In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on February 3, 2012 at 6:32 am


It’s sad we really don’t know today’s professional athlete. But how can we? The hero-worshiping sports media is too busy glorifying their subjects to see they are human beings with feelings and insecurities just like the zealous fans who wear their jerseys and drink beer in the stands.

The stars make millions. They drive Bentleys, not Corollas. They date models, not the girls next door. They eat at 5-star restaurants, never opting for a burger at the local tavern. So what. Excessive jewelry and sunglasses can’t hide their pain, their fears, their self-doubts that one bad break on the field and they, themselves will be sitting in the stands after a day of selling insurance.

The Texas Rangers’ Josh Hamilton recently was spotted in a bar, drinking. “Relapse” the headline screamed. But nowhere in the ESPN story was there a mention of what happened last spring, when Hamilton playfully tossed a ball into the stands, where a man stretched and reached for the would-be souvenir. He missed and fell to his death. His school-aged boy also missed — he never got the ball and lost a father.

But the media was too busy covering up how Hamilton might have felt. Stories were written about how Hamilton should and would continue to toss balls into the stands. Even the widow of the deceased agreed. “All’s well in the baseball world of Josh Hamilton,” we were told. After all, his team was in the World Series. He was on national TV and ready to sign a lucrative contract extension. Why wouldn’t he be celebrating?

But the media experts could not personify what happened that day in Arlington, Texas. No one bothered to put himself in the cleats of Hamilton. They were too busy watching him hit home runs to realize what was going on inside his head. Who knows how many drinks Hamilton has had since that incident? Odds are Hamilton didn’t opt for a lemonade the night of the tragedy. The better story would have been a “sit down” with Hamilton’s accountability partner, nee babysitter, about how one copes with something like that. How did Hamilton manage to focus in the batter’s box? How could he concentrate while tracking a ball in the outfield? What did he feel when Rangers fans yelled, “throw it up here, Josh” during pre-game warm-ups? Hell, how did the man even sleep?

Another recent headline on ESPN’s web site read, “Stars Align” with a picture of Kobe Bryant and Chris Paul. Bryant (I prefer to use his last name since we’re not friends) had his trademark grin which told me, somehow he really isn’t hurting over his divorce. When it was announced two months ago, there were old pictures of his ex, shown in a girly, dress-up outfit at a Lakers home game. On her finger was the $4M ring Bryant bought her after being cleared of a rape charge in a Colorado hotel a couple years back. All the readers knew was Bryant’s apology came with jewelry. The ring was described in detail. What wasn’t was the Bryants’ efforts to save their marriage. The human side was ignored since the media experts were too busy with the glitz. There was a child in the picture too but we never heard about her feelings either. “Hey, he’s a star and she’s a babe with a shiny rock on her finger. What else needs to be known?”

During Super Bowl week, you’d think Peyton Manning was playing on Super Sunday. There was more written about his medical status and where he was going to play next year than was about Eli, who actually was playing in the sport’s biggest game. That’s the problem with media hordes camping at the team’s hotel for 7-plus days. They are bored and lower their standards (if that is possible) to write about such things as what songs are on the players’ Ipods. Do these writers actually have Journalism degrees? Peyton has played 14 years and won a ring but he still couldn’t avoid the minions of the media who could not wait to interview him. An unselfish sibling would have said, “Talk to Eli. He’s playing on Sunday, not me.”

Manning has had repeated surgeries on the vertebrae in his neck. Nowhere did I read about the intricacies of that procedure. The lemmings in the media were copying what others wrote and harping on when their idol would return to the playing field. Priorities, I guess. I know about such a procedure. Six years ago, I was on my way to the hospital for “pre-op” before having my spine fused between vertebraes L4 and L5. I was lost and poked my head in a vacant office. A nurse was there. We talked briefly. When she asked who my surgeon was, I told her, which drew a big smile. “He operated on my husband,” she said. “He had vertebrae in his cervical area (neck) fused,” she said. “We were worried because the cervical area of the spine controls breathing.”

Hmmm, I never read this about Peyton. Now, stop and think about Peyton taking a blind-side shot to the back. The man could die on the field but of course, we’ve never read this. Instead, we’re treated to what it would be like to have the Manning brothers in New York. Or, maybe Manning-to-Washington will rescue the hopes of a coach who is a winless September away from being fired.

Ahh, life. Sad sports journalists are so driven by fantasy they can’t report what’s really important.

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