Get Off Your Pedestal, America

Dan BradleyContributor IDecember 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 11:  A TAG Heuer watch billboard with an image of golf legend Tiger Woods is shown  on December 11, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Woods announced that he will take an indefinite break from professional golf to concentrate on repairing family relations after admitting to infidelity in his marriage. Woods has a TAG Heuer professional golf watch model named for him.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images

Tiger Woods. Patrick Kane. David Letterman.

A travelin’ man who shouldn’t have been married. A 20-year-old child. A guy who, quite possibly, is in a non-monogamous relationship.

Why do we continue to hold sports figures and other celebrities to higher standards than ourselves, and express outrage when they unavoidably let us down? It’s not even plausible to think that because a guy happens to be extremely good at one thing, he certainly must be good at everything.

The pressure!

Take a look at others who do great things – like doctors. Do we expect them to be perfect as well?  It’s certainly more important that they do their job well. When they go home, we tend not to care anymore.

(And trust me, as someone who’s spent a lot of time in hospitals – if you set a reality show in one, you’d be watching everybody run around doing exactly what they do on those other television shows.)

We certainly accept other figures – raucous rock stars, reclusive alcoholic writers, cheating thieving politicians – to come with some degree of trouble.  

In fact, when a group of polite, pro-abstinence musicians like The Jonas Brothers comes along, they’re downright ridiculed by all but the tween girls who wish to violate them.  

The great Michael Jordan had his share of public troubles – gambling debts that could have paid off the Illinois budget deficit, an unfriendly divorce, and turning out to be a “told you so” kind of jerk at his Hall of Fame inductment speech – but that doesn’t mean the six championships he helped bring to Chicago don’t still bring this city together when we remember one of the greatest sports teams of all time.

Years after his career ended, Pete Rose still isn’t in the baseball Hall of Fame. But that doesn’t mean he was any less of a baseball player. In fact, it’s probably expanded his legacy.

People are people. They’re not machines. They don’t spit statistics. Careers rise and fall. Chemistry, coach, weather, love, marriage, drugs, nerves, and motivation all affect the player. The man. The guy.

Look at other examples of sports humanity from just the past year in Chicago: players playing well in contract years (Martin Havlat, Ben Gordon), players playing poorly while dealing with issues off the field (Ryan Dempster had a sick daughter), players imploding, then exploding under pressure (Milton Bradley), and players welcoming their first child into the world, then moving to a new country and having trouble concentrating enough to adjust (Kosuke Fukudome).

It’s unfair to everybody when we constantly get mad at these people for being people.

Athletes and celebrities should be punished with the same standard as the rest of us.

Giggle at the insanity of the Tiger Woods story, and then get over it. It’s not altogether terribly surprising.

Now… When a politician uses state money to visit his secret Argentinean girlfriend – THAT is an issue of public concern. Or when another votes against gay rights and turns out to be hitting on other dudes in bathrooms across America – THAT may be an issue of concern for some. 

Similarly… The Plaxico Burris situation warrants jail time because he endangered others. But Woods and Letterman only hurt themselves and (possibly) let down their loved ones. All of the others above deserve rehabilitation and a chance to prove themselves.

On sports talk radio I heard many an appalled fan calling for an immediate trade of Patrick Kane because he’s “a thug.” 

Pshh. You thought you were a gangster when you were 20, too.

Kaner puts himself on display on the ice for us to enjoy – he didn’t invite us out on the town with him that night. And Tiger Woods didn’t invite you into his home. So move on, stop talking about it, and the problem of them being “bad role models” for the kids will go away. Because all we’ll be left with are stellar athletes performing acts that inspire us all.

Celebrities, especially athletes, are examples of the human spirit – of how strong we can be – how far we can push ourselves. When they screw up, it reminds us that we’re ALL weak. And it makes us mad.

Comeback stories like that of Josh Hamilton are our favorite stories of all, because they give us visions of strength even in the face of adversity. But admit it – you would have given up on him long ago.

Remember: if we choose to root for a team, we choose these people to represent us – us who have also cheated, gambled, and experienced hubris – our cities – which we throw wrappers on the ground of while complaining about parking and taxes – and our neighbors – whose driveways we bury as we snow plow our own.

Because people are people. And people are human.

But that doesn’t mean that they’re not great.