Sorry if I'm going a little off script with this post, but it's something I've had on my mind for a while now and I've just got to get it off my chest.
This past week we saw Ben Roethlisberger come close to winning a third Super Bowl and join the elite ranks of guys like Joe Montana and Tom Brady. The good news is that Ben lost and a guy I like much better, given that he came from Cal, Aaron Rodgers took the win as well as the MVP.
It just got me to thinking though. As a sports fan, we develop this unexplainable love for players and a lot of us develop a vehement dislike for others. And really, what do we basis that dislike on? For the longest time, I hated Barry Bonds. I couldn't stand his big balloon head that seemed to contain even more mammoth arrogance. Yet, the only reason I had for not liking the guy was seeing some of the snippets that the media decides to show us. And Barry was no fan of any media. Hell, ESPN turned Pedro Gomez into a Bonds stalker for a couple of seasons.
Here's the thing. We really don't know these athletes at all. All we know is the 15-30 second clips we get on nightly news shows when most of the time they're guarded. And when someone actually decides to show some emotion or snaps at a reporter in the heat of the moment, that often changes the public perception of that athlete. I remember thinking that I began disliking Tiger Woods when I saw him go ballistic on some dude for snapping photos years ago. I told my wife at the time, "That right there is the real Tiger Woods. Not the cellophane projection we see on a daily basis. No other athlete's image is as well crafted as Tiger's is." Well we know what eventually happened with Tiger.
Then again, I tend to be skeptical naturally of any athlete that goes out of their way to create that perfect image. Except maybe Peyton Manning. My gut feeling is that what you see is what you get with Manning. At the same time, my point in all of this is that all I know of Manning is what we've seen in media reports and my instincts on seeing him in Double Stuf and Sony commercials. Who knows what kind of person Manning really is? Or any of these athletes. I suppose as A's fans, we know this all too well, considering McGwire and Giambi.
You might've put Brett Favre in that same Manning-like bucket a few years ago (prior to retire-unretire-retire-unretire, etc.). Remember the outpouring of love Favre got when his Dad passed away and he went crazy on the Raiders? I think it was a MNF game too. Then even this past year Favre gets caught up in a scandal where he allegedly was sending photos of his unit to a Versus cable host.
Truthfully though, any one of our favorite athletes is awaiting a similar fall. Maybe not in as large and spectacular a fashion as a Tiger Woods or Ben Roethlisberger or Michael Vick, but when you deify human beings the way we do, as Ronnie James Dio (RIP) once said, the only way to go is down.
I know that might sound preachy, especially from someone who once had tee shirts that read, "In Billy We Trust" but I've just become guarded and leery of worshipping athletes (or celebrities) too much over the years. Especially as I've started having children of my own and they're getting older. Maya often sits down and watches games with me. She'll watch soccer and hockey (haven't convinced her on the glory of baseball yet but I was a late comer to baseball too so perhaps it just takes us Blez family time). And I start to cheer for Marty Brodeur. Listen I used to worship at the altar of Martin Brodeur. And then during the 2003 Stanley Cup playoffs when Brodeur was about to win his third Stanley Cup, scandal broke. It turned out that Brodeur, who I named a dog after (Marty), had been in a relationship with his wife's sister-in-law. Yeah, it was u-g-l-y.
I think it might've been that moment that I decided that an athlete was never going to suck me into the image he created through the media again. Brodeur has always bucked the trend of goalies in that he was affable, pleasant and would talk to the media on game days. I even interviewed him back in his younger days and he was extremely pleasant. And maybe some people don't care what someone does on their free time, but at that time I did actually care. I thought this person was not only a remarkable athlete, but a great person too.
That was the moment where I think my innocence died and I began approaching my sports fandom totally differently. I started to realize that all I can do as a sports fan is to judge an athlete based on their performance on the field. That's all we have because the media filter keeps us from ever truly knowing these larger-than-life heroes. I don't automatically assume that every athlete is a bad person or guilty of anything, I just try and avoid ever making the assumption that someone is necessarily good. I'd like to think I just reserve judgment, no matter how awesome they appear publicly. You don't know if one is out there raising fighting dogs and killing animals or sleeping with their sister-in-law. It's just the nature of the beast. As my kids get older I can simply tell them, this is a great player and make no commentary on the people.
Unfortunately, it's all we have.
But the good news is, pitchers and catchers, baby. Pitchers and catchers!