I linked to Jim Palmerâ€™s post about his love for the Lakers in the NBA finals and made a rather unfair comment about Jim when I was really frustrated with North Americaâ€™s infatuation with Kobe Bryant.
My problem with is Kobe but also with a professional sports culture (which as a big time fan, I am a part of) that says that because these guys put pucks in a goal or can score 50 in a night, it doesn’t matter if they drive drunk and commit vehicular homicide, sexually assault a women, or shoot themselves in the leg, as long as they can perform on the field, all is forgiven and forgotten. On a smaller scale, NCAA basketball is the epitome of that where it doesnâ€™t matter what a coach did someplace else, as long as he can help us win and go deep into the tourney, all is good. I donâ€™t know if you remember what happened with Lawrence Phillips. Late at night when the team returned from East Lansing, Michigan, Phillips went looking for his ex-girlfriend, Kate McEwen, a basketball player for the Nebraska women’s team. He found her in the apartment of another football player, Scott Frost. Frost had transferred from Stanford the year before, and was sitting out the 1995 season. Phillips found McEwen and assaulted her by dragging her down a stairwell by her hair and by her shirt. Frost was eventually able to intervene, but not before Phillips had caused significant harm to McEwen. Nebraska coach Tom Osborne kept him on the team. Talent is everything in professional sports (yes I called NCAA professional sports on purpose).
At the Centre, I help run the halfway house which deals with guys who have committed federal crimes. I wonâ€™t get into any details but in Canada, federal crimes are the most serious ones and you can use your imagination. At the same time I see every day how men can be rehabilitated and changed. I don’t think we need to give up on them. I don’t think anyone should give up on Kobe but what bothers me is how as society we elevate up Kobe and how short our memories are because of his considerable talents. His aggressive legal team and the incompetence of the Eagle Colorado police caused the case to be dropped. Shortly afterwards Kobe came out and said this
I also want to make it clear that I do not question the motives of this young woman. No money has been paid to this woman. She has agreed that this statement will not be used against me in the civil case. Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did. After months of reviewing discovery, listening to her attorney, and even her testimony in person, I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.
Of course after admitting to having unconsensual sex with someone (or rape if you prefer), the endorsements came back, fans started to buy the jerseys and he became the biggest star in the NBA. Even in Canada, The Score has done hours of documentaries just with him and Cabbie. We have short memories towards professional athletes and I think we will as long as they can continue to wow and entertain us.
Oddly enough, our attention span seems to be longer in the case involving Michael Vick and dog fighting than it does towards players who show violence towards women. I guess that is what made the situation with Jason Kidd so unique in Phoenix when Jerry Colangelo traded him to the Nets. Itâ€™s rare to see an owner take a stand like that. (although kudos to Arthur Blank in Atlanta for standing behind Vick as a person but at the same time saying there are lines that canâ€™t be crossed).
In most cases, we tend to look the other way if they help the home team wins. Look how San Francisco still cheered for Barry Bonds in spite of overwhelming evidence than he used steroids. CFL fans overlook Warren Moonâ€™s incidents with the law because of what he did in Edmonton and Houston (among other places). It goes beyond sports. After Rihanna was attacked by Chris Brown, I listed to numerous women call in and defend Chris Brown being played on air. Caller after caller had the same rationale. Itâ€™s good music so it doesnâ€™t matter what he does.
So maybe I am the exception, I still think it matters what an athlete does off the court and that affects how we see them as fans. We donâ€™t know the story and too be honest I wanted to believe Kobe didnâ€™t do what he said he did but when he admitted it and then walked back to everything after reading an apology and confession, it bothers me because he went back to money, fame, and adoration while in the process of defending Kobe, his lawyers destroyed his accuser.
Of course I shouldnâ€™t be surprised. According to Forbes.
Look at Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, who exemplifies how the American public can overlook past transgressions by its sports stars. In 2000 the perennial All-Pro was involved in an altercation that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two people. Lewis was closely linked to the murders and eventually pled guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice charges. Lewis was the Super Bowl MVP the year after the incident occurred, but companies wouldn’t touch him. Yet, four years later, he’s one of the NFL’s most marketable players– not to mention the cover boy of Electronic Arts videogame Madden NFL 2005–with major endorsement deals from Reebok and Under Armour.
I wonder if this is redemption. For me redemption comes from a change in character, restitution for your actions, and life changed. By minimizing it down to what happens on the field when it is 3rd and goal or making it all about hitting a clutch shot, arenâ€™t we minimizing both what they did and who they are? We give redemption to #24 Kobe Bryant the player but we minimize who athletes are as humans. For me I want my heroes to be heroes, not just guys who can break down a defense.
Most of you know I love NFL Films. One of my favorite was one they did on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1976 winless season (you know, before the Detroit Lions made it common). On the stories was about a running back who was cut by John Robinson because he wasnâ€™t smart enough to learn the playbook. I cringed when I saw Robinson gently tell him. Two decades later, NFL films decides to find the player. I half expected to find him homeless. He was anything but that. He used his college education and is a teacher. He may not have had a knack for reading defenses but he knows chemistry pretty well. Yet who cares about 20+ years teaching kids, yet we idolize those we can run fast, shoot a ball, or cover a receiver.