There’s a story in the New York Post today about Bartolo Colon. It’s not about his pitching or his hitting, however, it’s about a lawsuit filed against him for back child support for two children he apparently fathered out of wedlock. The details are private and the case is sealed. It’s only come to light because, for a time, Colon was acting as his own lawyer and was listed as “attorney of record,” so the Post found out about it, likely via some periodic search of court records for famous people I presume the tabloids do as a matter of course. The fact of Colon acting as his own attorney is probably worthy of its own post at a later time — my God, that would be amazing to see — but let’s let that go for now.
The details of the case are not our business. If it were, family courts wouldn’t seal the files. The most we can say is that, if there is truth to allegation that Colon hasn’t paid his proper child support, it’s unfortunate and I hope that the court rectifies it. There are few things worse than a deadbeat dad. Beyond that generalized observation which may or may not apply to Colon, though, it’s a matter for the courts, Colon, his children, their mother and Colon’s wife and family. His wife, by the way, commented enough to say she was aware of it all but that beyond that it’s a private matter. And so it is.
Private matter or not, I get that such stories have sizzle. I get why the New York Post publishes such things. They gotta eat too. It appears to be a factual account. It involves a person in the public eye. It’s pretty standard tabloid fodder. But I am struck by the form the story takes. The form flows from this:
The revelation that Colon has a secret family is at odds with his on-field image as a lovable pitcher and the team’s heart and soul.
Affable hero Bartolo Colon caught up in “secret family” drama, undermining his public image! I read that and I wonder, again, for maybe the millionth time, why we do this. Why we are seemingly incapable of enjoying an athlete’s on-the-field exploits without assuming it says anything about his character. Why we assume that on-field image and off-field image are in any way related given that “playing professional sports” and “living real life” are totally different things.
Bad people can be entertaining athletes and artists. Good people can be bad performers. What one does at work and in private are different. Bartolo Colon hit a homer a couple of weeks ago. It was fun. He’s a big guy still playing at a high level at an advanced age and that incongruity is amusing and, in a certain light, inspiring. But it does not necessarily say a thing about who he is as a man. If he has been a deadbeat dad, the homer doesn’t make it better and some of us may view him more poorly as a result. At the same time, no matter what has gone on in his private life, Colon the ballplayer is not diminished, at least objectively speaking. We can choose to enjoy him less and, at some point, an off-the-field act can completely and necessarily obscure the image of a player. Serious crimes and violence, for example. But for the most part, athletic feats and personal conduct are distinct phenomena and we should neither elevate nor judge these people by using one as a defense or cudgel against the other.
If you feel otherwise — if you feel betrayed when a good athlete turns out to be a bad human or if you excuse bad behavior because of good athletic performance — you’ve made the choice to do that. You’ve bought in to the culture of hero creation and destruction the Post and other parts of the sporting press have lived off of for so long. You have decided to treat athletes differently than you’d treat anyone else, simply because they’re athletes. On some level, we’re all humans and we’re all going to have opinions and judgments about people, but they should be fair judgments, based on facts, not on assumptions that the famous must be considered differently.
You should stop doing that. We all should.