So, scratch Tom Brady off the list of potentially gay athletes. Or at least I hope so, because if the Janus-like love life of this three-time Super Bowl winner gets any sexier we're going to have to call in the SWAT team. I HATE it when my beautiful actress ex-girlfriend turns up pregnant just when I'm getting the party started with a Brazlian supermodel. Who amongst us has not suffered this anxiety?! It is truly the DMV of romantic predicaments. Such a friggin' pain...
In all seriousness, I never know how to react to stories like the one regarding Brady and his amorous travails. I feel deeply conflicted over the question of whether I should even be reading about such things at all, let alone receiving a vicarious charge from them. On a certain level it feels like a completely unethical invasion of privacy, but on the other hand I’m afraid I really enjoy gossip. Not ALL gossip — I viscerally dislike it when it seems that invasion of an individual's privacy is promoting enormous pain in his or her life — but I confess that this outlandish scenario landed on me in a highly comical fashion. Brady is young, handsome, unmarried, wealthy and accomplished. To my mind this makes him sort of honor-bound to do things that a person of my exponentially more modest stat line cannot even remotely conceptualize. Not all of these adventures are apt to yield optimal results, but then what purpose would really be served if they did? I like Cal Ripken just like anyone else, but where’s the escapist glee in the highly moral exploits of a good-natured family man?
It is a peculiar ambivalence and causes me to ponder what exactly is it we are entitling ourselves to with
our emotional and financial investment in sports stars, and high-profile public figures more generally. We know these individuals are handsomely compensated to entertain us on the field, but can we also feel good about enjoying the ancillary craziness as well? The line between crass media exploitation surrounding events like the IQ-draining bore of Anna Nicole Smith’s tawdry demise and the rather more convivial human interest stories like the Brad Pitt-Angelina Jolie-Jennifer Aniston fantasia is profoundly blurry, if it in fact exists at all. The prior scenario is deeply depressing to me while the latter is a remarkable window into the concerns of the unimaginably wealthy and glamorous, but at the end of the day it is basically all mindless reportage cut from the same insipid cloth. Probably the ideal solution would involve imposition by all media of a full scale moratorium on relaying private activities at all, but given the enormous market for and apparently irresistible nature of the gossip industry, we may rest assured that this will never come to pass. So I suppose it is incumbent on each individual and media outlet to make their own personal accommodations with how far they can comfortably venture into the celebrity imbroglio of scandal and enchantment. Thus we set out on a midwinter soul-searching escapade here at the Proven System.
The dictums of sports journalism as it relates to the private lives of professional athletes is currently unclear. This is distinct from the political realm, where following the bizarre fugue of the Monica Lewinsky scandal, most of the Washington press corp seemed to enter into a kind of detante with respect to disclosing the most salacious aspects of the lives of those public servants. I suspect that is because it became clear following the Clinton impeachment and subsequent forced resignations of Bob Livingston, Newt Gingrich and others for similar transgressions that soon there would be no one left in public life, or at least no one remotely colorful. As unbearable as American politics can often feel, it could only be made exponentially worse if everyone not exhibiting the revolting negative charisma of, say, Mitch McConnell, were to be drummed out of office for some
random sin of the flesh. Anyway, that seemed like part of the calculation. There also seemed to have been
other more mysterious factors in play. I've never quite grasped why the sudden pullback from tramping
through the licentious past lives of politicians seemed perfectly times to benefit George W.'s preposterous ascent to the Presidency, but that is a topic for a different time, and I don't want the symptoms to return. (Owing to recent events I have taken to living alone in a small, one room student flat, where ,like Raskolnikov, I spend my days growing feverish and thinking up unmentionable schemes. Thus I must train myself to think only good thoughts.)
But such is not the case in the sports world. In recent weeks there has been a spate of stories regarding off-field matters involving athletes, some of that quite ugly in nature. Particularly disturbing is the highly public unfurling of divorce proceeding between New Jersey Nets star point guard Jason Kidd and his estranged wife Joumana. With accusations ranging from extreme physical and verbal abuse to binge drinking, excessive gambling and just about every other manner of interpersonal cruelty, it is almost impossible not to have one's experience of the games themselves altered by these revelations. This bothers me: just because I read something in the New York Post doesn't mean I KNOW anything about Kidd and his marriage. But I cannot seem to keep myself from somehow ineffably judging him on this basis. It brings to mind the toxic but inarguable effectiveness of negative ads in political campaigns. Whatever the veracity of a given truth claim, once a deeply ugly behavior is attributed to an individual it becomes almost impossible to remove the stigm. While the impact is nearly subliminal, the consequences for a reputation can be immeasurably ruinous. The decision to report on these things is often treated capriciously. When somewhat less disturbing revelations have come to light recently during the contentious divorce of legendary New York Giants defensive end Michael Strahan, I read these details put of curiosity, and then felt ashamed. They told me nothing of consequence about professional football, and I immediately couldn’t think of why I should know the reasons that his marriage didn’t work out.
This would seem to suggest an easy solution to this dilemma: if an event in an athlete’s life has no direct bearing on his play on the field, it should be treated as a non-story. Unfortunately, it becomes more difficult to implement this hard-fast rule when you consider the manner in which many high profile athletes actually court off-the-field coverage with an eye towards accruing name recognition, marketability and earning potential. Every successful high-profile athlete can expect a fair amount of scrutiny, but for those highly resistant to it, simple steps like not dating famous model/actresses can be veritably counted on to decrease the glare. The larger essence of these motives can be difficult to discern, and harder to judge, but a story like Brady’s seems simply impossible to leave alone. I want to just walk away, but how??
In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously failed to specifically characterize pornography, except to say “I know it when I see it.” It strikes me that something similar holds true in the discussion of what constitutes mean-spirited exploitation and what is just good clean All-American back-biting fun. The distinction exists and I think I know it when I see it. I just hope I’m not wrong.