Saturday, December 06, 2014

Hero worship versus sports as entertainment

It has not shocked me in recent weeks to read stories about Jayson Werth getting ten days in jail or the varied reports on people like Bill Cosby or Adrian Peterson. Those who are fortunate enough to become very good at high visibility skills such as sports and entertainment are artificially built as superstars. But they are people. Just as we are all people.
Hero worship has never been a problem for me. From the earliest age, I seemed to have a build in knowledge that we are all created equal. And as much as it pains the modern person, those ideals came from a Judeo-Christian mindset. I happen to believe them. We are all just people muddling our way through life as best we can. At its basest level, we all are birthed in a bloody mess and eat and poop and sleep...even star players and entertainers.
I did have heroes growing up. I loved Mickey Mantle and Mel Stottlemyre and others. But my hero thing was based on enjoying what they did on the ball field and the familiarity of having watched them regularly. I've written myriads of thousands of words on Derek Jeter as a fan of his game and not not on his "mystique" or image.
Much of hero worship has come from writers and journalists. The Old West was a real starting point as writers built false images of Davy Crockett, Wyatt Earp and outlaws like Billy the Kid. Sports writers carried on that tradition and built legends out of Babe RuthTed Williams and Hank Aaron. Jeter is just the latest to be lionized beyond reality.
You see it with this image of Torii Hunter as the ultimate team guy and we on Twitter now have a lot of fun at poking holes at "scrappy" players. The bottom line is how a player performs and how his team fares, but we still have writers who make a living creating legends that go beyond results.
Part of the reason stat-based writers have risen to such heights is that in this post-Watergate era, many have swung the other way and love when icons are brought down from the lofty spots they hold in public imagination. Ryan Howard became a lightning rod between the myth-makers and Howard's RBI totals and stat-based writers who poked holes in his game.
So we have kind of come to a weird place in the history of public perception. There are those looking for demons behind every celebrity's tree and those that are still creating icons. Both still sell, which makes it all that much more confusing.
When I first moved to northern Maine and went back to school (some twenty-four years ago now), I worked at a hotel for three years. That will open your eyes about the human race. George Mitchell was the second most powerful man in the country at the time and used to call for a room. If reservations were full, his handlers would insist I find a place for him.
My answer was, "Let me give you a list of the reservations and you can tell me who I should tell not to come."
The answer was always, "Do you know who George Mitchell is?"
My answer was always, "I don't care if he is the Pope, I don't have a room."
I once had to deal with a national news correspondent for one of networks. One day he came down the elevator and asked how much the paper was. I said, "For you, it's free." His answer was that just because he was on TV, I didn't have to give him a paper for free. I told him politely that all of our customers get a free paper and that's what I meant.
The actor who played the lead on the early television show, Dark Shadows, stayed for a week. Every single day I had to show him how to get to the hotel restaurant.
They are all just people. Just like we are all just people. When I hear writers talking about those suspected of using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) as, "Cheaters," it gets to me because they were just people making a decision about what could make them more money more effective at what they did. Which of us would avoid that decision if it could mean millions of dollars and the Majors versus the Minors? Apparently, a large share of the baseball player population made that decision. Few resisted. And yet we judge those we know about because of that same George Mitchell. Funny that.
When I view sports--particularly baseball as that is my wheelhouse--I view and am entertained by the performance in the scheme of the game. I view actors in a movie the same way. They are skilled people performing a skill-seeking task. I watch a good carpenter the same way. Performance is entertaining. Skill is entertaining.
But skill has never equaled a higher grade of person for me. I admire the work of a great carpenter, but I don't think that carpenter is better than the person who makes a mean sundae at Friendly's.  And frankly, the president of the United States can be of any skin color, gender or sexual orientation as long as they do a good job.
Having such a view means that I am not heartbroken when Ryan Braun gets caught or fall for stories about how great a guy Torii Hunter is.
People are people. Those who get paid a lot of money are just like you and me. Just like us, they make a thousand decisions a day and just like us, some of those decisions can be costly. I try very hard not to judge others and I will not judge players or famous people who get caught up in scandal. There is a higher power who will do that judging.
And on the other side of the coin, I do not build idols of gold for players or the famous because they are skillful at a high-profile career. They either entertain me or they do not. Nothing more and nothing less. I encourage you to view them this same way and teach your children the same way. We are all created equal. Some just get paid better than others.


forged said...

Very nice post.

(As an aside, the Friendly's reference takes me back to my childhood. I'm not sure I've been to one since early 90s -- perhaps before that.)

William J. Tasker said...

Thank you!