Friday, April 23, 2010

"Character" Studies

What to make of the Ben Roethelsberger case? Tim Egan wrote an opinion piece in the NY Times this week that exposed (pun intended) the star quarterback's behavior as extreme and unacceptable. More than that, he questioned the NFL, and professional sports for the celebrity-athlete syndrome it has perpetuated. And the advertising community of which Nike is chief supporter and perpetuator. Nike stands by its athletes, including Tiger Woods and Ben R., apparently, sick, socially unacceptable behavior notwithstanding. There are photos from the night of Ben R's latest alleged sexual assault where Ben is posing with the local law enforcement officials at or near the bar where the alleged assault (I use the word alleged although the 500 page plus Georgia investigation report of the incident leaves no doubt what happened - only that the evidence retrieval was so botched no criminal case could be supported). Celebrity-athletes are larger than life and seem to be able to pretty much get away with whatever they want. The world with all its pleasures are there for the picking. Including underage girls, apparently. I have heard commented that the girls knew what they were doing, and they are hardly victims. This line of thought makes about as much sense as saying that a bunch of teens who climb into a car with a drunk driver who then crashes and kills all involved are to blame for what happened. Ben R. is much older, much bigger and was reinforced with bodyguards who apparently came to his aid and not the underage and drunk woman's aid. No doubt who the victim(s) are. And who the predator was.

So the NFL acted by suspending Big Ben for six games which can be reduced to four for "good behavior". What does that mean? What constitutes good behavior for Ben? Holding the door open for women? Ben's problem - as well as professional sports - is one of entitlement. This week is the NFL draft. It is held at Music City Hall in NYC with the seats filled. It is on ESPN in prime time. The first round picks stand to make millions of dollars. They are featured as celebrities already. Who is going to clue them in on what they can have and can't have. Will Ben R's suspension "send a message"? Probably not when the situation is largely our fault. The fan's fault. At the NFL draft, most of the crowd as they cheered and jeered (when Tim Tebow was selected #25 by the Broncos, a chorus of "Tebow sucks" could be heard), sported NFL jerseys, painted faces, and team caps. Fans turn out and make the draft must see tv! Even the NFL combine was SRO! We can't get enough pro sports. Or big time college sports - the NCAA basketball championship just announced an expanded tournament schedule of 68 teams with, of course, an expanded mega million dollar tv contract, as well. Fans buy the sports video games and play the fantasy sports leagues contributing more millions to the professional sports industry. Fans seem more than willing to suspend any reasonable expectations for "character" when it comes to their favorite sports personalities. We have long since passed the era when our sports figures were supposed to be "role models." Charles Barkley pretty much put an end to that.

Tim Tebow was drafted #25 surprising many so-called expert commentators who saw him going much lower due to what had been described as his faulty mechanics. On ESPN's draft show the point made by the so-called experts was for all the talk about Tebow's "character" it isn't worth much if he doesn't get on the field. Point being: you have to be a leader by your field performance before "character" matters. So, "character" only matters if your a winner. Huh? You gotta love Coach Jon Gruden who lends so much sanity to the otherwise unwise cast of so-called experts. He said, guys, any coach would love to have this guy in the locker room, on the team, at practices, in the games, on the bench; whatever, he is a winner who has "character". There is much to love in the games we play and watch. They hold a mirror up to our lives. "Character" matters no matter what you do. You can't win without it.