Professional Athletes Face Double Standard

The repetition of certain recent news stories has been bugging me, and I haven’t been able to explain why until now. These stories stem from the actions of Ben Roethlisberger and Tiger Woods. I’m not about to write another article condemning these men for their actions, because that has already been done millions of times over in the sports media. Instead I want to ask the question: Why the moral outrage over the personal life of these sports stars??

By no means do I want to justify the actions of Roethlisberger or Woods. I think cheating is the most despicable thing a person can do to someone they are married to, and believe that if you are not satisfied with your relationship with someone then you should end it. However, that opinion counts for very little in the world of well-paid professional athletes.

As for Roethlisberger’s actions, I think that at very best he demonstrates an unfortunate inability to learn from past mistakes. He put himself in yet another inappropriate situation where he could be accused of sexual assault. However, in Roethlisberger’s case, it is also important to note that he was not charged after either incident. The fact that the media and public judge him by claims deemed unprosecutable demonstrates the lengths to which we go to crucify successful athletes in the realm of public opinion.

Why do we get outraged when we hear news about a sports star engaging in some questionable extra-curricular activity? Many would argue that this is because children, young boys in particular, consider these men role models. On the other hand, I want to know when these star athletes signed a social contract stating that they would be on their best behavior so that they wouldn’t disturb developing children. Knowing that infidelity at least is a fairly common phenomenon among professional athletes, shouldn’t parents be working to make sure their children look up to someone more admirable? There is nobody in your community whom you would rather have your kids look up to than some athlete you have never met in real life?

Some would respond that athletes like Roethlisberger and Woods should be aware of the expectations regarding their conduct before they pursue a professional sports career.

However, these athletes are simply pursuing the career to which they are best suited. Most people are not born with the natural gifts that enable someone to become an NFL quarterback, and wouldn’t be able to play football professionally no matter how much effort they put in. Clearly, professional athletes spend a substantial amount of energy pursuing their chosen career, but that doesn’t mean they should be expected to be morally upright citizens. You could argue that someone like Woods never really had a choice about his life path, given that his father had him hitting golf balls when he was two years old and promoted the excessive practice that led to his excellence.

The most apt comparison to athletes are other well-paid people who are part of the public consciousness, namely the stars in Hollywood. Just like athletes, Hollywood stars put untold amounts of energy into pursuing their dream career, one that by definition puts them in the public eye.

The expectation of saintly behavior does not seem to extend to these movie stars though. Look at someone like David Duchovny. He claimed the same sex-addiction problem Woods claimed when news of his many transgressions came out. The humor of a star who portrays a sex addict in a hit TV show being a sex addict in “real life” was not lost on the press. However, there were no calls to ban Duchovny from reprising his role, something that a New York Daily News columnist demanded of the PGA Tour Commissioner last December.

A Hollywood example more severe than Roethlisberger’s escapades is found in the story of Roman Polanski. Polanski was charged with the rape of a thirteen-year-old girl in the late 1970s. After fleeing the country in fear of his sentencing, Polanski continued to release films. In fact, a Polanski-directed picture came out just a year after he fled the country, earning him a nomination for Best Director at the Academy Awards. These allegations are far more damning than those leveled against Roethlisberger, and while Roethlisberger must sit out six games because of allegations that did not bring about a trial, Polanski was nominated for the most prestigious award a film director can receive.

The most frustrating part of this double standard is that it seems to be affecting the decision-making of NFL teams. A prominent ESPN columnist claimed that many of the surprises regarding quarterbacks in the NFL draft were related to a “Roethlisberger effect.” He argues that Tim Tebow leapfrogged Jimmy Clausen as the second quarterback taken in the draft because of character concerns. While Clausen certainly does seem like an idiot, this has little to no effect on his on-field performance, which should be the main concern for someone trying to field a winning football team. Drafting a quarterback only because of his strong character traits is like choosing a car simply because it’s the color you want on the lot. Sure it may look good, but you could also get a better model in that color if you consider your decision for a moment.

This same columnist then argued that the Rams’ choice of Sam Bradford was related to his pitch-perfect response to a question regarding Roethlisberger’s situation. Bradford may be a great guy, and could turn into a great quarterback some day, but neither of these are sure things. Tiger Woods has shown that you can’t always take an athlete’s statements at face value. Meanwhile, the St. Louis homer in me gets enraged if Roethlisberger did truly have any impact on this decision. Instead of choosing Ndamukong Suh, who is likely going to play the role of Godzilla to the NFL backfield’s Tokyo, the Rams decided to pay $10 million more to get a quarterback who was protected by one of the country’s best offensive lines during his college career, and still managed to get injured last year. Whether this was a wise decision remains to be seen, but I know I would have felt far more comfortable drafting Suh first and then getting either Clausen or Colt McCoy in a later round. Letting an issue like the Roethlisberger effect make you draft a quarterback with strong character was short sighted, and will most likely keep the Rams picking near the top of the draft in years to come.

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