Athletes are ordinary people—for better and worse

By Dan Falloon, sports reporter
The bad press surrounding the personal lives of professional athletes has been suffocating lately.
The sexual exploits of pro golfer Tiger Woods and, allegedly, Pittsburgh Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have dominated headlines, so it certainly was refreshing to hear something positive about an athlete.
Last Wednesday night, soon after the top-seeded Washington Capitals were stunned by the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series, Washington centre Brooks Laich pulled over to help a mother and daughter change a tire on a busy D.C. bridge.
The Capitals’ fans had hit a pothole and were stuck with a flat tire when Laich pulled over to change it after a number of drivers had sped right on by.
The fans—Mary Ann and Lorraine Wangemann—snapped photos of the helpful player, who had tallied his second goal of the playoffs that evening to bring Washington to within 2-1 late in the game, but the Caps were unable to add another.
It’s great to hear about random acts of kindness, don’t get me wrong, and I’d rather read the Laich story a million times before something new on Woods.
The interaction with a big-league player probably was the highlight of the fans’ night, helping to take the sting off of a gut-wrenching upset loss.
But is it really breaking news?
Professional athletes are in the spotlight, yes, and the multi-million dollar contracts they sign certainly help to ensure they stay there.
I’ve never seen a headline proclaiming “Average Joe helps change tire” or “Regular guy cheats on wife with multiple partners,” except maybe on The Onion, a parody website.
Apparently, though, when an athlete does it, it’s news.
On the one hand, part of sports journalism is to go beyond the box score to give readers an insight into the personality of the guys or gals on the rink or the field.
When I was growing up, it was neat to read in the game-day program that the Winnipeg Goldeyes’ right-fielder’s favourite team as a youngster was the Minnesota Twins (hey, just like me!) or that a Blue Bombers’ right tackle can recite every line from “Apocalypse Now.”
From the team’s business perspective, a major reason for inserting these tidbits into its literature is to show fans that “Hey, these guys aren’t just home run-smacking droids, they have hobbies and interests outside of work, just like you.”
And that’s what really needs to be stressed.
It seems to be forgotten sometimes, and these light-hearted stories are a positive reminder every once in a while that “Player ‘A’ has an everyday life, plus he’s really good at hockey,” like an NHL campaign a few years back.
It’s a two-way street, absolutely, and any “Do you know who I am?” rant by an athlete is off-putting, to say the least.
For example, if Roethlisberger’s actions in the Milledgeville, Ga. bar were illegal, then his case should have been treated like any other.
Only Roethlisberger and his accuser know for sure what happened that night in March, but the district attorney didn’t bring charges against the two-time Super Bowl champ.
As a person who seemingly is capable of making informed choices, at least the choice to allegedly consume alcohol, Roethlisberger has a responsibility to uphold the laws of the town, state, and country that he’s in. You know, just like everyone else in that position.
We can only hope his celebrity status didn’t enter into the district attorney’s decision, but we won’t know.
Sexual assault in a public place is a newsworthy story, regardless of who the accused is.
In Woods’ case, though, the only crime he committed was a minor traffic accident. Nothing unique about it other than who he was.
If pretty much anyone else did it, it’s a non-story.
It wasn’t the 75th time he’d been pulled over with an expired licence and there was no funny explanation to make it a diversions piece.
There was an explanation, and that ended up being what blew up.
Okay, maybe getting into an accident with another vehicle after fleeing from a fight with a spouse is a story.
This was a fire hydrant.
After taking marriage vows to remain faithful to his wife, Woods’ trysts broke those promises and were a wrong choice. But why did he have to apologize on live TV? He didn’t hurt anyone but his family, as well as any mistresses who may have been under pretenses that he was a single man.
Sports Illustrated golf writer Joe Posnanski wrote after the press conference that he didn’t see any reason to have to grade the apology. All he’s supposed to analyze is Tiger’s play on the course. Period.
There still is some grey area as to other parties who may have been affected, though.
By extension, Woods may have hurt his sponsors. And if there was any sort of behavioural clause in his contract, then they’re not wrong in taking action against him.
It comes with the territory, unfortunately.
If a spokesperson tarnishes a company’s image in the public eye, then they’re not a very good spokesperson. Woods’ infidelity arguably tarnished his credibility and, by extension, the credibility of his sponsors.
That’s fair to say. That reports of his private affairs came to light is what’s not fair.
All that being said, players are representatives of their teams—and they have to realize whose money is keeping the team afloat.
It’s largely sponsors, yes, but if there are no fans in the seats or eyes on the TV, there are no sponsors and then no team.
Even so, that only should extend to a personal level. When former Blue Jays’ outfielder Alex Rios flipped off fans after a game, that’s not a wise move to keep them coming back (well, unless the fans bought tickets for the chance to heckle him, but that would probably get old fast).
We shouldn’t be surprised when these athletes do good things or do bad things in their private life.
They’re just ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations.
• • •
I was looking over a wrap-up story for the Rainy River District Fastball League from last season and a couple of comments at the end of the article asked for more coverage.
I haven’t been able to find much information about the league, but I’m interested in doing a story and publishing weekly results if they’re made available, as we did with the Monday night men’s basketball league.
The same offer is on the table for other leagues around town.
If you fire over results, I’ll do my best to get them in. We can’t print what we don’t have.
Electronic results to my e-mail address—dfalloon@fortfrances.com—are preferred, but I can take them over the phone at 274-5373 ext. 236.

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