Somewhere between nonchalant indifference and judgmental superiority lies a position of understanding – neither condemning nor condoning.
The last few months have created a link between athletics and scandal, and attention is increasingly directed off the field. Conversations about sports now revolve around sex and drugs instead of the game itself. The question now is how we respond as fans and fellow humans.
Earlier this month, former ACU offensive lineman and current NFL prospect Tony Washington went public with his status as a registered sex offender. Washington committed the nonviolent offense as a 16-year-old student in New Orleans, but his mistake is still haunting him seven years later.
Not even “big-name” athletes are immune from scandal. Some of the world’s most popular and seemingly clean athletes have found themselves mired in scandals involving sex and narcotics. Michael Phelps was caught smoking marijuana, and Tiger Woods has gained attention for his infidelity.
The scandals are captivating. They have hijacked the tabloids and dominated dinner conversations. The antics of these athletes have divided the fan base and American culture in general, and almost everyone has an opinion about the issue.
When The Huffington Post posted a story online about Washington’s sex offender status, the story prompted quick and diverse reactions from readers. The comments at the end of the story ranged from compassion and understanding to hate and anger. Others responded with racism and bigotry.
Washington’s bad decision seven years ago was – and is – unfortunate. He broke the law in his teenage years, and he’s been paying for it since. Actions always have consequences, as they should. Washington will most likely lose his NFL draft position as a result of his actions.
Our response as fans to situations like Washington’s is tricky to say the least. We should never condone illegal or immoral actions, but we are not in a position to condemn either. Chances are our inferences and conclusions about scandalous situations are glaringly incomplete. We only hear part of the story.
In Washington’s case, many will view him solely as a sex offender, but that is nowhere near the whole story. His actions were not violent, and he’s committed no crime since. Despite this, many will cast judgment on Washington as a deviant, which is not only uninformed, but unfair.
Athletes’ positions in mainstream America makes their slip-ups more noticeable but no more offensive than any other individual’s. The idea that public figures should be held to a higher standard is absurd and an abdication of personal responsibility. This mindset is simply an easy way out of our own personal scandals, and the idea is illogical. Why should Tiger Woods be held to different standards than his fans?
Disappointment is, however, a perfectly legitimate response. Athletes should not be held to higher moral standards, but they do face the increased pressure of serving as role models. When athletes do stumble, they at least owe their fans an apology. But that same standard should apply to everyone.
Being in the public eye can most certainly be a burden, but higher moral standards should not be among those burdens. Expectations of perfection are unreasonable when movie stars, athletes and politicians are just as human as we are.
The proper response to athletes and scandals may vary from situation to situation, but at the very least, consistency is necessary. If we try to hold athletes to higher standards, it is only going to lead to disappointment.