Oscar Pistorius, the first amputee to compete in the Olympic Games, allegedly gunned down his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in cold blood. Given Pistorius' history and the fact that Steenkamp was shot multiple times inside the home, it seems far-fetched to believe there's an innocent explanation for the tragedy.
Granted, stranger things have happened, and then there's the whole innocent-until-proven-guilty shtick, though South African law may be different. Suffice it to say, however, I'm part of the camp that's not holding its collective breath.
We've seen this story before: A sensational athlete whose feats in competition are so profound, he or she gets miscast as an incredible person instead of an incredible athlete as if there's a causal relationship between the two.
The snag, of course, is that no such relationship exists, which the individual inevitably proves—in technicolor.
The entire farce is driven by the idiotic notion that you can truly know people without ever actually meeting or spending time with them. Many of us don't even know what we, ourselves, are capable of, so the idea that you can sincerely know someone through secondhand sources, even a huge volume of them, is dubious at best.
The idea that you can sincerely know someone through carefully controlled secondhand sources? That's surely the product of a graduate from slip-n-fall school (explicit language).
The fallacy has been demonstrated too many times to list, but let's revisit a few recent examples just for kicks.
Everything we had heard about then-Penn State football coach Joe Paterno painted him as a saint until details finally surfaced of the serial sex offender operating right under his nose. Regardless of where you stand on JoePa's degree of culpability, everyone—with this beacon of humanity being a possible exception—can agree there's a disconnect between the idealized profile created in the media and the man who emerged in the scandal's wake.
You know, the man who could hear of an adult doing something of a "sexual nature" with a young boy in a shower, report it up the chain and go on his merry way worrying about the BCS instead of what's being done to stop the ex-coach from raping kids.
Lance Armstrong was a triumph of the human spirit over debilitating disease and astronomical odds. Until, oops, nope, he's a sociopathic liar and cheat who tried to go Sherman-through-the-South on anyone who got in his way.
Manti Te'o's public profile got so carried away by a convenient fantasy that it included a girlfriend who was injured in a serious car accident, battled leukemia, died, almost propelled him to a Heisman Trophy and then didn't exist.
Now, all three camps are deploying their resources to rein back in situations that exploded beyond their control.
The Paterno family just released their own investigation to rebut Penn State's investigation. Lance went the time-honored Oprah-couch route. For his part, Manti sat down with Katie Couric to get a theoretically less-humiliating version of the story out there.
None of this is done haphazardly or with altruistic intent. It isn't done to clear the air or get to the bottom of anything.
If I had to bet, I'd bet it was done with the exact opposite intent: to muddy the water and keep everyone jumping to vaguely supported conclusions that disappear almost as soon as they're hatched. What better way to avoid having a substantiated conclusion drawn that would be unfavorable and indelible?
There is a reason these people pay significant sums of money to publicists. There is a reason Joe Pa's family paid for that report. Just as there is a reason Lance chose Oprah's limping network as the site of his confessional, and Te'o tapped one his publicist's other clients to lob him softballs.
The entire machine is set up to create an image, burnish it and profit from it. By its nature, then, the image is the best-case scenario of the individual's real character.
This is not a new phenomenon (see: Jordan, Michael).
Given the leverage these individuals have, the only reason a substantial public archive of his or her personal life exists is because the individual wants it to (note that a "substantial public archive" does not mean TMZ drivel and paparazzi shots). Logically then, he or she also works to limit the archive's contents to information he or she wants in it.
Everything released voluntarily is done so to produce a calculated effect.
Most people don't want the public to know he or she lies, cheats, steals, runs a dog-fighting ring, beats a spouse, does drugs or drinks excessively. So those things don't make the public record until an egregious error moves the situation beyond anyone's control.
And the media knows the drill.
As long as the public keeps taking the bait, there's no reason to opt for the harsh spotlight. The rose filter makes everyone's lives easier and more lucrative. The athlete gets to add some sparkle to his or her rep, while the media member and organization can sell the fruits of their intimate access and guarantee more. The public eats it up with a spoon and everyone walks away with a smile.
Essentially, we've traded limited-but-unfiltered access for unlimited-but-heavily-filtered access and the result is more propaganda than reality.
Which is fine—it makes good business sense and it's not like they're terribly clever about hiding the game. It's all there in the open, preserved by cyberspace for eternity or however long the servers last.
Yet in a few weeks, another one of these soft-focus stories will emerge, we'll get to back work creating another false idol and will be left wringing our hands again when he or she (or another) "shockingly" falls from grace.
So put your faith in the next inspirational athlete if you must.
But better to put it in someone you know.
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