OK, I’ll grant that absolutely no one considers Steve Clevenger to be their “hero.” At least I hope not, and would have hoped so even before last night (dream bigger, kids!). But his racist comments on social media last night, followed up by his non-apology apology, do provide a good opportunity to remind us that, for the most part, we’re better off not getting to know sports figures, entertainers and anyone else who is famous all that well. At least not beyond the reasons for which we pay attention to them in the first place.
Jeff Passan of Yahoo gave us a reminder of why that is this morning, at least with respect to ballplayers:
Passan has talked to more ballplayers in the last couple of weeks than I ever have in my life, but based on my modest amount of interaction with players, and based on what other ballwriters and people who work in baseball have told me, this is dead-on. Baseball draws from rural areas and white burbs way, way more than the other major sports do. When you combine that with the cloistered world in which professional athletes often find themselves — traveling with and spending time in clubhouses with the likeminded — it’s not at all surprising that you’re not only going to get opinions like these but that the holder of the opinions will think there’s nothing wrong with broadcasting them. Most don’t, of course, because, as Passan notes, they have a modicum of sense when it comes to public relations and public perception. Clevenger must have called in sick on media training day.
What Clevenger thinks about race relations in the United States isn’t all that important, of course. He’s just a dude with his opinions and he’s got a right to hold them. It does remind us, though, that just because someone is good at something — and Clevenger is good at baseball compared to most other mortals on Earth — doesn’t necessarily make them wise about anything else. We forget that when what an athlete is saying is inoffensive or comports with our own views of the world, but the situation remains the same regardless.
Which isn’t to say we should ignore or totally discount what an athlete says. They have a right to say whatever they want and we have a right and, sometimes, an interest, in reacting to it positively, negatively or otherwise. It’s simply to say that just because they’re famous or notable doesn’t mean they’ve got any kind of special insight into anything than that for which they are famous or notable. This goes for Steve Clevenger just as much as it goes for Bono or Scott Baio or anyone else.