When it comes to professional athletes, let’s leave the judgment between the lines

Spencer Chase

Just once, can we judge an athlete on … I don’t know … their athletic ability?

I honestly yearn for the day when we will judge an athlete by their abilities instead of the content of their character, or lack thereof. One obvious example springs to mind: that of Tim “He shattered the mold” Tebow.

Remember him? He caused the majority of ESPN to debate if an accurate throwing arm was necessary for a quarterback. Wait a second, what?! Of course a quarterback needs a good arm! What’s next, proposing that a good offensive lineman doesn’t need any sort of brute strength? Come on, folks.

Remember Adam “Pacman” Jones? He was the preposterously talented cornerback and returner for the Tennessee Titans who was suspended for the entire 2007 season and part of the 2008 due to personal conduct issues. He had a role in an incident outside a Las Vegas strip club that left one man paralyzed from the waist down and another wounded. He now owes $11 million in damages to those two men. He’s making a heck of a comeback with the Bengals and is scheduled to speak at the NFL Rookie Symposium about his off-the-field issues. Anyone going to report on that? No, we’re too busy raving over the next Eagle Scout of a quarterback.

This issue has long been clouding the judgment of both journalists and fans alike. We long thought Michael Jordan was a great man on top of being basically the best player to ever pick up a basketball. He was made out to be a saint, a man that won several games for his team just because he decided he wasn’t going to lose. We all gush about the story of how he was cut from the varsity team in high school and how he wore number 23 because he hoped to be half the player his brother was, who wore number 45.

Then we saw his hall of fame induction speech. The same speech where he said, “He said organizations win championships. I said, ‘I don’t see organizations playing with the flu in Utah.’” Sounds like an extremely humble fellow.

My point is: why can’t we just appreciate athletes like Tebow, Jones and Jordan for their athletic ability instead of hoping we can come to appreciate their character? Why must we jump to the conclusion that everyone that can hit a fade route is all of a sudden Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year material?

There are some obvious exceptions. Drew Brees is both an elite quarterback and an elite human being. Joe Mauer is one of the best catchers in baseball and has also been named one of the best human beings in the game. But not everyone needs to fit into this choirboy mold that we’ve made for the modern athlete.

Am I advocating for us to push criminals towards sports? Heavens no.  I’ll leave that to the folks at Notre Dame. But I sure wouldn’t mind seeing people who are great people being treated a little more objectively when it comes to athletics. In some coaching circles, telling an athlete they’re a really nice person is basically a nice way of saying they should pursue something other than sports. And why is it so hard to do that?

For once, let’s start judging athletes by what they do between the whistles.