Public Enemies: How Did Brett Favre and LeBron James Become So Hated?

Brian MosgallerCorrespondent IAugust 5, 2010

NEW ORLEANS - JANUARY 24:  Brett Favre #4 of the Minnesota Vikings adjusts his helmeti against the New Orleans Saints during the NFC Championship Game at the Louisiana Superdome on January 24, 2010 in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Saints won 31-28 in overtime. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

The anger is palpable, and it’s everywhere.

People are mad as hell, and anger is like steam in a pipe—it needs to be channeled somewhere or it will burst the pipe.

So it’s channeled.  First, toward Fannie and Freddie, and Goldman Sachs, and AIG.

But that doesn’t quite do it since it isn’t easy to grasp how packaging derivatives and blurring commercial and investment banking and other highfalutin financial speak resulted in our 401(k)s disappearing faster than the relevance of Kim Kardashian.

It is clear they are bad guys, but the chain of events is muddied.

Thus, the fury is turned toward the government. Damn that overreaching, nanny government health care bill!

Except, once again, that one isn’t real easy to figure. What insurance pools am I eligible for again? 2,000 pages? Even if you do know, the majority of changes won’t be tangible to us for years anyway.

And that leaves us with one obvious outlet: sports—sports figures in particular.

Sports are simple. There are the good guys and the villains; the victors and the vanquished; the courageous and the cowardly.

All of which brings us to the peculiar case of Brett Favre and LeBron James, whose names alone seem to have taken on a more radioactive air than Communism.

At the moment, it seems no one in sports (or perhaps the country at large) is the target of so much vitriol—and their cases are at once mirror images and parallel tales.

LeBron James was as beloved as could be, the only begotten son of Cleveland.

Then with one Decision, his jersey is kindling and he is Public Enemy No. 1.

Conversely, Brett Favre’s unforgivable transgression is the Indecision. The hemming and hawing, oh, the horror of an adult male unable to make a life choice quickly—before you know it, he is Public Enemy No. 1a.

One couldn’t make up his mind, the other made too big of a scene of it, but they both went from cult favorites to subjects of the nation’s ire.

They make a good pair: LeBron the traitor, and Brett the selfish man who can’t give it up.

The only problem with this whole scene, is that in no way are these two deserving of so much public wrath.

Let’s break it down.

What did LeBron do?

He worked through the end of his contractual obligations, surveyed the professional landscape in front of him, and made the choice that best benefited him and his family.

And how about Favre?

He’s suited up every Sunday for 17 entire seasons (and change) bringing rare enthusiasm to his place of work, and then, as his body tells him not to, gets dragged back to entertain us all again by his heart.

Gee, they do sound terrible.

Now, don’t misunderstand—both Favre and LBJ have lacked practically all tact in approaching their respectful situations.

The way in which LeBron contrived to arrange a national TV show only to slap Cleveland in the face and pull the rug out from under their already depressed city was rather distasteful.

Similarly, Favre, in his year-in-and-year-out, will-he-or-won’t-he game, has firmly set himself on the tee and handed the public the driver.  We have to make decisions every day, why can’t he?

It is even reasonable to go so far as to say that both have been extremely selfish in how they’ve comported themselves.

But I’ve got news for you, folks, professional athletes are selfish—yes, even more than you and me.

Their whole life they’ve been told to pursue individual greatness at all costs, and that is a mindset you don’t turn off when you leave the facility—and it is also particularly true for the most elite of performers.

You can stop there, though.

Enough of people ripping LeBron for taking a shortcut; he still has to go play the games, and he made his Decision (yes, I will capitalize it every time it is used in the same sentence as his name) fully aware of the backlash it would generate, but did so anyway because he felt it was right.

Same goes for those who paint Favre as a media you-know-what.

Do you really believe that?

Unlike Ochocinco or T.O. or any of the hundreds of other athletes who jump at any inkling of an opportunity to spread their “brand,” Favre has given all of, what, two interviews this offseason?

That’s like sitting outside of a girl’s house for months and then calling her in for solicitation when she finally says hello.

Favre does not want this attention, it just so happens he really wants to play, isn’t sure he can physically absorb the toll, his employer is giving him the time to sift things through, and the 24/7 sports media needs to sell ad time.

Favre wants attention like a lactose intolerant person wants a cheese quesadilla dipped in milk.

Both Favre and James are indeed guilty of making selfish, misguided PR moves, but not more.

Look around. Look at what else we have in the world of sports.

Just this week in the steroid sector, we have Alex Rodriguez hitting a tainted 600th home run. 

No matter your take on the steroid era and what the numbers “mean,” you can’t help but have a slightly bitter taste in your mouth because he admitted he willingly and knowingly cheated.

Sticking with the steroid theme, word is that the federal bloodhound that goes by Novitzky is hot on Lance Armstong’s bike trail.

Maybe the investigation will yield nothing, but if it does—well, I don’t even want to picture the ripple effects.

On the womanizing side of things, there is definitely no shortage of prime examples.

How about Tiger Woods and Ben Roethlisberger?

Standup role models to be sure.

Animal abuse?

Yep, there’s that too.

Yet somehow, it is Favre and James that we steer our anger toward.

No professional loyalty? An inability to make up one’s mind when your boss is telling you to take your time?

I’ll be damned if I’m letting my kids wear that jersey around the house.

While Favre and James may have violated some unspoken mores of sports, they haven’t violated essentially universal moral lines.

Both still are upright citizens who work hard and behave outside the lines.

So go back to being mad at Lloyd Blankfein.  Protest Philadelphia Eagles’ games with signs featuring dogs and clever jabs at Michael Vick. 

The anger must go somewhere.

But please, like Britney Spears, leave Brett and LeBron alone.


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