Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sorry Josh, We Loved You So Now We Get to Destroy You

There is something that really bothers me about the modern sports culture. The spectator world of sports (fans and journalists) claims to love the games and teams it observes. If you listen to answers to direct questions on the matter.

But if you watch and listen to it on a daily basis, the truth is that this is a convenient facade. It is a moral preemptive strike. The sports world glows on the surface in effusive praise for the athletes while underneath it jealously boils as it waits for the next star to fall.

And as it plummets from the heavens into which we rushed it, the sports world gleefully gets our kicks in. It is our right because we showered it with love on the way up.

Josh Howard is the latest example of this; you'll recognize him from the red bull's-eye on his back. Look, I'm not saying he's the sharpest tool in the shed. Nor am I saying he doesn't deserve criticism for poor timing and judgment. What I am saying is let's try to hang on to that last edge of perspective. This shouldn't be hard for a real fan.

There is the marijuana incident. The worst that can be said here is his timing was colossally stupid and his judgment was questionable. That's it. And let's be honest here, such a distraction should not be an excuse for affecting the performance of an athlete getting paid millions of dollars to play. In the playoffs no less. If it's news to you that NBA players (along with millions of other Americans) smoke marijuana when not on the job, well your world will be shattered the more time you spend outside of your bubble. Go back.

There is also the Star-Spangled Banner episode. Again, the worst that can be said here is that his timing and judgment were colossally stupid. He needs to realize he is under a microscope at all times and disrespecting the country, even as a goof, while we are in two wars (three if you count the one with Wall Street) is just d-u-m-b.

But several other things need to be pointed out. First, Josh Howard is 28. That sounds far more mature than it really is. Remember, all these athletes are in a bubble of fawning handlers probably from middle school on. Additionally, the NBA is not real-life; being a 20-something millionaire is not real-life. These things have to retard emotional development and maturation. I'm not saying this excuses any lapse in judgment or sin, but I think Josh's were pretty mild.

Second, Josh is African-American. Like it or not, race is and probably will be relevant for my lifetime. Here, it is relevant because (a) African-Americans have a right to a reasonable degree of resentment towards the country; and (b) as suburban teens underage drink, inner city kids seem to smoke marijuana. A disproportionate number of those teens are African-American. Argue these points if you will, but - if you take them as true - both would make Howard's already mild lapses in judgment even more so.

Third, Josh has apologized. Sincerely. The apology showed a depth of thought beyond just, "I'm sorry" for spin's sake. He evidenced understanding that the country is not perfect but has given him a lot as well. He displayed respect for the sacrifices of the military and understanding that he had disrespected those sacrifices. Additionally, he took responsibility for his actions. Instead of using the passive voice to duck it (i.e. I'm sorry for what happened, I'm sorry if people were offended, etc.), Josh stood up like a man and took possession of his actions and consequences. None of us is perfect and Josh has done all that you can ask in the wake of human imperfection.

And this brings me back to my opening point. I am a fan because I love watching the sports I play. I love watching them played at the highest level. I admire those men and women who have dedicated their lives to this pursuit. As such, I don't look for every reason to destroy these athletes (unless they play for the Dallas Cowboys, Los Angeles Dodgers/Lakers, or anywhere in Boston). I don't believe anyone who truly loves these games would do so. I don't believe the sports world would do so if all that love was genuine.

But that is exactly what happens every day. There is ample room for criticism. Serious criticism. But instead of addressing these issues - domestic violence, illegitimate children, suffocating egotism, out-of-control salaries and ticket prices, etc. - we wait like rabid dogs for the next sensational headline. Then we attack, and we keep attacking regardless of the severity until the next athlete stumbles into the crosshairs.

Again, I want to be very clear about this. I am the first to admit that many of these athletes have become loathsome, self-impressed parasites with absolutely no regard for anyone but themselves. But attack them. Don't attack Josh Howard just because he is a pro athlete and has screwed up.

Or at least do your due diligence. If you learned that Josh has spent an impressive amount of time and money improving the community in which he grew up, maybe a couple slips of the tongue aren't so serious.

In that spirit, boo the guy who's dogging it and doesn't care (J.D. Drew). Don't boo the guy who is killing himself without results even if he is making most of our yearly salaries in a couple games (1st half Barry Zito).

Use the power of the pen against the guy scattering illegitimate children like apple seed (Travis Henry to name the latest). Don't use it against some poor kid who's greatest sin might be that he's too emotionally fragile for the NFL (Vince Young).

If we expect the athletes to hold themselves to a higher code, we must hold ourselves to one as well. Believe me, you will still get to spew all the venom and bile you want.

You'll just have to dilute it with some reality.

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