As a nation, America loves to partake in faux-outrage. The high priest of faux-outrage of course is Bill O’Reilly, who whips his viewers into a frenzy over trivial or, more likely, non-existent threats, such as the “War on Christmas”. Faux-outrage is damaging because it distracts the media and media consumers away from issues that are actually important and deserving of further attention. Every 1,000 words that is written about how Democrats made fun of Ann Romney is 1,000 words that could be better spent discussing policy positions (whether THOSE are substantive or not is a whole different discussion). But as basketball fans, we are all just congregants at the church of Bill O’Reilly.
There are some legitimately bad human beings in the NBA. Jason Kidd is a wifebeater, DeShawn Stevenson is a (statuory) rapist, JR Smith killed a guy by rolling through a stop sign. Yet, if we took a poll of NBA fans about their least favorite player, Dwight Howard would notch an overwhelming victory over second place LeBron James.
I mean, I guess I get it. Dwight Howard needs to just shut the fuck up, and is certainly guilty of exhibiting poor judgment and a lack of understanding about how contracts work, while LeBron needed a much bigger dose of humility, class, and perspective when he left Cleveland in 2010. But neither of them (to public knowledge) have done anything to seriously hurt or destroy another human beings life like the players mentioned above. Say what you will about the Jail Blazers, but the real fault of those early-2000’s Portland teams was choking in the playoffs, not committing crime.
Sports are where we turn to when the drudgery of our day to day existence becomes too much. Depending upon your perspective, life is either terrifying or exhilarating because of the uncertainty that it presents. It is impossible to fully wrap our heads around things like “the economy” and “relationships” so we turn to either fantasy (environments that break the normal rules of life) or games (environments that have a clearly defined rule set and punishments). Basketball is compelling because there is a clear objective (score the most points) and way to measure who best achieves that objective (whoever makes the most baskets). The action that happens on the court is one of the few things in life a person can say that they fully, completely, 100% understand—you sure as hell can’t say that about any relationship you have ever been in (insert women are from Venus comment here).
Why is it that we excuse the very real, very bad deeds these men do as long as they can ball on the court? This isn’t a rhetorical question, I genuinely don’t know the answer, and am somewhat ashamed to admit that I am guilty of it too. I would have been thrilled if the Warriors had signed Jason Kidd in the offseason, his treatment of his ex-wife be damned, yet I would be profoundly uncomfortable if you told me that the guy in the office next to mine had killed a guy?
I think it has something to do with the fact that the rules of society that these men have broken are not present in the NBA rule book: there is no provision against statutory rape in the NBA. Sure, the commissioner’s office makes a show at punishing players for their off-court transgressions—DeShawn Stevenson was suspended for three games for the aforementioned statutory rape—but it’s pretty clear that the purpose of this is to mollify critics and sponsors, not an attempt to correct behavior. It makes a certain amount of sense that players aren’t given NBA punishments for real world crimes, but it doesn’t make sense to me that we leave our morals at the front door when we plop down in front of ESPN.
Which brings us back to the petulant, childish attempts by Dwight Howard to alter his destiny. It isn’t even so much that I want him to stop talking, but I want the media to stop reporting on him talking. In deference to Gertrude Stein, there’s no there there. As long as he continues to do work on the court, let’s save our outrage for the things that actually deserve it.