The question of badness amongst professional athletes has always fascinated me. The same goes for any celebrity — writer, actor, musician. How to react when a person whose work you admire leads a life that is not up to your own personal standards. Is a murderer who writes beautiful violoncello concertos  any different from a regular old murderer?

Obviously not. But that doesn’t make his concertos any less valuable.  Just as Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitism doesn’t make ‘Braveheart’ any less awesome, and Michael Richards’ racism doesn’t make ‘Seinfeld’ any less funny.  Which brings us to Mariners’ prospect Josh Lueke’s rape and sodomy charge. It doesn’t make his 96 mph fastball any less impressive.

I guess this is a question. To what extent can a person mess up before you quit admiring them? Or as a baseball executive, to what extent can a ballplayer run afoul with the law before you decide to stop paying them? Obviously off-field issues will have a greater effect on signability for maginal ballplayers, so let’s stick to the stars, the geniuses.  Let’s discuss.

6 Responses to “Badness”

  • Something I ponder with regard to Phil Spector. His Christmas album is top five all-time albums for me, but then you read Ronnie Spector’s book and the subsequent murder of an actress… somehow I can disassociate the two. Love the music, hate the man. Maybe, though, it’s easier because mostly I’m not hearing him or his voice, just his production.

  • This is a great topic and one I think about alot in relation to both my love of sports/baseball and my work in media studies (and hopefully will one day explore more formally). My suggestion is that one way to think about sports or one methodology through which to analyze the significance of sports and the ideologies which sports convey is that of star studies. The most basic idea which I draw on from star studies is that stars act out aspects of social life that matter to us. So rather than asking what does a player have to do before we stop admiring their on field talent, we instead ask how do we deal with a player’s transgressions? How do we construct them as a star BOTH in terms of their performance on field and their actions off the field as well as other aspects of their identity (race, gender, class, geography). The status of this hypothetical composer as a murderer may not make his concertos any less valubale but it does, or rather can effect how we read those concertos. In baseball, Barry Bonds is one of the best examples I can think of off the top of my head that fits into the paradigm of talented player on field, problematic personality off the field. I don’t know anything about this Lueke kid but I would offer a few points to consider very briefly. 1– he’s in the mariner’s organization. All of this stuff would probably be constructed differently (or more actively constructed) by the broader baseball/sports community if he were a Yankee or a member of the Red Sox or any one of the handful of clubs that have that occupy that privileged space in the MLB cultural imaginary. 2–it all depends on what happens between now and when/if he makes the big leagues. He could conceivably become a redemption story or a Josh Hamilton-type figure. and 3– we also have to consider the nature of the crime and the place that sexism and misogyny has in baseball and sports. This will affect how people respond to him, openly certainly he will be condemned but… I don’t know and I can’t quite articulate myself bc I don’t want to shortchange male sports fans at the same time as I see and feel everyday how much sexism and misogyny there is, how sports fan communities treat women (not so much specific women as the idea of women) without seeing it as a problem.
    Hopefully that made some sense… but regardless love the blog and really like the direction in which this post points!

  • Okay, pedantry, but a murdering composer and a non-composing murder are different from each other in many respects; it’s just in terms of being murderers that they’re the same.

  • I would forgive Andy Roddick for being a jerk if he won another major, so sportsmanship comes nowhere near the line.

  • Thanks for the comments.

    Craig: Phil Specter’s real crime was ruining the Let it Be sessions

    Mabel: Thanks so much for the thoughtful and thorough comment. I’m glad you like the blog and I hope you’ll keep reading and participating. One thing I will point out is that you’re right, I probably do have no real understanding of sexism in sports — at least not on the level you do. It’s a subject we should explore more here. Also, I think the idea of a more holistic approach to analyzing these questions is probably wise. I wonder if it’s even possible to consider “stars” out of context. THen again Lueke is hardly a star.

    Ember: Yeah, I suppose I meant that they are the same as murderers. Not in all aspects.

    Reeves: Sportsmanship is a little different because it comes in the context of the game, not outside it. Also, Andy Roddick is the great American hope. And that means something!

  • Great question. Sorry to turn to the NFL… but a great example to consider is Ben Rothlisberger because sports fans’ willingness to ignore off-field indiscretions in the face of in-game prowess is being debated. It’s even somewhat quantifiable because the NFL’s personal conduct rule gives the commissioner power to weigh public opinion then drop a punishment that meets expectations.

    This question of how people compartmentalize is very interesting because everyone is so unique. I’m sure my true feelings about people and players comes from the dark depths of my unconscious mind, but I definitely have different standards for star athletes compared to politicians or non-athletic entertainers. If this blog were Politics & Poets I’d probably suggest John Edwards as an interesting figure to discuss. (I know a recent podcast made forays into politics as Pitchers & Presidents, nonetheless John Edwards and his love child might be a little too heavy for this medium of discussion.)

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