“But what about Ben? How do you feel about him?”
Every time I have a conversation about athletes’ behavior off the field, I brace myself. Most likely whoever I’m having this conversation with knows that I’m from Pittsburgh, and they are preparing to combat any point I have with the same question I have heard far too many times. Somehow my response has not improved. It’s the thing I choose to ignore, force myself to not acknowledge.
Blush, avoid eye contact, mumble something discoherent, change the conversation.
We try to brush off the inconsistencies that exist in our love of athletes and teams on and off the miscellaneous playing surfaces that we pay millions of dollars to watch them run on. It’s a lot easier to imagine that athletes are all perfect, opinionless humans. But the truth is that just because an idea or player can be idolized, they are still real human beings with emotions and opinions. Yet somehow that seems to be continually surprising.
We live in an ever-changing world, where everyday we hear more and more about the athletes that we watch and idolize. We follow them on Twitter, watch interviews and increasingly hear their opinions on the current topics of the day.
As iterated in previous columns, I think it’s good that athletes who wish to are sharing their opinions. Why not? It’s their right, they have the platform and if they have a message they wish to share than they should be able to do so.
But for countless fans around the country, this ability to learn more and more about the athletes they root for has led to confusion and a decision. A decision often between continuing to follow a player or team who you love blindly or putting that organization or individual’s viewpoint with which you disagree on a higher level.
It’s important to keep in mind that for the latter, it may be more difficult to separate the on and off field lives and that we need to approach it in an entirely different way. But it’s still the same uncomfortable conversation. In recent weeks, this kind of conversation instead has been filled with coaches and players commenting on things in the news and current events. That wasn’t happening to the same extent before, giving every fan a new challenge in how they choose to consume sports coverage.
This was seen on the biggest platform when the New England Patriots, a team whose most prominent members are people who, at the very least, are friends with President Trump. For those who oppose his politics or him as a person, celebrating alongside these figures was perhaps not quite as sweet. As difficult as it may be, figuring out how to balance disagreeing with a person and cheering for their success may actually be more important than ever right now.
Being able to root for a player that doesn’t believe in the same things as you is a good example of how everyone in this country needs to remember that you don’t have to hate someone just because they say something you don’t agree with. It means you feel differently and that’s okay.
Recently Dexter Fowler, newly of the St. Louis Cardinals, discussed the immigration ban as it applied to his wife, who is Iranian, and members of her family who were trying to come visit the United States. Cardinals fans replied in outrage, telling him to stick to baseball. But Fowler continues to stand by what he said, despite the outrage of the more conservative fan base that he may be surrounded by. But as always, being kind and admitting our differences won out.
Welp.Since I have a nice little chunk of people who hate me cuz I have an opinion.I’m going to do a nice giveaway away for the good people.
— Dexter Fowler (@DexterFowler) February 19, 2017
It’s easy to find compassion for someone like Fowler, who comes back at those against him with such compassion. It’s not as easy to continue to root for someone who so directly opposes something that you feel strongly about or who has negative things reported about them. It’s an uncomfortable reality that sometimes the sports figures, or really anyone we look up to, find ways to disappoint us.
By choosing to ignore the reality, most sports fans, including myself, are allowing the trend to continue. We can decide to stop rooting for a group because they added someone of questionable character or we can decide to look past it. At what point will fans stop turning away when the uncomfortable comes up and instead make these disagreements a conversation?