The faults in our sports stars and heroes

Ray Rice is only one example of a former sports heroes. (AP Photo)
Ray Rice is only one example of a former sports hero. (AP Photo)

By Michael Battista
Sports Editor

When you purchase and wear an athlete’s merchandise, you’re saying you like them and support what they do on the field. However, when they do something wrong in the real world, people seem to forget how much they adored these players. We forget there is a person behind the number who isn’t always the athlete we perceive.

Every few months the stars align in just the right order that a current or former athlete comes under fire for something they’ve either said or done. Thanks to the Internet and the ease of getting this information out, players can go from MVP and Hall of Famer to monster in less than 24 hours.

I’m not defending the actions of some of these players. People who do horrible things deserve to be judged in the public eye if that’s where most of their lives have been played out. However, it still shocks me when people say, “How could they do this?” and “My child looked up to them, what should I tell them now,” to which I say, “What exactly is stopping these players from becoming bad people?”

The NFL has been particularly notable in this spectrum: Ray Rice — Super Bowl champion with the Baltimore Ravens, three time Pro Bowl member and infamous for knocking his wife out in an Atlantic City casino elevator; Aaron Hernandez — AFC champion with the Patriots and BCS and SEC champion with the University of Florida who has been convicted and is serving prison time for the murder of his friend Odin Lloyd; Ray McDonald — NFC champion with the 49ers and SEC champion with the Florida Gators who was released from the Chicago Bears earlier this year after being charged with domestic violence and child endangerment.

All of these players were paid millions of dollars, adored by cheering fans and endorsed by large corporations. We loved to watch them play and supported them without really knowing just the kind of people they truly were. Needless to say many of these teams held events where you could return these jerseys in exchange for another player, but I’m curious how many people “bought into” these figures before finding out the truth.

One of the biggest plays in Super Bowl history was “The Helmet Catch” in Super Bowl XLII, where New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning escaped a near certain sack and threw down field to wide receiver David Tyree, who pinned the ball to his helmet as he fell to the crowd. The play is remembered fondly as one of the greatest plays in the history of the game as the Giants went on to beat the undefeated Patriots to win their third Lombardi Trophy.

Fast forward to 2011, where Tyree became an advocate in the fight against same-sex marriage in New York along with the National Organization for Marriage. He said in an interview that he would trade his famous catch and the Giant’s title to keep marriage between a man and a woman and said “the beginning of our country sliding toward…anarchy” would be the passage of the Marriage Equality Act. Now some can argue about his reasons and some can say that he can think how he wants to, but ask yourself — Do you want your child looking up to someone like this? Someone who would trade away all of that to stand on a side of history most of the public considers wrong?

The idea we can separate the personal life of someone and their actions in their field baffles me. When you wear a player’s jersey or anything else that identifies that person, you are endorsing everything they do. That’s why you can’t walk around in a Ray Rice or Alex Rodriguez shirt right now, because you don’t want to be connected to them.

It doesn’t matter who you are. Some people are just bad people, and in this world we have a lot of them. Some people might be raised in a certain situation that affects how they handle situations. Some people come from backgrounds where money is scarce, and when they come into such large quantities of it they do stupid things.

But sports fans like to see their heroes only by what they do on the field, and don’t consider them as a person when they hold them up for all to see. Not every athlete is a horrible person, but by the same logic, not every one of them is a saint either.

Players like Mickey Mantle, Pete Rose and Lawrence Taylor all put up Hall of Fame caliber stats in their sports, but all have faults like drinking, gambling and drugs, respectively. So, if you have said, or have seen younger children saying they want to grow up to be like their favorite player, take a step back and ask, “Who is the person behind the jersey?”