Jealousy Colours Our Perception of Athletes

By Jason Menard

At a time in our history when it’s often more and more difficult to call oneself a sports fan, there are stories like Robert Edwards’ to help you keep the faith. But instead of celebrating our triumphs, we prefer to shove them aside and focus on the negative. And the reason behind this? Jealousy.

For every Terrell Owens in this world there are a thousand more quality players out there who are fulfilling their contractual obligation. For every story of a player beating his wife, committing a crime, or getting busted with drugs, there are countless other stories of players that are good family men, dedicated to their community, and going the extra mile to help those in need.

Instead of focusing on the good in the game, we hungrily devour the most salacious news reports involving players, which then send the truly pompous among us to their respective pulpits to admonish the sins of excess that modern sport has bred. Yet while we’re so ready at hand for a ritual stoning, why do we not have an equal passion for lauding those who merit it?

Percentage-wise, the number of people who commit crimes while playing professional sports is no different than that of the society as a whole. However, due to their high-profile nature, athletes will find themselves in the newspapers much more than the local pharmacist or salesman who commits the same crime. Yet, while people are willing to chastise athletes as a group as lawless thugs, where are those same generic cries against lawyers, doctors, garbage men, or any other profession? The number of miscreants is the same for all groups – a small percentage – but those few bad apples seem to spoil the whole bunch a lot easier when the increased exposure is factored in.

Edwards offers a feel-good story. Injured in a freak accident in a National Football League Beach Bowl during the 1999 Pro Bowl in Hawaii, he has come back from suffering severe nerve damage that had the potential to cause him to lose his leg. After being told that he’d never play football again and would be forced to walk with a cane for the rest of his life, Edwards chose to persevere. Since that proclamation of a career death sentence, he enjoyed brief stints back in the NFL before coming to the Canadian Football League. Becoming the Montreal Alouettes’ starting tailback six games into the season, Edwards enjoyed a season that saw him rush for one yard shy of 1,200. And now he’s on the cusp of playing in a game that could see his team earn a trip to the Grey Cup.

Yet all we hear about is the continued exploits of Terrell Owens. An inspirational story like Edwards doesn’t get the time of day, but the petulant, puerile demands and antics of the Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver dominate sports talk radio, publications, Web sites, and newspapers.

But far be it for us to blame the media. Too often the press is the made scapegoat for delivering us exactly what we want. If bad news didn’t sell and we weren’t so hungry for negativity, then the press would reflect that in their reporting. Simply put we’ve created a culture where if it bleeds it leads, and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

We want to admire our athletes from afar. We are awed by their displays of athleticism and ease of ability in performing feats the likes of which we can only dream. Yet, tempering that awe is a sense of jealousy. We are incensed by the sheer volume of money that these athletes pull in for playing a game. As we plug along, trying to make ends meet, we find it hard to relate to athletes who wear jewellery that costs more than our car.

So instead of congratulating them on their good fortune and accepting the fact that they’re better than us athletically, we need to regain our moral or intellectual superiority. We know we can’t compete on the field of play, but in the fabric of society we can assume our elevated mantle. Like politicians or, more appropriately, the entertainers that they are, athletes are subjected to inflated expectations of being above-average in all aspects of life.

We don’t ask the same from any other segment of our society. We don’t care what our doctors do once they’re out of their practice – all we care about is how they treat us when we’re on the operating table. Yet we expect our athletes to be the same paragons of society as they are of sport. And it’s an unfair expectation.

As a society, we need to treat our athletes just the same way we treat each other. We need to recognize our extraordinary gifts as just that – a gift. We must look at a hockey player’s prowess on the ice with the same reverence as an artist’s skill on the canvas. And, just as we don’t begrudge an artist’s ability to create neither should we begrudge our athletes’ ability to perform. Jealousy of another’s gifts is a deficiency in ourselves.

Celebrating the good in everyone would be a nice place to start – which is why we need to know more about Edwards and less about T.O. The world, sporting or otherwise, would be a better place.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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