Thursday, September 4, 2003

3. Fans don't have to follow blindly

When the Kobe Bryant story broke, I swore to myself that I would not get involved in the media circus that was sure to follow. I would not pay the matter any attention, as these stories always seem to bring out the worst in people. However, the inescapable media attention eventually wore down my disinterest. And the story itself is an introduction to the subject matter of this column.

What caught my attention about the case is the "blind" support for Bryant that has been evident in the courtroom and his subsequent public appearances. Fans cheer, picket, and make signs to profess their support for their hero. Their hero, mind you, in his own words, is "only" guilty of adultery. He has claimed that he is innocent of the charges of sexual assault. From this information, and this information alone, the fans that support him have also declared a belief in his innocence. If Bryant would have said that he never met this woman, fans would have believed him and, alas, they would have been wrong. In fact, if he had said that he had never been to Colorado, fans would've supported him. The truth is that at this point nobody knows what actually happens except Bryant and the woman involved. It's amusing to see the opinion polls regarding his innocence or guilt. What are people basing their judgments on? The only conclusion is that their judgments are wrapped in the opinions of prejudices and biases- surely not critical thinking.

It's disheartening that Bryant would claim that he is "only" guilty of adultery, as though that wasn't a big issue. Was he trying to be analogous to someone who was only in the area, but had nothing to do with the crime? For many, adultery is a crime, or at least, a very serious issue. Furthermore, he was guilty of poor judgment. Why did he even put himself in that position? Why did he risk his career, fans, family, reputation and even his life? And, considering this, why are people showing such support for him? Even if he is cleared of the charges, he is not innocent, and certainly doesn't deserve to be cheered.

The loyalty demonstrated by fans to their sport heroes in this country is growing concern. Celebrations swivel out of control, even when the outcomes are favorable. Last season, when Ohio State beat Michigan, assuring them a spot in the national championship game, fans celebrated by destroying the very city and campus their team represents. Ohio State is not alone in this action, the fans of many cities have celebrated a victory (or loss) by turning over cars, starting fires and carrying on out of control. Mind you, I was as happy as anyone following Ohio State's national championship, but never did I consider running next door and tipping over my neighbor's car.

In the oddest of occurrences, fans celebrate even when they know the outcome beforehand. Earlier this spring the Cleveland Cavaliers won the NBA lottery and with it a chance to draft the already legendary LaBron James- surely worthy of a celebration. In fact, many have postulated that his selection has saved the franchise. What brought my attention to the state of fans today was the actual draft itself. The Cleveland Cavaliers held a draft party at the Gund in which thousands of fans showed up. Then when they selected James, whose selection was a forgone conclusion, the fans erupted in cheer and celebration. Are fans so desperate for a celebration that they are willing to take the time and effort to cheer things that have already happened?

The popularity of sports continues to grow, and the issue is much greater than the scope of this column. Recalling the success of the Browns in the 1980s and Indians in the 1990s, we have seen here how a successful team can bring people together. The city was united in the quests of our teams. We gained national attention and wore their colors with pride. With this, we saw the good a sports team can bring to a city. There is nothing wrong with being a fan (I, myself, bleed brown and orange). But being a fan should never challenge our integrity, morality or our civility towards others. It should never prohibit us from applying critical thought, even to our heroes. And, hopefully, fans have other interests and better things to do than to cheer afterthoughts.

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