It is often said athletes, celebrities and politicians live in a fishbowl. What they do and what they say is thoroughly scrutinized and debated. That’s becoming ever more true as popular culture continues its TMZ-ification. Tap on the glass, get the fish to turn around and snap a pic on your iPhone of it in a compromising position. Increasingly, that’s becoming news.
I’m sure none of this is new to you.
In the last five months, Tiger Woods’ image has gone through the Fargo woodchipper, despite the fact he’s done nothing except crash a car. Sure, he slept around behind his wife’s back with an alarming number of women. Is that something I condone? No. But at the same time, until he’s broken the law, is it any of my business?
And who should really care if Broncos’ quarterback Kyle Orton likes Jack or that Bears quarterback Jay Cutler likes to play beer pong? As long as Cutler doesn’t do that stupid distraction hands in front of the cup stuff, I say the more power to him. Although they may not rise to the same level of Woods, athletes on this campus live in a fishbowl, too (and not just the kind found at the corner of University Avenue and Frances Street).
If you haven’t noticed, a lot of the athletes on this campus are kind of hard to miss. Whether it’s because they’re taller or bigger than most everyone else, or because they’re wearing some article of athletic department clothing, you can pretty much pick out an athlete, whether you know their name or not. That means they’re always on display.
For the most part, they do a great job — probably a lot better than I would in the same situation. And that’s how I look at it. Is it fair to hold other people to a higher standard than myself, simply because they can throw a football, hit a slapshot or knock down a three?
When I wrote for this paper, I played beer pong with underage national champions and had a football player punch a hole through the wall of my apartment on a dare. Freshmen athletes use connections to get into bars. But that’s not news, that’s the stupid shit that happens in school.
But sometimes a line is crossed.
Regardless of if it ever gets sourced and reported, there’s a big chunk of the athletic-following population on this campus that knows why Kraig Appleton will never catch another pass for Bret Bielema’s team.
Speaking of a football player being a bad citizen, we’re coming up on a five-year fishbowl anniversary. During the 2005 Mifflin Street Block Party, Madison police arrested 225 people. Only one of those arrests, however, earned the attention of Sports Illustrated. Booker Stanley, a UW running back at the time, literally beat some dude’s face to a bloody pulp at the party.
Pictures of Stanley being led away in handcuffs, a massive bloodstain on the front of his powder blue Earl Campbell Houston Oilers jersey, found their way online. Instead of just swimming in the fishbowl, he felt the need to pummel a fellow partygoer in front of 20,000 onlookers. He was charged with four misdemeanors for the Mifflin brawl, then parlayed that into domestic sexual assault charges for a later incident involving his ex-girlfriend.
In instances like these, when something criminal occurs, it’s a different story. Stanley deserved everything he got. More and more often, however, that’s not the case.
And while you can say professional athletes sign away some of their privacy for millions in contracts and endorsements, the same doesn’t hold for college students. They don’t get paid, they go to class like you and I (or at least like I used to) and are just trying to enjoy it while they can.
Cut them some slack. Try to leave the fishbowls to the ones that come with bacon.
Ben is a former Herald sports editor and a 2009 UW graduate. He currently lives in Madison and recommends you redshirt and take five years to graduate. Think the attention athletes get is overblown? E-mail him at [email protected]