Monday, February 19, 2007

Role Models: The New Parent Trap

Two disparate and incredibly stupid incidents occurred on the "public stage" recently, both of which are classic examples of the types of things I'd love to avoid even knowing about, but have been on television, the radio, and in the papers. They have another thing in common, and I'll get to that in a bit.

Britney Spears (I paused here while typing that, as I was half afraid my computer would crash as I wrote it...It didn't) apparently walked into a hair cutting establishment, asked the stylist to shave her head, and when the stylist refused, Britney shaved it herself, the front half of her head now looking like Sinead O'Connor, and the back looking like Lenny Kravitz. She then went and got a tattoo on her lower hip and another on her wrist. This is apparently front page news on MSNBC and Reuters'.

On Wednesday of last week, former NBA star Tim Hardaway, apparently unable to contain himself at the recent coming-out-of-the-closet of former NBA non-star John Amaechi, spewed the following hogwash in a radio interview: "You know, I hate gay people, so I let it be known. I don't like gay people and I don't like to be around gay people. I'm homophobic. I don't like it. It shouldn't be in the world or in the United States." Does Timmy have a right to his opinion? Of course he does. Does he have a right to use a public interview as a forum for his opinions? Absolutely he does. Just as any advocate of gay rights would have the same right. My problem with it in fact, has little to do with his opinion (no matter how moronic). My problem is with the media that keeps the story going on and on and on. In the last 5 days, I've heard no less than 7 stories (or sidebar pieces) on this one lunatic ramble, on the radio or television. When I've heard exactly none about the public support he's gotten, including one of his coaches in the NBA (I only found out about it while looking up stories on Amaechi to make sure I got the quote in it's entirety).

Anyways, for some reason, today I got to thinking about one of my oldest rantable peeves, the argument that celebrities should be expected to be role models. Because the celebrity gauntlet runs so wide, I'll concentrate on athletes here.


There was a time, probably up until the late 70s or early 80s in fact, that athletes' personal lives were their personal lives. Even on the field. Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, noted for bumping, spitting, kicking dirt, and worse at umpires in the middle of a game, on national television, used to call his star relief pitcher Don Stanhouse "Full Pack".... Because, said Weaver, that was how much he (Weaver) used to smoke when Weaver would bring Stanhouse in to finish a game. Yep. He'd stand on the dugout steps and smoke, not 5 feet from the fans. Many of the stars in the game then (the 60s and 70s) were hugely out of shape, even for baseball players. "Boog" Powell looked pretty much like you'd think he'd look with that name. Mickey Lolich, a pitcher on the world champion Detroit Tigers in 1968 had a belly that Santa would envy. Gaylord Perry, a Baseball Hall of Famer, was so famous for his spitballs (along with assorted other foreign objects put on the ball, all against the rules) he titled his autobiography "Me and the Spitter".

Rookies were hazed, veterans were respected. Players and managers that drank, caroused, gambled, and were sometimes arrested, were treated with a "boys will be boys" attitude. Billy Martin, a legendary player and manager for the N.Y. Yankees for 35 years, had fights numbering in the double digits with baseball players, including not one, but TWO separate incidents with pitchers on the team he was managing at the time (different teams). He drank often, and had fights beyond his 60th birthday. One of my favorite Billy Martin episodes was in 1972, when he was managing the Tigers, the Topps Baseball Card Company took his picture for his baseball card. He smiled and extended his middle finger. It wasn't caught until the card was released. Oh yeah, Billy Martin's number is now retired by the Yankees, and his plaque hangs in Monument Park in Yankee Stadium.

The point is (yes, Virginia, there IS a point here somewhere) that athletes are paid lots of money to do one thing: Put butts in the seats, so the people paying them all that money can make even more money. I guarantee if people stopped paying admission prices, owners would stop paying multi-million dollar contracts to anyone who can fill their auditorium with bodies.

Straying once more to the entertainment field, I'll finish with the band Judas Priest, and their trial in 1990. They were sued when two young men, one 20 and one 19, killed themselves, after listening to what their parents said was a subliminal message in the song "Better By You, Better Than Me". While the suit was dismissed on its merits, the implication is still scary today. If you write a depressing book, can you be blamed if someone reading it takes his or her life? If you choose to use steroids and take the attendant risks, are you endangering someone else's child? If your parents raised you badly and you become famous, do you take over the responsibility of someone else's child-rearing skills? How bone-chillingly frightening is it to raise your child for so many years, then have a 20-something year old spoiled brat come by and muck it all up? Actually, I think it's a pretty chickenshit position. You raise your child as best as you can, then you trust him or her to look at the world that's out there, and make the right choices.