Why It Hurts So Much When Professional Athletes Let Us Down

Marisa ScolamieroAnalyst IFebruary 15, 2009

For those of us not fortunate to possess the skills and abilities to excel in professional sports, we idolize those who do.We wear their jerseys, mimic their moves, and want to be just like them.

When I was seven, Don Mattingly was my idol. I wore his No. 23 for every sport that I played, and I even played first base in tee-ball and softball because that was his position. I tried to be a left-handed hitter, and I wasn't too bad, but I was much better on my right side, so I had to settle for not being exactly like him.

I was eleven when he retired, and I remember feeling pretty devastated. Fortunately for me, a rookie named Derek Jeter came up the same year and I had someone new to idolize. I didn't change my position in softball, but I started wearing the No. 2 for my athletic jerseys.

Since I was fairly young when Mattingly retired, over the past several years I have really been able to learn about how he played the game, which has made me have even more respect for him than I originally did.

In the almost thirteen years that Derek Jeter has been in the Majors, he has never given me any reason to not respect him as an athlete or as a person.

If reports were to emerge that either Mattingly or Jeter ever did something illegal or took steroids to help them get ahead, I would be crushed. A part of me would feel like I had been betrayed because the person I was idolizing was hiding something. When you come to believe something about someone, and then all of a sudden that idea is shattered it is hard to take.

Recently, pictures have surfaced of Michael Phelps smoking out of a marijuana pipe, and everyone is up in arms over the ordeal. Kellogg has dropped him as one of his sponsors, and he has been suspended from training for the 2012 Olympics for three months time.

In addition to Phelps, over the past couple of weeks, reports have emerged that Barry Bonds tested positive for steroids in 2003, along with Alex Rodriguez. Unlike Bonds, Rodriguez admitted his use from 2001-2003, in an effort to restore his image.

Many of Phelps' supporters are shocked by the fact that the Olympic champion would do something as stupid as smoke marijuana. Phelps has taken his image from the All-American success story to the 23-year-old kid who couldn't resist doing what some of his peers were doing. How could someone so focused on setting an Olympic record just a few months earlier, be careless enough to take part in something illegal?

I'm sure a lot of Rodriguez' fans felt let down by his admission. I'm sure a lot of people felt like they could never believe that anything he did for the rest of his career was legit, and that he was just as much of a liar as Bonds or Clemens. I'm sure a lot of people plan on booing him relentlessly when the season starts up again.

The concern is that the young fans have been damaged the most by the pictures of Phelps and the admission of A-Rod.

How can you ask a kid to resist the temptation of peer pressure if someone like Michael Phelps can't? Why did someone like A-Rod, with all of his abilities, feel like he needed more help, and if he feels the pressure to succeed how is someone with less abilities ever going to succeed at that level?

There are people who will say that it is for reasons like this that we, as fans, shouldn't idolize these professional athletes. They are only going to disappoint us, and therefore shouldn't get our undying support.

If only it were that simple.

The problem is, we start idolizing them before we are capable of thinking that they could ever disappoint us. We feel like they are some kind of superheroes who can do things that most people can't, and that sets them a part from everyone else.

It is because of that reason that their disappointments hit so much harder than the average disappointment. We feel like they should be immune to breaking the law or doing something that calls their character into question.

At some point, we have to realize that they are not immune to all temptations, and will sometimes end up disappointing those of us who idolize them the most. They are people just like us, mere mortals who are going to make mistakes, and want forgiveness after the fact.

If they are not above our adoration, than they shouldn't be beneath our forgiveness.

Sure, it hurts when someone you idolize lets you down, but it also hurts when you feel like no one can forgive you. We have to look at both sides of the story, and while it doesn't mean that we agree with the choices they made, we have to understand that as people they aren't going to do the right things all the time.

The same way we give them our support when they are wowing us with their talents, we need to give them our support when they let us down. Even superheroes give in to their dark sides at times, but that doesn't mean that they still don't need someone to be there for them when they come to their senses.

Michael Phelps admitted to his mistake, as did Alex Rodriguez. It's time we forgive these guys and moved on, because everyone deserves a little bit of compassion no matter how hard the let down is to take.