Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ryan Braun, Media Reaction, and Worshipping False Idols

This whole Ryan Braun situation both fascinates and angers me. But not for the reasons you may think. You see, I’m reading guys like Passan, Morosi, Olney, and others freaking out about it. They’re demanding apologies and reacting as if Braun assaulted their mothers in front of them. Overnight, Ryan Braun has become the most horrible person on the planet, if you believe these “respected” columnists. 

Did he cheat and lie? Looks like it. But is that really surprising that an athlete lied/cheated? Does Braun (or whoever) really deserve to be written about with such animosity?

No. Braun’s actions shouldn’t come as a shock or surprise at all, in my opinion. Here’s why.

Actually, let me start with another question or two. Why do people, especially in the media, expect athletes to somehow be better or different than all other folks? What makes them above us commoners in the stands? If you really think about it, athletes are probably more likely to be screw-ups than anyone else in our society.

It starts in high school and college. Athletes are often given preferential treatment, like it or not. Everyone is always praising them and letting them get away with more than the average student. They date the popular girls. They’re at all the best parties with the “cool” kids. The local newspapers begin building them up. Authority figures are more likely to look the other way when minor crimes are committed by local athletes, especially in small towns. Colleges, and later the pros, start scouting them and making promises.

The entitlement begins and so do the pressures of being the best and making as much money as they can while in their primes. More women, partying, and the superstar lifestyle will, no doubt, begin to change the person. The pressure is there to succeed and remain on top. Drugs become more tempting. Not every athlete falls into these traps, but I think it’s obvious that a lot of them do.

Now before I go on, let me state that I’m not making a case that using performance enhancing drugs is okay. I’m not saying lying is great. Though not relevant to Braun’s specific case, I’m not saying being unfaithful to one’s wife or girlfriend is cool. And I’m not saying acting like a jerk is something we should all accept with smile.

What I am saying is that these things are a part of life, humans are human, and we need to all stop acting like athletes are meant to be role models and supermen. We shouldn't be surprised when sports stars make dumb decisions. A lot of people I meet aren’t nice. A lot of folks I talk to aren't very bright. Many are quite selfish and act like jerks. Athletes are no different. Stop being shocked when they aren’t perfect.

Take the Tigers, for example, since this is a Tigers blog. Many people want to assume they’re all great guys that we can look up to. But that’s just not always true. For every seemingly amazing human being we see like Brayan Pena or, yes, Don Kelly, there are ten that aren’t really nice guys in reality. Here are a couple unpublicized examples that I’ve stumbled upon, without naming names.

1. A few years ago, the Tigers had a guy that I explicitly remember Rod and Mario mentioning his wonderful wife and their marriage a couple times during broadcasts. Not long after, a good friend of mine found out that his girlfriend of three years had been cheating on him with this fine, upstanding husband.

2. A prominent player from the famous 2006 team has been on my television in the past talking about his cherished wife and kids on more than one occasion. Meanwhile, a girl that was a regular in a bar I once worked at had been in a longtime relationship with him on the side where he had been lying and promising to leave his wife for her for several months. That never happened and she was left broken-hearted. She showed me a picture of the two of them together. Not cool, assuming she was telling the whole truth.

3. Through a friend, I heard of a girl that was being flown out to road games by a popular player on the current roster. She thought they were in a tight relationship, when all of the sudden and with no explanation, the calls and trips stopped. He had moved onto another girl without having the class to dump the first one. Nice guy.

4. When the team was in Cleveland a couple weeks ago, one of my co-workers took a road trip out there. After the game, he was at a local strip club where he and his friends spotted one of the Tigers’ megastars. One of them snapped a picture of the player in the club. The player ran over to them quite angry, snatched the phone away, erased the picture, and threw the phone back at him before storming off.  Yeah, it wasn’t cool to snap the picture. But the athlete needs to be smarter about things if he doesn’t want to be seen in such a place. And what if a punch had been thrown? TMZ would have been all over it.

There are plenty more I don't feel comfortable sharing due to an inability to conceal the identity of the players if I get detailed. I don't want to get cranky emails from anyone of importance that may stumble across this piece. But these guys aren't perfect. That's what I'm trying to get across.
What about the public stories we all now know like the alcohol-related incidents of Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, and Delmon Young? Who could forget Craig Monroe’s shoplifting experience? Dmitri Young battled substance abuse issues while in Detroit before turning his life around. There are plenty of rumors of past Tigers using PED’s. If you ask most people, Torii Hunter is the closest thing baseball has to a saint. Meanwhile, he reportedly has four children with four different women. Not very “Christian”, as he presents himself. 

There are countless stories of players over the years involving infidelity or acting like jerks in local Detroit drinking establishments if you talk to the right people. Look up Joel Zumaya’s drinking pics on Google sometime. I’ve even talked to people that claimed to have smoked weed with players. It goes on and on.

