They live behind gates and ride in cars with tinted windows and eat in the private rooms where they can’t be seen.
It wasn’t always that way. Professional athletes used to be among us and walk the same streets. An Eagles player might live down the block, or a Phillies player might be sitting in the corner barbershop. You could greet them as neighbors, kids could shake their hands. The divide was always there. They were heroes, but they weren’t distant ones. Well, that was then.
Now is a little different. They hide from the public, disdain contact with fans, and worry, with good reason, that the same star-making machinery that built them up is looking to tear them down.
It is chicken-or-egg to decide whether the money created the chasm between those who earn it and those who provide it, or whether the searing heat that comes along with the money made it wisest to stay a distance from the stove.
Two great examples of why today’s athletes (most of them) want nothing to do with us were on full display in the last several weeks, and while the celebrities in question made their own beds, they had a right to expect more privacy than they received.
The first came as a result of Jason Pierre-Paul’s fireworks accident that led to the amputation of his right index finger and a fair amount of skin grafting in the area of his hand. The defensive end for the New York Giants, according to former teammate Justin Tuck, knows he made “a mistake,” as reported by NJ.com.
That’s good. Looking down at one’s hand and noticing a finger is missing certainly qualifies as a mistake. There is a reason towns hire professionals to ignite their fireworks displays. Fireworks are dangerous. According to the U.S. Consumer Products Safety Commission, there are approximately 10,000 fireworks-related injuries every year and sometimes as many as a dozen deaths.
Pierre-Paul did a very stupid thing. He will have to live with its consequences for the rest of his life. But at no time from the moment of the stupid thing to the amputation of his finger did Pierre-Paul forfeit his basic rights. He is a public figure, and there is attention that comes with that, but he still has a claim on protected privacies.
That didn’t help when a reporter used Twitter to publish a picture of Pierre-Paul’s medical chart that indicated the amputation would take place. There is a difference between reporting news, which is fair game, and disseminating documents protected by federal law. Journalists are not liable for violations of HIPAA law, but that distinction is technical when it comes to determining the right thing to do.
The second recent example of why the modern athlete believes he or she is living in a “gotcha” world came when the body cam video of Donovan McNabb’s arrest on drunken- driving charges in a Phoenix suburb was released.
There is nothing to defend here about McNabb’s actions. Do not misconstrue that. He was a danger to himself and others. If convicted of his second such violation, he faces between 90 days and six months in jail, according to Arizona DUI statutes. His driver’s license, like his number, will be retired, at least for a while. McNabb deserves the punishment that fits a dangerous crime. He was wrong, just as stupid as Pierre-Paul, and also has to live with the consequences of his decisions.
What he did not necessarily deserve, and what the ordinary citizen would not normally have to endure, is for his arrest video to be available around the world as entertainment for anyone with an Internet connection and a desire to see someone famous humiliated. If McNabb contested the arrest report in court, which he has not yet done, that video would be germane. As it was, the release and dissemination of the video, more than two weeks after the arrest, was gratuitous. Where was the public’s right to know that trumped McNabb’s right to the basic privacies accorded the average person?
Again, don’t get this wrong. Pierre-Paul was a dope. McNabb was a criminal. Their fame and money have not allowed them to escape the consequences of their actions. But that’s the point. The actions were theirs and the consequences were theirs. Not ours. Not on Twitter, anyway. And not on TMZ.
Every day the walls get higher. The gates are locked tighter. The tinted windows are darker. The private rooms are more remote. I don’t blame them. I blame us.
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Bob Ford is a columnist for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bobfordsports.