Saturday, April 17, 2010

Personal v. Professional

We here at FTC are men and women of the people. When you talk, we listen.

And some of you, via comments or other means, have suggested that we have no business caring about Ben Rapelisberger's off-the-field behavior. Since he's a professional football player, the idea goes, we should only care about his football playing.

Many people have made this point. Separate the art from the artist. Who cares if T.S. Eliot was a bigot, or if Tiger Woods is a manwhore, or if Roethlisberger is a tool? We are supposed to evaluate people by their work, not their character. It's an old argument, and in many ways a logically valid one.

Here's why it's wrong:

First, let's dispense with the idea that celebrities have some right to keep their personal lives private.If you want to be a private person, that's great. So do I. But it also means that you have to give up certain life paths, like politics or celebrity. No one made Tiger Woods be a golfer; he went to Stanford, he seems like a bright guy, he could have been, say, an engineer. Not a bad life, and no one would have noticed or cared if he screwed 100 women a week. He also would not have made $1 billion and been very famous. I don't blame him, mind you; if I could get hundreds of millions and be famous playing golf, I'd do it, too. But when you put your name to products and make your identity a selling point, you lose the right to bitch when people realize you've sold them a false bill of goods. Ben, Tiger, whoever... they chose their lives. If you're a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, you can't complain about scrutiny and long hours; you knew the game when you applied for a high-paying gig. Same with athletes. They're freakishly talented at putting a ball wherever their chosen game's rules dictate, and that lets them get famous and obscenely wealthy by telling other people what sports drinks, shoes and beef jerky to buy. Not a bad life, necessarily, but not without its drawbacks, and one of those is privacy.

Second, as Matt eloquently pointed out, there is a connection between Ben's behavior and his professional life. This isn't the first time this has happened to Ben, and he didn't see fit to change anything about his behavior. He will now likely be suspended, and any football player on the bench is not helping the team win. There are serious questions, from a football standpoint, about his ability to think about the team first and his penis (or motorcycle organ) second. He looks obviously out of shape, and one has to wonder if that's because he's spent more energy exposing himself to chicks in bars than running wind sprints. To put it another way: I had a conversation with a friend about James Harrison, who did something pretty despicable himself, and earned nothing more than a snarky chide from this blog. The thing is, Harrison lives a private life with few endorsements and plays a violent position extremely violently. He makes no claim to being a role model. And, when he wound up in the papers, he learned his lesson of how to stay under the radar and keep his nose clean. It doesn't mean he's a great guy, but it means he understands the personal obligations of his professional life. So let's also scrap this idea that there's no relationship at all between being a professional and acting like a professional.

Lastly, the legal system recognizes a difference between accusation and conviction, and, as I wrote in my last post, I think that difference is a fundamental cornerstone of a pretty great nation. But, for the best of reasons, that system has strict standards, and as people with brains we're allowed to think in non-legalistic terms. We are also capable of understanding the difference between ethics and laws. Lots of things have been - and are - legal, while still being unethical. It's legal to be racist; it's not ethical, and we don't generally tolerate it in our public figures. So we're allowed, by use of logic and reason and sensory input, to draw our own conclusions about Ben's behavior, and whether it was criminal, shameful, or both, even while we simultaneously acknowledge that the authorities lacked the necessary evidence to prosecute and convict him of any crime. Similarly, we are all allowed to look at a player like Barry Bonds and think that he used steroids, even if he has never failed a test and has never been convicted of a crime. It's called having a mind. People are free to disagree, and to cite evidence to the contrary, and we can engage in debate. But to simply say that a legal system acquitted Ben, and that he therefore did nothing wrong, is simplistic to the point of willful stupidity.

We've all got minds, and it's great that we can use them to get to different conclusions. As bloggers, we at FTC are totally in favor of spirited debate and even controversy. So please, give us reasons why you disagree. Tell us what we're missing. Tell us why you're okay with sports figures acting like children. But if all you've got to say is that it makes you feel better to not think about your franchise quarterback's behavior, and it would be easier for you if we didn't think about it, either, then we're going to tell you, respectfully, to start thinking and stop acting like a god damn idiot.


Matt said...

See, I just wasn't going to respond to those people because, really, it's our blog. They have the comments section, or they can start their own blog. But I don't think it's wise to get into a pissing contest with anyone whose argument includes phrases like "I used to have a poster of Steve Carlton on my wall." They can post all they want. I reserve the right to ignore them in full.

Geoff said...

Not meant to be snarky, but to those people who say "who cares about the off-field issues", they can no longer claim moral superiority for the Rooneys/Steelers.

I was glad FTC recognized this as tarnishing not only Ben, but the Steelers, the owners, the reputation, and the city.

Growing up in Bethlehem, Pa and going to school in Pittsburgh exposed me to this sense of righteousness among Pittsburgh fans. That's not a negative, except when it's hypocritical righteousness, which those FTC dissenters now possess.

And yes, the Eagles signed Mike Vick. But I (and most Eagles fans) didn't go around pretending the off-field stuff didn't matter. It did, which is why he went to prison and subsequently performed community service.

FRANCOfranco said...

1) I'm specifically not going to wiki T.S. Eliot, because I don't want to know about his "controversies" or "political views"; listening to the spoken word recordings of 'The Waste Land' before bed is too important to me, and I can't stand for it being tainted.

2) Disagree strongly with: "any football player on the bench is not helping the team win." See: Tommy Maddox, circa 2005.

3) As far as Ben being out of shape... we've all seen the footage of him at the bullshit press conference. He looked bloated, rapey and terrible; there is zero denying that. However, if you look at the AP shots of him from today, tossing the ball in pads, he honestly looks as trim as ever. I'm not saying his body has its best years in front of it, but I would suggest that he's just a weird looking dude out of pads, and that that red polo shirt was extremely unflattering.

Look, if you want me to, I'll write an entire post condemning how sloppy that press conference was, and how it had as much to do with him being disgusting as anything else. I'll also agree that nights of binge drinking with Willie Colon and college coeds does not make the body strong. But... I'm going to caution our wrath to ease up on Pig Ben being out of shape. Dude's just a beefy guy. Beefy when we won it all. Beefy when we missed the playoffs.