Should they be exonerated just because of their talent?
In the past few years we have witnessed some of the most atrocious immoral acts and crimes coming from perhaps, some of the greatest sports players in their genre and yet, we forgive and forget so easily. Why do athletes get a free pass at committing immoral, unethical and sometimes criminal acts? Surely it can’t all be about money, can it? Do we enable their self-righteousness by objectifying them to be some sort of heroes?
I remember back in the mid-eighties when my Dad spent $100 to buy my brother, what he’d hoped would be a collector’s item one day, a Pete Rose rookie card. But then in 1989 Pete Rose was put on the permanent ineligibility baseball list after accusations arose of him gambling on baseball while playing for and managing the Reds. And in 1991 Rose was formally banned from ever getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame. In 2004 after years of public denial, he admitted to gambling on baseball, although never against the Reds. It’s been a contention among baseball fans that some think he should be re-instated and considered for election into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but gambling on baseball when you play for or manage a team is kind of like insider trading in the stock market. He had inside information. Just because he’s sorry, doesn’t really make up for the crime he committed, does it? Plus he lied for over a decade and that’s what made it even worse.
Now some would argue that the recent confessions of Lance Armstrong, who raised over $400 million dollars for cancer research, should exonerate him and allow him to compete again in the world of cycling. Admittedly his contribution to cancer is unprecedented and would not have been possible had he not been famous and won 7 Tour de France competitions. However, he too, also got something out of it. Besides fame, notoriety, and money, he also got the reputation of a humanitarian. In fact, he’s still generating publicity with his most recent exclusive interview with Oprah.
As you watched him apologize to the world in the Oprah interview, you couldn’t help notice how insincere his body language and eyes looked. He didn’t seem remorseful perhaps because in his mind he feels he contributed almost half a billion dollars to cancer research and therefore he feels justified. He apologized to everyone he bullied over the past two decades and admitted to doping. But it was never about the doping. In fact, according to his interview with Oprah, the majority of the cyclists back then participated in doping, so he felt “he was competing on a level playing field.” So who cares about the doping; that’s not really the issue here. The issue is that he led a life based on a lie for twenty years and ruined people’s careers and bullied them all for selfish reasons to maintain his lifestyle and integrity. Should he get a free pass just because he raised money for cancer research? What if he had raised that same amount of money for sustainable farming or the SPCA, would this still even be up for debate?
Then there’s Notre Dame quarterback Mante Te’o who recently played on the sympathies of the NFL and the public even after he supposedly found out that his faux girlfriend, who supposedly died from Leukemia, was a hoax. Yet, he didn’t tell the NFL for 20 days that he was a “victim of a hoax” and he talked about her as if she ever existed in not one, but two subsequent sport interviews after he knew that she didn’t really exist. Being a Mormon you can understand how believable his abstinence was, but to not ever Skype with her or ever see her in person over a four year relationship leaves skeptics wondering if he didn’t do all of this just for publicity. What should the NFL do if he’s found guilty?
There are so many cases like this in professional sports as well as in college and high school sports that it really leaves a sour taste in your mouth about all sports. However, you can’t help wonder if the public is to blame since we forgive and forget so easily. For example, somehow the world has forgotten and forgiven Tiger Woods’ for his massive counts of adultery and has put him back up on a pedestal. And even though Michael Vic served hard time for his dog fighting crime, he came back as the Eagles starting quarterback and led them to the NFC East Championship. Why was he ever allowed to come back to the sport at all? Why was Tiger Woods allowed back to play golf? Perhaps it’s because we expect and want to see the best people play their best game. It makes being a spectator more enjoyable if you have someone great to cheer for or someone you despise to root against. No matter the sport, it makes it exciting.
No matter where you stand on it, the question still remains: Should sports players be exonerated for immoral or criminal behavior because of their talent or gifts back to society?