Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Athletes Deserve A Hollywood-type Break

Even as I type these words, I am debating whether I should even be writing this post. Death is never easy to write about-- even if indirectly.

But I started this blog so I could share my perspective on various subjects. I think way too often, people make judgments about people and topics they know little about. And while I profess to be an expert of absolutely nothing, hopefully some of what you read here will make you look at certain subjects in a different light-- even if it doesn’t make you change your mind.

The recent news that Hollywood star Heath Ledger had died of a drug overdose was yet another reminder of how fragile life can be. On the outside, he seemed to have it all-- a great career and a beautiful family-- but sadly, he won’t be able to fully enjoy either of them.

As surprising as Ledger’s death was, it wasn’t exactly shocking. We have seen countless stars die way too early due to drug abuse. From Janis Joplin and River Phoenix to Elvis Presley and Chris Farley, too many talented people have died simply because they didn’t know when to stop or their friends and family wouldn’t tell them to. Either way, it’s a tragedy.

But something struck me funny in the wake of Ledger’s death. Where is the outcry to clean up Hollywood? Where are the over-the-top TV talking heads saying that actors are setting a bad example for our young children? Has anyone seen Bill O’Reilly or Nancy Grace demanding that production studios do a better job of policing their industry?

No, you haven’t. And quite frankly, no one should be calling for such nonsense. The self-destructing mistakes of others should not set our standards of living or parenting.

But I wonder if it would be different if a prominent athlete had died as a result of a drug overdose. What if it had been a NFL or NBA player?
I can just hear Rush Limbaugh or Dr. Laura declaring it was just another example of professional sports being overrun by thugs.

Why are professional athletes held to such higher standards than other entertainers?

It can’t be the money. Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks make more for one movie than most elite athletes make in a season.

It can’t be the influence on kids. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears have shaped your daughter’s behavior, eating patterns and wardrobe way more than Serena Williams or Mia Hamm.

It can’t be envy. The ratio of contestants to finalists for American Idol trumps the ratio of tryouts to roster spots for all the Big Four sports combined.

So what is it? Why do we think professional athletes should behave better than entertainers and everyday Joe’s? Why is any transgression by an individual athlete an indictment on that player’s entire sport? Why can't athletes get a pass when entertainers live on them?

In essence, there is no answer because it shouldn’t be that way in the first place. Athletes, like entertainers, are nothing but a cross-section of society. They have the same problems, issues and faults as the rest of us.

Remember when you found out that Limbaugh was addicted to prescription drugs? He was considered a victim, not an abuser. Oh, the hypocrisy.

What about Ozzy Osbourne, Pat O’Brien, Robert Downey, Jr., Matthew Perry.. should I go on?

Not only were those drug abusers sheltered from the type of criticism athletes regularly endure for similar transgressions, they were praised for going to rehab. That’s like someone patting you on the back for going to the emergency room after breaking your leg. Where else are you going to go for help?

So before you call into a radio talk show or send an e-mail to your favorite sports blog dogging an athlete who is using or abusing drugs, check TMZ.com and your local police blotter. You will likely see someone you know.

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