A circus ensued recently over Real Madrid forward Cristiano Ronaldo's "sad" saga, and, as it has been for years, it was unnecessary. This is the classic, overblown, media-manufactured case of half-baked psychoanalysis.
Major sports are among the most fun topics of discussion amongst friends. Injecting opinion-oriented analysis backed by stats is one thing, but calling into question a professional athlete's mental status is something else entirely.
A big chunk of the game is mental at the highest level of sport, but too often critics point to "mental toughness" or "desire" or something to that effect to analyze a situation.
The analysis has no basis in factual reality, nor on what any other player might have said. Rather, it's based upon the analyst's own imagination of what's happening in that athlete's mind, and that's wrong.
There is a fine line to toe. If an athlete says something like "I can't win," then it's acceptable to conclude that the athlete doesn't have much competitive fire, since he or she is speaking that negatively to the media.
The problem occurs when players, exhausted after a tough game, come into the press room and give answers to silly reporter questions because they just want to get out of the room.
Sometimes, "analysts" will try to discern what the athlete is "really saying" based on a soundbite.
That's irresponsible, but it happens far too often, and it must stop.
To draw on an example from another type of football: Jacksonville Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert.
The 2011 No. 8 overall pick allegedly has a near-photographic memory, according to his offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Yost at the University of Missouri (via Yahoo! Sports' Les Carpenter):
Once you say it to him it is set in stone. His ability to process the information is amazing. You give it to him, he retains it.
In analyzing Gabbert's struggle to adjust to the pro game as a rookie, one could argue that such a fantastic memory may have caused too many things to run through his head. Perhaps it inhibited his ability to make split-second decisions.
Even that is stretching it, but that would be borderline reasonable. Again, it's a fine line.
What would be inappropriate to say is that he is a bust, that he looks scared in the pocket and that he isn't mentally tough enough to succeed in the NFL.
Such things were criticisms of Gabbert last season.
Now, bringing it back around to Ronaldo. A blog post written by The Guardian's Marcus Christenson highlights exactly what I'm talking about.
This is no indictment on Christenson's writing ability or his content choice, but he points to "theories" that explain why Ronaldo is "sad," with the last one written by Christenson himself:
1) Ronaldo does not think that he earns enough money and wants a pay rise.
2) He is unhappy that Andrés Iniesta was named Uefa's player of the year on Friday.
3) He feels undervalued at Real Madrid by the club and his team-mates.
Or perhaps he loves himself so much there is no room to feel it from anyone else.
Putting words into an athlete's mouth, especially after Ronaldo attempted to clarify on his Facebook page what he had said a day before Christenson wrote his blog, seems ridiculous.
Professional athletes are under enough scrutiny as it is, and when the media plays "psychologist," it doesn't benefit everyone involved.
Fans develop a habit of evaluating players this way, and analysts look foolish. The overall debate about a player, team or sport also suffers as a whole.
Want to know what an athlete is thinking? Then buck up and ask him or her the tough question. If you don't get an answer, don't go wildly speculating about what the non-answer to your question truly meant.