Athletes, Emotions, and Our Expectations

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Photography by : ANTI SOCIETY

Text by : Max Fabricant

January 25, 2014

As our favorite many-to-many social platforms like Twitter and Facebook allow us to weigh in our opinions on sports media, we have seen a noticeable difference in how players, coaches, and their respective teams are portrayed, and ultimately perceived by the public. This has proven to cause a bit of controversy for the subjects of the post-game attention we feel the need to pay online. While everybody feels the right to their two cents on player performances, team stability, and post-game interviews, the same heroes we praise for weeks can turn to villains in a matter of seconds.

Richard Sherman. We’ve heard the name all week. But what’s the tallest topic of discussion? Very little has been mentioned about the Seattle Seahawk All-Pro cornerback’s athletic play that locked up a victory for his team in comparison to the conversation online about his emotional interview he held with ESPN’s Erin Andrews before walking off the field. When Colin Kaepernick’s drive to the end zone was halted by  an essentially  game-ending interception at the hands of Sherman, NFL fans knew who would square off against the Denver Broncos for Super Bowl XLVIII. For that moment, and for many fans this moment alone, Richard Sherman was a living legend. Soon after, an interview in which he personally referenced San Francisco wide receiver Michael Crabtree’s incompetence at his position when matched up against a player like himself fueled hateful commentary amongst our online community.  Without a doubt, Richard Sherman earned his keeps as the cockiest player in the league. This look into the mind of a game-changing, Super Bowl-bound playmaker skewed the way football fans valued Sherman’s skills, intelligence, and even sanity. Follow-up interviews eventually led to a genuine apology from Sherman to his peers for taking away from their team victory.

It’s fair to say instances like these warrant a bit of backlash from the equally emotional NFL fans who lost out on watching their preferred team or players compete in the big game. The question is whether it is fair to put someone’s entire public persona in the hands of people who know nothing about winning and losing on this big of a stage in their own lives. Often times, celebrities, particularly athletes, are forced to hide their excitement after doing what they love- well enough to be considered the best- at the ultimate level of competition. The same fans who put their favorite players on the pedestal have an equal opportunity to take them down a peg or two online whenever and from wherever they can get access to their social media. We see it all the time. We’ve seen it on the opposite side of the spectrum, too.

Cleveland Brown’s cornerback Joe Haden makes big plays. He is highly regarded by NFL analysts as a top 3 player at his position (even before Sherman on many lists). His consistent ability to shutdown a big-bodied receiver should overwhelm the attention he gets for crying during a post-loss interview, right? In reality it doesn’t. Haden has been labeled a list of emasculating terms at the convenience of fans’ urgency to comment on every given aspect of player performance. Apparently, being pumped up, or feeling too liable for letting the team down are elements of the game we’d like to pretend don’t exist. The true story is that these players are educated, focused, determined individuals performing to their highest potential each game, as if it is work. Because it is. Sometimes emotions get the best of us too, so we could all think twice before chirping down our once-heroes throats the moment they slip up in the eye of biased media conglomerates.

Some more sports stories to consider that perhaps we play a role in: Peyton Manning vs. Colts owner Jim Irsay, the exploitation of Ricky Williams’s off-field habits, the Redskins upper management relations, Manti Te’o's relationship (?), the come and go of Tim Tebow…this list could go on and on.

It’s not that a professional athlete’s actions and off-field behavior shouldn’t attract attention and thorough consideration of the effects of its representation of the sport and its influence over the public – sports figures are supposed to be role models, after all. It’s more that our frivolous, emotionally-charged texts, tweets, and posts further steer our society’s anonymous power-trip down a road of higher and higher expectations and less and less room for error. These players offered bold insight into their competitive mindsets, which can be comprehended as either weak or honest. The unfortunate part is we don’t have to say sorry, and the biggest issue with anonymity is that it allows, and even encourages, the channeling of our frustration to be expressed directly to its defenseless recipient. It wouldn’t hurt if all of us online could take a step back and consider the consequences of our own role in sports media – maybe then we would feel less inclined to chase down an explanation for emotionally-driven outcomes off the clock.

  • Alec Blue

    All true. Unfortunately, this is not limited to the sports world. Much ink has been spilled in the media generally about the vitriol that internet anonymity incites. As you accurately point out, there are two major forces at work here: the protection of an anonymous platform, and the overwhelming desire of many to tear down those who have achieved great things. Be it in sports, music, entertainment, business or politics, those that may otherwise feel powerless get a twisted satisfaction by knocking society’s bright lights down to size. And while there are many sports figures that rise to the challenge of balancing a successful career with a ‘role model’ public image, the sad fact is that the physical intensity of what is required to excel in professional sports leaves many young athletes psychologically unequipped to deal with the emotional roller-coaster that comes with their success.