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Do We Really Need To Know Everything About Our Favorite Athletes?

Submitted by on October 11, 2010 – 1:15 pm3 Comments

How much do you want to know about your favorite athlete? His or her preference for music? Seems reasonable. His or her taste in clothing? Okay. What he or her is looking for in a mate? Eek. A little personal but I guess there’s a place for that, too. But what about what your favorite athlete does with his or her cell phone? What about who he or she texts or what kind of person he or she is off the field or court?

I fear we’re entering a very dangerous time in the world of sports journalism. It’s actually a pretty natural progression from how other things in the world are being covered. For years, politicians, actors and actresses and other celebrities were covered only based on their profession—until news outlets (and the Internet!) started covering other aspects of their life, too. What they found is that, much like the rest of us, these people have plenty of warts and blemishes when you get up close and personal with them. They’re not perfect and, though they might do things that amaze and captivate the rest of the world, they’re also capable of doing things that shock and disappoint us as well.

From Bill Clinton to Madonna to Jack Nicholson, we’ve learned more than we probably ever wanted to know or needed to know about hundreds of different celebrities over the years. Until recently, athletes were mostly exempt from this. There have been rumors about athletes, of course. Babe Ruth infamously drank before, after and sometimes during (!) games. Mike Tyson wasn’t exactly a model citizen. And, though they’ve typically been anonymous admissions, infidelity in the world of sports has been one of the worst-kept secrets in the history of this country.

But until recently, it remained exactly that: a secret. No longer. First, there was the Tiger Woods incident last year. After maintaining a sparkling-clean reputation for close to a decade, Tiger was deemed the scum of sports after it was revealed he had cheated on his wife with more than a dozen different young ladies. Then, there was the whole situation involving Dwyane Wade, his ex-wife and his new girlfriend Gabrielle Union. That story was slightly understandable because two celebrities were involved. But now, Brett Favre is facing the same harsh criticism Tiger did after a recent Deadpsin report indicated Favre sent sexually explicit photos to and may have used MySpace and a series of voicemail messages to try and hook up with former New York Jets employee Jenn Sterger. Favre, by the way, has been married for 14 years and his wife Deanna once fought through a battle with breast cancer which Favre very publicly supported.

A photo of Jenn Sterger, the former New York Jets employee who allegedly received several voice mail and MySpace messages from Brett Favre.

Favre’s situation brings up an interesting point: Do we want to know about everything our favorite athletes do when they’re not playing sports? Better yet, is it something journalists should be devoting time and effort to finding out? And just how far are we going to take things before we give some of these guys a little privacy?

It’s a slippery slope. On the one hand, kids look up to these athletes and pattern many of their behaviors after them. So, theoretically, if I had a son, would I want him to look up to Woods or—if he’s proven guilty of cheating, which he hasn’t been—Favre? No. Not anymore. But at the same time, everyone has a few skeletons in the closet. Everyone has made a mistake or two in their lives. So, do I blame athletes who make them outside of the public eye? Well, no. I wouldn’t go that far, either.

The fact is that we’re entering a time in American history where everything is accessible. Cell phone records, emails, MySpace messages—they’re all out there for the taking. And by piecing evidence together, just about anyone can be made to look like a bad guy. In the case of athletes—who are some of the richest people in the country—it’s only natural for mistakes to happen. But, does that mean that myself and other sports fans have the right to know about it?

Once upon a time, the only things people cared about when it came to sports was statistics. Who has the highest batting average? Which player has scored more than 50 in a game this season? Who is throwing for the most yards per game? The answers helped shaped our opinions about certain athletes and told us what kinds of players they are.

Today, there is a completely different set of questions. Who is cheating on his girlfriend? Who just went bankrupt? Who is abandoning his wife and kids for the college girl he might back at his alma mater?

I have one more to add: Who cares? Unfortunately, it sounds like a few too many people care. And, right now, it’s killing sports journalism as we know it.

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