These are just a few examples that I, a regular guy with no real inside connections, am aware of. Athletes can at times be shitty people, just like any of us. I can only imagine the stories that the beat writers and reporters that follow these players around and share hotels with are aware of. That’s why it blows my mind so much to see such sportswriters acting so amazed that a player would cheat, lie, and/or use drugs. They cannot possibly be that blind or ignorant. It’s all a crock of shit so these guys can get all preachy from their high-horses. So smug. So full of themselves. Jeff Passan has never done anything wrong is his life, I guess.

My point is, athletes screw up. They do stupid things. We ALL do. They should not be thought to be better than the rest of the masses because they can run fast, hit a baseball, or be good at catching a fly ball. They are people. People are not perfect. This does not make them horrible human beings. It just makes them human.

And a lot of people will do anything they can to get ahead in life. They’ll kiss ass at the office. They’ll lie about co-workers and start rumors. They’ll sleep with a boss. They’ll abuse caffeine, nicotine, and harder drugs to stay alert or calm down. These are the performance enhancing drugs of the common man. Why is it a surprise that athletes do the same?

From booze, to greenies, to cocaine, to steroids, to HGH, to whatever is next…this is not a new thing in professional sports. Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, and other “heroes” are legendary for their partying and womanizing. Gaylord Perry’s in the Hall of Fame, despite being best known for throwing the illegal “spitball”. How many players have been caught corking their bats or doctoring the baseball over the years? Steroids have been around for decades now and were ignored by MLB and the media for years. Guys try to steal signs all the time. Etc, etc, etc. What drugs are okay and which kinds of cheating are not terrible? Someone needs to make a proper list for us, I guess.

Here’s a quick list of “heinous” crimes that athletes get crucified for that I, personally, have been guilty of in the past.

1. I have used illegal drugs in my younger days.

2. I have abused alcohol many times, unfortunately.

3. I have lied to get out of trouble.

4. I have been to jail.

5. I have tweeted something stupid that I later regretted.

I’m sure there’s more. Do these facts make me a terrible person? I don’t think so. I’m sure most of you reading this have been guilty of some of these actions, too. I’ve made my share of mistakes over the years. We all have. And hopefully, we learn from them. I like to think that I have. 

I haven’t used drugs in nearly a decade. Despite making jokes to the contrary, I barely touch alcohol nowadays, and I certainly don’t drive after if I do. I never plan on returning to jail (knock on wood). And anyone that takes a tweet too seriously is probably a moron. At least I’ve never stabbed anyone or had a video of my penis turn up on the internet. YET.

But I’ve never drank booze around my kid. I don’t even curse in front of him, believe it or not. I never badmouth his mother, despite any personal differences we may have. I hold doors for people, always say “please” and “thank you”, I tip well, and I’m extremely polite in person, despite my online personality I use for entertainment purposes.

What I’m trying to say is that I try to be a positive role model for my son, despite mistakes in my past. I want him to be a good person. I’m trying to turn my past stupid decisions into positive lessons for raising him. Maybe it’ll work and maybe it won’t.

But the idea of having him idolize a stranger that plays sports on the TV instead is just an insane notion to me. Athletes are not role models. They are simply entertainers for sports fans. Not heroes. If you look to the guy standing on second base scratching his privates for inspiration, you may need serious psychological help.

As for they lying, Braun’s biggest supposed crime, who doesn’t lie at some point? “No, honey, you don’t look fat.” “Sorry, boss, I can’t come into work today because I’m sick.” “No, it wasn’t me that broke that window, sir.” “No, officer, I haven’t been drinking.” “The Lions might win it all this year.” We all lie. It’s not nice. But that’s the truth, ironically. 

Players lie to reporters EVERY DAY. They lie about injuries. They lie about throwing at another player. They lie about how they feel about their opponents. They lie about their teammates' abilities. And it's accepted. Many get upset if a player doesn't answer questions in nothing but cliches. But if they lie about drugs? BURN THEM AT THE STAKE!

I think you get the point. At least I hope so. There’s an old saying in baseball that goes, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying hard enough.” Ryan Braun played with fire and got burned. He cheated, did his best to cover his ass, and failed. Now he must face the consequences. So will Alex Rodriguez. So may Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, and the others linked to this scandal. They allegedly cheated, got caught, and must now face the music. Braun's biggest crime, honestly, was getting caught. If you think other players in baseball aren’t cheating in some way, you’re crazy. They just haven’t been found out yet. Many never will be. Players cheat and always have.

But to openly attack them when they get caught and label them as horrible people for it? Grow up. In my eyes, that’s an even bigger crime. Fuck you, Passan and the rest. We’re not all perfect like you apparently are.

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