Yes, Josh Howard Was Wrong...But Why Are We Outraged Only Now?

SebastianCorrespondent ISeptember 19, 2008

Josh Howard's blatant lapse in judgment has made its rounds across the media and has engendered scores of relatively unanimous opinions on the matter.

Whether it was a miscalculated attempt at humor or offbeat political commentary, it can be stated without much debate that Howard's misstep was made in poor taste at a time when an already politically-animated country was in the midst of a heated presidential race.

At some point in this nation’s history, athletics joined politics and religion as concepts with a high capacity for polarizing America’s opinionated crowd. Athletics appeals to people regardless of class, religion, race, and other social divisions. It is transcendent.

Athletes are the heroes and the villains, the role models and the flawed, themselves representative of the spectrum of human potential. They are in many ways the actors in a theatre that has moved from the coliseum to the stage, from radio to television, from newspapers to the Internet—through each ascension widening the audience and increasing our desire for and accessibility to information.

For better or worse, the thoughts, opinions, and stances of athletes are more public now than before, The marriage of technology and media allows for a stronger microscope under which to evaluate and emulate public figures. The athletes who were once miles away, personas calculated and edited in cutting rooms, have strengthened their presence in living rooms, classrooms, and boardrooms.

This is not the first mistake an athlete will make on a public stage, nor will it be the last. Howard’s statement comes at a time when America is involved in a political race dealing with more than simple red versus blue—the issues of gender and race have joined questions of national security, economics, health care, experience, and what it means to be an American.

Add to it the surge in patriotism this country has experienced following September 11, manifested in bumper stickers and ribbons, and it is easy to see why Howard’s comments have disturbed so many, so quickly.

That being said, the question is why has this event in particular—a poor choice in judgment to be sure—so incited the American sports audience? What in this scenario has separated itself so radically and visibly from the rest of the veritable buffet of athlete social errors, so much so that we are outraged?

The private lives of athletes are a representative slice of the American society that watches them. Some lead morally and ethically sound lives. Some give back to the community and ensure that others can benefit from their blessings. Some are the ideals and archetypes for a truly well rounded, wholesome individual. Some are truly role models, setting standards that would be appreciated in any profession.

Other athletes have battled alcohol, drugs, and prescription medication. Some have beaten spouses and neglected families. Certain athletes have chosen not to grow up, to live fast and hard. Some choose to lead a life filled with women, cars, guns, and money. Others cheat, steal, and lie.

Some redeem themselves, sure, but others work their way back to the vices that captured them earlier. Some speak in a language so riddled with expletives that there is hardly a discernible word to be heard. Others exhibit poor class and sportsmanship on a stage seen by millions. Some are fueled by violence, greed, lust, and hate.

These athletes are the perfect examples of a materialistic, self-centered culture in America.

More disturbing, however, is the effect an apology— however crafted or insincere— has on the perception of the athlete in question. After a few simple words and an admission of guilt and remorse, the act that just a few minutes earlier had so angered the audience is forgotten, the crime essentially wiped away, and the reputation now only slightly marred.

Consider a recent episode from baseball. Andy Pettitte apologized for his use of performance-enhancing drugs, while Roger Clemens chose the more adventurous route. Contrast the dramatically different levels of distaste and distrust toward each athlete, and determine the effect the apology has on an athlete’s perception.

It is depressing that those negative examples of human behavior—disturbing and intolerable in a school or place of employment—have occurred so much in the sports world that the American public has frankly grown desensitized to it.

At what point in time did the above fail to reach the level of shock and outrage witnessed by Josh Howard’s statement? At what point did the above fail to reach the standards for being a bad American?


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