Subject to Whom? Being Aware of Opinion in Sport
By Evan Benton
The ability to blog, to reach an untold potential of people around the world at any given moment with something you imagined, typed and shared, is not something to be underestimated. Patrick and I started this blog last week and some of our stories have been getting exciting feedback and a surprising number of hits, and I am truly, deeply humbled.
Humbled not because we’re getting a bevy of readers telling us how great, how incredibly learned in sports and stats we are, how masterfully we can craft a piece of Web-journalism and present it to the everyman (Keep dreaming!), but because he and I are writing about the world’s most elite, skilled athletes. I for one am talking about people I have never met, people I have never spoken to, and presenting an opinion on the very thing that makes them who they are – their jobs. What a privilege.
A few days ago, while ranking the Philadelphia Eagles’ offseason additions, I asked myself “What right have I to do this?” To think that I have the power and experience to rank a professional athlete? Sure, as long as its not personal slander I have every right as protected by our free-form Consitution. But seriously, what do I, a 23-year old, 1+ year out of college and still deciding my future, have to say about, well . . . JaMarcus Russell for instance.
6’6″ 300+ pounds of pure football experience, training at the quarterback position all his life, excelling at LSU and getting drafted first overall in 2007 with $60 million guaranteed by the Oakland Raiders.
Now he’s known as one of the worst busts in NFL history, cut by one of the worst teams in the league currently after playing just 35 games as a starter in his career – and winning only seven of those.
As far as disappointing players go, that’s about the bottom level, and yet for as many people that have trashed JaMarcus for not doing his job, the media (and sports-writing opportunists who love to piggyback) have bashed others tenfold more for doing theirs.
Jay Cutler takes the Chicago Bears to the playoffs last year for the first time since their ’07 Super Bowl loss, and yet all we remember is vaguely hearing that he didn’t play because he was injured.
Donovan McNabb, the third best quarterback in the last decade behind Tom Brady and Peyton Manning in my opinion, gets forced out of Philadelphia, signs with the Redskins, throws for 3,377 yards but has the worst TD/INT ratio since his rookie year and therefore was made to sit the last few games of the season, and was then cut.
Reggie Bush: Heisman trophy winner who got his honor crudely taken away for doing something that was not only ancient history, but something that I bet you anything young Carson Palmer, Matt Leinart or Mark Sanchez did during their tenure at USC.
So now Cutler is a crybaby, McNabb is past his prime, and Bush is a cheater.
Nevermind the fact that these three men are in the 1-2% of Americans who will become professional athletes, or the 3% of NCAA players who will break records for their schools and get drafted in the first round of their respective NFL Drafts.
How subjective, how fickle we are as fans of a game we purport to love.
Well, the game can’t be played without the players that rise or fall on our pedestal of standard.
I’m sorry, but armchair coaches and beer-swilling, chip-dipping know-it-alls on Game Day please put into perspective your relative insignificance in terms of the greatness you are judging.
Not being one to talk (even though I most certainly am), I’ve derided my share of players, coaches and playbooks before. I saw Jim Rome incessantly slamming some poor player for his hair and thought, “Yeah, he should know better”, or damned a player for getting caught for marijuana possession, driving under the influence, or indecent exposure, despite the fact that that about describes about half of my senior class, or just a handful of my friends at college.
Being in the NFL spotlight means that everything you do, say, spout or snort is magnified to levels unprecedented in previous decades. The advent of Twitter allows a player to have fun, indirectly communicating with his supporters and detractors with a single push of the ENTER key (see my compatriot’s take on the double-edged sword of athletes Tweeting here), while YouTube cements a player’s greatness into history, or dooms them to Failblog oblivion.
Keep in mind, we are given permission to question, deride and goat our athletic superiors because they are in the position, are forced into that position, for our benefit. And while it’s our inalienable right to question our athletes, who are we to judge them? That honor lies with their fellow players, the coaches, the owners of the very league that we accept into our homes on Sundays, not the fanatical hordes of us who feel as though we’re owed something.
Quite simply, they are gifts for us, our entertainment. The pressure that sometimes cracks the NFL player is put on him because of our increase in viewership, our demands for more wins, more touchdowns, more trips to Hawaii. If something goes right, oh, that’s the way it’s supposed to be – all is right with the world. But if something were to fumble, to sack, to get blown out – something, anything needs to be blamed.
It’s an age-old, numbingly overplayed maxim, but it isn’t whether we win or lose, it’s how we play the game. And if you’re deriding a player just for doing his job, for providing you with the opportunity to do such a thing from the comforts of your television, iPad or streaming video, what does that make you?
More like a fairweather friend than a fan.