Being a celebrity is a double-edged sword that comes with popularity and privilege. But to whom much is given much is required.
Some professional athletes are finding out the hard way they can’t expect to get the glory without the scrutiny.
The video of running back Ray Rice punching out his fiance in an elevator last February got him cut from the Baltimore Ravens and an indefinite NFL suspension.
Defensive end Greg Hardy has been deactivated by the Carolina Panthers because he was convicted last July of domestic violence against his girlfriend.
The girlfriend said Hardy choked her, dragged her by her hair and threatened to kill her.
Ray McDonald was charged with domestic violence against his pregnant girlfriend Labor Day weekend. So far he’s still in uniform, but pressure is mounting for the NFL to take action against him. Last week running back Adrian Peterson was indicted on felony child abuse charges in Texas. Now he’s on the Minnesota Vikings inactive list. And even though he’s not in the NFL, let’s not forget about Oscar Pistorius, the South African track star, known as the blade runner, who shot his girlfriend four times and killed her on Valentine’s Day 2013. Pistorius, who claimed he thought she was a burglar in the bathroom so he shot through the door, was found not guilty of murder but (the lesser crime of) manslaughter instead.
With billions of dollars in profits from season tickets to jersey sales and advertising fees every year, the NFL is responsible for paying athletes the million dollar paychecks that allow them to live their elite lifestyles. It helped create these ego maniacs, and therefore should take a more active role in appropriate discipline for off-the-field bad behavior as soon as it happens – not after a video is leaked and there’s a backlash.
Still it’s not just about back-end discipline. Already, the NFL councils rookies during training camp about watching out for people who try to take advantage of their privilege, people who are there just to ride the gravy train that is their million dollar paychecks including groupie girls, hangers-on friends and family. But the NFL should include a lesson about accountability – being a responsible team player even when he thinks nobody is watching.
Most people learn life lessons in accountability through everyday experiences. But if you’re blessed to become one of the 1,696 players who make it in the NFL every year I’m certain some of those lessons get overlooked on the way to becoming an elite athlete. Still it doesn’t excuse those people be they athletes, entertainers or others of privilege and popularity from living by the rules that apply to everybody else. At some point we all get away with something because we are better-looking, smarter, richer than most or have unique skills that others don’t. But when you live your life as if you are an exception to all the rules your reckless behavior is bound to lead to a public fall.
Most bad behavior doesn’t start in adulthood, but is carried over from lessons learned – or the lack thereof – in the formative years. Teaching humility isn’t at the top of the list at Pop Warner little league. And some say humility is counterproductive to having a winner’s mentality. By the time he gets to the NFL a player realizes he is exempt from the rules most people must live by. Regardless, most players have no problem being leaders on and off the field. It’s only a few who give the league a bad name.
As for Janay Rice, Ray’s wife, obviously she knew what she was getting into. The infamous elevator incident happened before they were married. And judging from their NFL pre-season news conference where she apologized for her “role” in the altercation, it seemed to me getting physical with each other wasn’t new for the newlyweds. That doesn’t make it right, but if they choose to stick and stay with each other that’s their business.
The lesson for us, as sports enthusiasts, is to realize no matter how great somebody is on any given Sunday after the game is over he still is an imperfect man.
Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Email her at [email protected] for comments, questions and speaking inquiries.