The Glorification of Athletes


As athletes complete college and enter the professional ranks the constant media attention they received in college does not diminish. In fact it continues to grow. The United States has promoted these athletes to demi-god- like worship. This is evident in the commercialization of professional athletes. Athletes are used to promote everything from sports drinks, to fast food, to cars and more. They are idealized and with such power, made to believe they are beyond reproach.

The unfortunate downside of this build up, is the inevitable crash and when an athlete crashes it is with a sonic boom played out in the media for the world to scrutinize and judge.

In 2012 ESPN 30 for 30 did a documentary called “Broke” which told the story of professional athletes who, through poor financial decisions, mismanagement and bad investments had gone bankrupt.  The series showed former athletes like former NFL players Kevin McCants and Andre Rison who admitted to spending money lavishly on frivolous and wasteful activities like alcohol, drugs, parties and women as well as giving away much to friends and family.

A March 2009 Sports Illustrated article “How and why Athletes Go Broke” told how many athletes are ignorant to how their money is even being invested or where it is going while they are playing leading to disaster once they retire. According to the article

  • By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.
  • Within five years of retirement, an estimated 60% of former NBA players are broke.

Numerous retired MLB players have been similarly ruined, and the current economic crisis is taking a toll on some active players as well. But financial woes aren’t the only dismantling of the hero worship that happens to athletes. In 2012 former Dallas Cowboys nose tackle Josh Brent was involved in a fatal drunk driving car accident that killed his best friend and former teammate former practice squad player Jerry Brown. Brent had been arrested previously for driving under the influence while still playing in college for Illinois. That same year Jovan Belcher of the Kansas City Chiefs killed himself at the Chiefs training facility after murdering his girlfriend.

The news is filled with stories of former athletes who have gone broke, committed suicide, had affairs and messy divorces, fathered numerous children, gone to jail or became drug addicts. The same media which built these players up through their college playing days are the same ones who dismantle them.

A great example of this rapid rise and tragic fall is former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez. When Hernandez was drafted in the fourth round of the NFL draft in 2010, he was believed to have overcome a sad and difficult childhood in rough part of Connecticut. He became a star athlete at the University of Florida. While a report about failed drug tests in college made his draft stock drop, he was still drafted number 113 overall.

In the summer of 2013 Aaron Hernandez was charged with homicide. Suddenly the triumph over tragedy image was shattered and the media now took it upon themselves to destroy the image they had helped to create. Hernandez went from a tale of overcoming hardship to social pariah and disgraced athlete. The media went out of its way to drag up details of his bar fight, shooting involving a friend and a double homicide which Hernandez has only been investigated for.

Hernandez lost endorsement deals, video game portrayal and  Hall of Fame potential. His contract with the Patriots and his career in the NFL were over.

Hernandez is now viewed as a fallen hero. His tale now told of one who was given too much fame, glory, attention and worship. But who gave him this fame if not the media? How can the media condemn someone for being given too much attention when they are the ones who gave it?

The media does an extraordinary job of placing athletes on pedestals and of hyping them to great levels. They make athletes into heroes rather than mortal men. When they fail to live up to these high expectations, the same media will destroy them. Until the realization that athletes are simply people gifted with athletic ability this glorification and demonization will only continue to happen over and over.

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