Have we stopped believing in people?
By now, the smoke has cleared and everyone realizes that Aaron Rodgers probably isn't a big fat jerk. In case you missed it, at first, everyone thought Rodgers was said big fat jerk because of a local news report showing him missing an autograph request from a sweet lady named Jan Cavenaugh. Which was extra offensive because Ms. Cavenaugh is a cancer patient. The videos went viral, got catapulted to the national sports conscience by sports blog Deadspin.com, and Rodgers was subsequently skewered by national media.
Later, Ms. Cavenaugh went public with her chagrin at it all, Deadspin updated their original post, and CBSSports.com's Gregg Doyel wrote a fantastic and blistering piece explaining how Rodgers is actually a pretty decent guy, complete with, of all things, a charity for cancer patients that nobody knew about because he never told anyone about it.
And through it all, all I could do was sit here and shake my head. Not only did everyone assume the worst, but that assumption had made it around America within 24 hours.
Many years ago, sportswriters actually protected athletes. Babe Ruth was once seen, by a sportswriter, running out of a hotel in pursuit of a naked woman, he himself wearing nothing but a sheet. Today, Mr. Sportswriter would have whipped out his camera phone, gotten the proof, and tried to interview Mr. Ruth. But the sportswriter didn't call it in. Rather, he convinced Mr. Ruth to return to bed, ignoring the surely unmistakeable smell of alcohol. (And probably shame.)
Stuff like that's gossip, not news, and public figure or not, we have no right to know things like that about somebody's life. The Tiger Woods ordeal was ridiculous. The Brett Favre thing was ridiculous. Did those guys make stupid decisions? Uh, yeah. But why do we need to know all about them?
Same with Aaron Rodgers. Why did the local news station make the story about him missing that lady's autograph?
There's a scene from a movie in which the editor of a struggling daily newspaper says, "Crime is up! People are panicked! There's rioting in the streets!" Then he turns to his associate and wiggles his eyebrows and says, "We're lucky."
People behaving badly, and fear. These two drive media economy more than any others. It's partially the media's fault for reporting it. But we readers and viewers—we consumers—are not innocent. We buy. We watch. We motivate them to report, because we eat it up.
Seeing people behaving badly doesn't get my blood flowing. It bums me out. And to be completely honest—maybe I shouldn't say this, but I'm going to anyway—I very seriously question the integrity of people who do live for that. I question their motivation. I wonder what happened to them that makes them so hate athletes and celebrities now. I get being wronged. Happens to all of us.
But I don't let that fuel me. What fuels us is what controls us.
What used to get my blood pumping was hitting a ball so hard and so well I didn't even feel it on the bat. And hosing down the other team's fastest runner trying to steal second. And now, on an even less important scale, after hitting a three-pointer in my defender's eye in my men's rec basketball league, or grabbing a rebound from their biggest guy.
As a writer, I felt that for the first time four years ago, when I first wrote the story of Anthony Atkinson, which eventually became my first book.
For some crazy reason, I believe in people. In their ability to be good, and to help others become better.
I've stayed in journalism for the good stories, not to dig up dirt. Now, if I see someone cheating, I'll report it. And I've waded through dirt when writing good stories. In The Edge of Legend, I had to bring up some horrible memories from Ant's life, things he doesn't like talking about or having other read. "But I know it's part of my story," he would say. He recognized that if he wasn't open about his failures, then people couldn't fully appreciate his redemption.
I'll never fully understand the voyeur-esqe approach the national media took in covering Tiger Woods' fall from grace, and then later, though on a lesser scale, Brett Favre's. I won't argue that, yeah, Woods and Favre probably qualify for those lists circulating of the Top 100 Worst Husbands Ever. And if Aaron Rodgers really had intentionally ignored Ms. Cavenaugh, maybe he would belong on the Top 100 Worst Autograph Givers Ever. But I also wonder, Why write a list at all?