By Drew Johnson
Say it ain’t so, Rex Chapman.
There’s no way you stole over $14,000 worth of Apple accessories in Phoenix a couple of months ago. I refuse to believe it. Surely the security footage allegedly catching you in the act is doctored. You were King Rex, the high school basketball wunderkind from Owensboro that was one of the most exciting players to ever grace the blue and white. You had a good career in the NBA as a player and an executive. Of all people held precious to the Big Blue Nation, there’s no way these allegations can be true. It can’t be you, Rex.
Unless, of course, it is.
Too many times over the past decade, athletes we hold to high standards—often too high—have failed us. Blame it on the world of social media and the 24/7 news cycle. Blame media outlets for having the cold heart to report such incidents and break ours. For every Kentucky fan trying to make sense of Chapman’s egregious actions, there is a Baltimore Raven fan facing the cold truth of Ray Rice’s vicious assault on his fiancé. There is a Penn State fan still trying to come to grips with the sexual abuse scandal Joe Paterno’s hallowed football program permitted to happen. There is a Roger Clemens fan, someplace, still trying to believe Clemens never used steroids, despite evidence to the contrary. Personally, my heart was broken to read my childhood hero, Walter Payton, was an adulterer and not exactly Father of the Year. Not the man they called “Sweetness” and, certainly, not the player whose number #34 I demanded when I played Pee Wee football. I refused to believe it.
As fans, we are dazzled by elite athletes and their abilities on the playing field. What they do for our favorite team we worship and follow obsessively year-round creates the image of infallibility in their humanity. They score the big touchdowns. They throw down the monster dunks. They hit the tape measure home runs that barely stay inside Earth’s atmosphere. If what they do on the field can translate to their ordinary lives off the field, then by that rationale, they have to be amazing human beings capable of decent acts to help their communities. Of course, that still happens. For every rotten athlete in the bunch, there are five thriving athletes living strong moral lives and making right decisions that can benefit others. But we don’t know about them. We hardly ever hear about them. Maybe they’re not “elite” enough for fans. Maybe they prefer to do good works under a cloak of anonymity, not wanting nor requiring the adoration of the public or pats on the back for being role models to America’s sports-obsessed youth culture.
Where are they? I have to believe they exist, somewhere, in the zeitgeist of sports. We need athletes like that to step forward. We need verifiable proof of the good ones. Day by day, our faith in our favorite stars continues to lose its shimmer. We need to believe in heroes again. For every 100 yards they rush for, $100 goes to his or her’s favorite charity. Tell us when you do that. We want to believe in you again. When it comes down to it, we don’t really know you. We never have. We probably never will. Sure, we see your interviews during arranged press conferences. We listen to your every word, feeling like you are talking directly to each and every one of us on our tablets and iPhones.
“What a good guy. I bet he’s a pleasure to be around. There’s no way he’d ever get in trouble. He does (your favorite team) proud. Just listen to him.”