I Was Wrong. Again.
I’m not sure if this is a real article or just a long comment. I do think it explores the complicated relationship I have with professional football. My aim is to I contribute something to the important conversation started by Momma’s article and commented on by several of our wise writers and regular commenters.
Rebecca’s Friday article, “Knowing” the Steelers – Fan Perceptions and Misconceptions was really a startlingly thought provoking piece. As I read her article and the comments, I immediately knew the issues were important and I wanted to consider and share them here at Going Deep.
Rebecca pointed out that most of us (probably all of us) make assumptions and judgments about players. For the most part, those judgements are not based on personal knowledge but on limited media reports. They are inherently biased because, in the Information Age, there are a multitude of blogs, websites, television, radio and print sources disseminating sports news. Our choices on which sources and stories to access has an significant effect on the sports “news” we receive and thus, the opinions we form.
Nevertheless, we constantly form these opinions because, well, we’re human.
I strive to be an open, fair-minded individual, but the article grabbed me and I started to think about my own assumptions and conclusions. What struck me most were the extended quotes of Josh Gordon. I can’t say I had any overly developed opinions about him. My opinions, prior to reading Rebecca’s article, could be summarized as follows: huge talent, got in trouble, got banned for a year, ergo, must be a chowder head. Simple, huh?
Gordon’s open letter, written in response to negative comments about him following his one year suspension for his substance abuse violation jarred me with its eloquence. Exclusive of content, Gordon’s response was intelligent, cogent and exceedingly mature. His tone was not overtly angry. He did, however, sharply call them out for voicing opinions which were based on assumptions, not facts.
The letter shocked me. I certainly did not expect such a well written, intelligent defense. On my ignorance, I opined that Gordon was at least half a moron for doing drugs and getting himself banned for a year when he could be one of the top wideouts in the NFL.
The letter revealed an intelligent and thoughtful young man. Yes, he had some issues, but he clearly was aware of them. I have no way of knowing whether his explanation for the violations described were accurate, but his detractors were off base making him out to be a fool and a drug addict.
Gordon convinced me to scrutinize my opinions and reflect how easily I form opinions of others based on television sound bites, minute observations and Internet snippets. I wondered how many other times my “reality” is warped.
I was moved to do a some digging. Apparently, Gordon was hammered by Charles Barkley, Stephen A. Smith and Cris Carter when he was suspended by the league for a year, after a third violation of the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Gordon took umbrage at the group attack, precipitating the open letter which is set forth in its entirety here.
All three media stars criticized Gordon’s letter, but Smith’s response was nuclear, calling Gordon’s response “pathetic,” saying he was ruining his life and possibly encouraging other young black men to choose the wrong path.
Josh Gordon is right. Barkley, Smith, and Carter don’t know him. I don’t know him either. While the three wise men are entitled to their opinion of Gordon’s mistakes, Josh Gordon deserves to tell his story and he did. He gave his version of the truth without making excuses, admitting he had messed up and messed up bad. Obviously, Smith was outraged that a fool like Gordon dared to disagree with his unassailable truths.
I have no clue whether Gordon’s version of the facts is true or not, but I’m quite sure Smith has no clue either. If he’s truly concerned for Gordon, he has a funny way of showing it. Smith’s initial attack on this 23 year old athlete was bad enough, but excoriating Gordon for daring to defend himself against a trio media millionaires is ignorant and reprehensible.
My point here is not whether Gordon is telling the truth about his situation, but rather how quick I was to consider Gordon a stupid loser based on very little evidence. I don’t know his back story and I certainly haven’t walked in his shoes. Maybe he is a stupid loser, but his letter, at the very least, causedme to doubt my inial opinion.
It is, of course, entirely possible that someone else wrote the letter for him. The fact that he allowed such a letter to be printed under his name shows a higher level of discernment than I would have given him credit for.
In stark contrast to the Gordon situation is the developing Peyton Manning story. Rebecca alluded to this most recent example of a football “hero” who may not be as squeaky clean as his public persona.
Manning has refused to comment on the allegations and the victim has remained silent, consistent with her settlement agreement with America’s hero. The expose’ written by New York Daily News reporter Shaun King is an impressive piece of investigative journalism. You can read the entire article here.
I came away convinced that a sexual assault occurred. King provides a convincing case that the assault occurred and was actively covered up by the Manning family, particularly Peyton and Archie.
What is absolutely amazing about the story is how many (most?) people never even heard about these allegations until right after this year’s Super Bowl. That blows my mind. (If you want to know the nature of the allegations, you’ll have to read about them yourself. They are laid out in minute detail in the article linked above. I’m incapable and unwilling to try to describe the act in a delicate manner.)
Does the Manning family have that kind of power? The NFL? I really don’t know, but it astounds me. I have to say, the allegations are shocking, even to a old, hard-boiled curmudgeon such as me. That we have not heard of them before leaves me shaking my head.
What of all of this? We certainly will not stop making judgments about players. We form opinions about people we don’t know or don’t know well all the time. It’s necessary for living, coping and surviving in the world, an intrinsic part of the human condition.
Yet, as Rebecca wrote, we have to appreciate we know very little about football players, whether they be our beloved Steelers or others. We need to acknowledge that they are more complicated than we can ever know. As Ivan wisely points out – few human beings are completely good or evil; losing sight of someone’s humanity is the real tragedy.
Elpalito observed that we want to like the people we root for. It’s not only true, for me it’s a necessity. For better or worse, my beliefs about truth, goodness and justice are integrated into my faith, my politics, my life, music and my love of sports. I cheer for the good guys. I guess that means I’ll keep making those judgements based on the little information I have. I’ll not turn a blind eye to the bad guys, but I do hope I’ll be more cautious about judging folks and more understanding about their life experiences and struggles. There’s a huge difference between a bad person and a troubled one.
There are more layers to this topic than I can hope to peel back. Our perceptions of athletes are impacted by our own cultural, political, ethnic, racial and religious experiences and biases. Sports reporting is affected by another set of experiences and biases of the reporters and producers. Undoubtedly, racial attitudes and stereotypes are a big component of this conversation. I’m happy we have this site where we can continue to intelligently discuss football and the Steelers away from the white noise which dominates so many outlets.
I can never wish Josh Gordon catches a TD pass against the Steelers. That said, I admire him for defending himself against the arrogant know-it-alls. I wish him well and hope he has a long career.
My Two Cents
Before I read Shaun King’s article, I thought the HGH allegations were likely fabricated. Now, I’m not so sure.
Every year I think I’m getting excited about the combine. Every year I’m wrong.
I hope we sign David DeCastro to a long term deal and re-sign either Foster or Beachum. I’d love to have them all, but I don’t see that happening. If we are to contend the next couple of years, we’ll do it with a great offense. I don’t see a great offense if we lose both Foster and Beachum — I see Ben on his back, or worse, on a cart.