When you’re a professional athlete, you are only a favorite to the sports media and viewing public until you have one or more bad performances. Once you start to screw up or, god forbid, show your human frailties, it’s like blood in the water. There’s a feeding frenzy and you’re lunch!
A few years ago I was working with a high profile infielder for a big market franchise and he was completely depressed that the fans and media had turned against him. He was being ripped in the papers and on the radio because he had had a few games where he’d made some uncharacteristic errors. The previous season he had been a major reason why his team had won their division and gone far into the playoffs. At that time he was a fan favorite and media darling. Everyone loved him. Now, all of that had been forgotten. People were booing him and demanding that he be benched. He was devastated by the lack of emotional support and confused. Didn’t last year count for anything? Welcome to the wonderful world of “you’re only as good as your lastest screw-up!”
And right now Tennessee Titans’ QB Vince Young is being ripped by his fans and the media. For the first time in his life he is no longer being hero-worshipped. Instead he is booed on the field and criticized for his decisions off the field. This turn of events has appeared to have taken a significant emotional toll on him. There was the talk of suicide, then talk of leaving the game. And, in response to his acting human, more criticism: He’s mentally weak. He needs to not take all this so personally. He’s immature and needs to grow up. Etc. Etc.
Here’s an interesting fact. Our sports heroes aren’t superhuman afterall. As a matter of fact, they are very much human with the same kind of feelings, vulnerabilities and hang-ups that we have. Just because you may see them on TV performing super-human athletic feats doesn’t mean that they are any less human that you or I. They still bleed when they’re cut and get their feelings hurt when they are criticized. They still have their share of mental health problems, immaturities and lapses in judgment like the rest of us. Some may even have more!
I feel badly for Vince Young. He’s a product of our hero worship. People tell him he needs to toughen up so he can take the criticism. However, all of his life, he was made to feel super special and rarely had to deal with all of this negativity. Suddenly, now that he’s exposed to it, he’s supposed to know how to handle it? Perhaps we need to show a little more humanness ourselves and cut some of our heroes some much needed slack.