On the day of what can arguably be described as the biggest day in North American sports, Super Bowl Sunday, I find myself in a minority position when it comes to giving a damn. I’ve never really been a football fan – hockey and golf seem to hold my interest – and I’m definitely not in the habit of worshipping the ground these best-of-the-best athletes walk on. Now I’m not saying I’m a perfect human – I’m far from it – and I’ve been lucky to make my mistakes in private without the world standing around judging me.
That being said, my kids are starting to pay attention to what’s on the TV and are going to start to look to people that aren’t my wife and I as role models. As such, I started paying closer attention to the famous faces that SportsCentre plasters all over their highlight reels and I noticed something: a lot of them are little more than just really good athletes.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick is a God-fearing fella with a few tattoos, a better than average passing arm, and seemingly no fear of running the ball. He takes the field for his first Super Bowl appearance today playing on the first professional sports team to openly support the gay and lesbian community. Now that’s a really big deal, and one that San Francisco player Chris Culliver came out and said he was not OK with. Now, that’s his choice, but I’ll be the first to tell you I’m not running out and getting my kids a Culliver jersey any time soon. If anything, I’ll be using him as an example of someone whom my kids should pay as little attention to as possible.
Unfortunately, the number of athletes on that list of mine is more than a few. It seems that for every incredible story on the field there’s an incredibly idiotic one that’s happening off of it. Pick your poison: religious extremists, misogynists, rapists, philanderers, racists, bigots, drug addicts, blood dopers, steroid abusers, liars, and cheaters. You can certainly find these people in among famous scientists, writers, and educators as well but the principal difference is the media is not often pushing them into our line of sight and hanging off their every word hoping for a sound bite they can use to open the show.
Now, the good news is we also have many respectable athletes to choose from as well. For every jerk with record setting statistic there’s another one I’d gladly hang a poster of on my wall. Sidney Crosby, the poster boy of the NHL, lived with Mario Lemieux for the first 5 years he was in Pittsburgh – to help with his transition from a small town kid to a big city superstar. Here was a full grown, voting age adult with a job making millions of dollars a year, and a full entourage of advisers, coaches, and support staff living with his boss and mentor. No controversy, no scandal, no embarrassing photographs… just a pretty nice guy who happens to be a pretty amazing hockey player.
I suppose my wish is for the media – and the general public – to do a better job of distinguishing good athletes from good people, because at the end of the day they’re all just people. For all they do on and off the field, I think it’s important to remember they have their own problems, their own hurdles to overcome, life lessons to learn, or growing up to do. They also have their own opinions – which you don’t have to agree with. I know in a lot of cases I certainly don’t, and I used to get worked up over it, but I try not to any more. I’ve just stopped putting athletes on a pedestal and touting their virtues to the world because they happen to be rich and good at their jobs. At the end of the day they’re just a bunch of guys who excel at playing games.
I’ll acknowledge that fact they possess remarkable athletic skill, and I’ll be duly impressed by it, but after that I’ll be keeping a close eye on the ones I point out to my kids, because superstar athletes have just as much chance as the next guy of being absolutely bat shit crazy.
Go Niners (most of them)!