This article originally appeared in The Fordham Ram in October 2018.
The weekend before last, I was watching the fourth quarter of the Chiefs-Patriots Sunday Night Football game when an extraordinary thing happened.
Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill, otherwise known as the only good player left on my fantasy team after I traded away Todd Gurley (facepalm), caught two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including a 75-yard bomb to tie the game at 40 late in the fourth. I was really happy, and not just because the Chiefs were going toe-to-toe with the NFL team I hate the most.
I was losing my mind because Tyreek Hill was on my fantasy team, and his two late scores put me ahead for good in my matchup that week. That probably speaks to my sorry mental state more than anything, but a win’s a win.
But what if I told you there is a more troubling personal side to the electrifying, lightning-fast star of the NFL’s best offense?
Hill was arrested in Dec. 2014 and sentenced to three years of probation in 2015 for assaulting his then-pregnant girlfriend, Crystal Espinal. The details are gruesome and harrowing, and the incident got Hill dismissed from the Oklahoma State football and track teams. He was drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft and has terrorized NFL defenses ever since. To be fair to Hill, he completed his probation in August and even reconciled with Espinal, as the two got married just last month. I’m not against the Chiefs giving him a second chance, but you can’t have Hill’s on-field heroics without his off-field troubles.
Another example of this is Brewers relief pitcher Josh Hader. Many fawned over his dominance in this year’s playoffs, and he was used in a Swiss Army Knife role coming out of Milwaukee’s bullpen. However, some of us are old enough to remember when Hader was in hot water after years-old, insensitive tweets exposing several different prejudicial phobias were uncovered on his Twitter account. I’m old enough to remember this because it happened three months ago. We were all shocked when this happened, but in the ensuing weeks, several other players were caught with old prejudicial tweets on their accounts. It was a trend, and it led to many more questions than answers.
All of this is troubling in and of itself, but it leads to a larger point in sports: when we build athletes up as perfect, upstanding citizens all of the time, we are absolutely begging to be disappointed.
Basketball Hall of Famer Charles Barkley once said, to the tune of a lot of controversy at the time, that he was not a role model. He could not have been more on-the-nose if he tried. When we make these people societal role models, we set ourselves up for failure. To an extent, professional athletes sign up for public scrutiny, and they can’t live remotely normal lives. But we use athletes to demonstrate to ourselves and others the “right way” to do things (whatever that means). When they don’t do that, we burn jerseys, wonder how this could happen and search for answers until the next time someone else does the exact same thing.
To that end, I ask this question: why are athletes put on this pedestal in the first place?
While the majority of athletes seem to be good, upstanding citizens, others are not. We need to accept that. Sometimes, our heroes disappoint us, and that’s just a part of life. We cannot simply put athletes above reproach, particularly when they play for our team. Sometimes, that’s okay; like many Mets fans or New York area sports followers, I am going to tell my children about how good of a citizen David Wright was when he played for the team. The problem is this: we give athletes too much influence over our behaviors. Sometimes, this is okay (see: bat flipping), but other times, it isn’t. Athletes are influencers, but we shouldn’t treat them as gods, because if we do, they will never reach that standard. Worse than that, we’ll be left with the pieces.
Of course, this does not mean that athletes should ever get a pass when they screw up and we should hold them to a higher standard than we would for others. But parents, listen closely: do not, do not, do NOT use an athlete as the sole example of good behavior for your children. Players need to worry about themselves and make sure they are doing the right thing without consideration of the pressures of the public eye. We don’t need to act shocked when they mess up, because they will. Often.
Professional athletes are really good at what they do, and we should expect them to be. But if we expect them to all be perfect all the time, we are going to be incredibly disappointed.