played and died early from cancer, which he believed to be solidly linked to his steriod use.  Michael Jordan, the greatest player ever in the NBA, gave a bitter and ridiculous acceptance speech upon induction into the NBA Hall of Fame this past weekend.  He proved to be a petty, small man with little character when it came to those whom he felt wronged him during his life.  He went so far as to fly up the guy the high school coach put on the varsity team his junior year instead of him, to remind the coach that he made a mistake.  I guess class is a dying attribute. 

We must remember that these people are just like us, raised in homes by parents of varying skills in the child-rearing department.  We don’t always consider the guy who went to work at a job he detested for twenty years to pay the bills a hero.  But he is.  We don’t consider the woman who cooked and cleaned for us a hero.  But she is. 

Sports competition is charged with emotion, and we need to remember that.  When somebody makes a mistake, try to understand it, and let it go.  Forgiveness is, after all, divine.


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