This blog has been brewing in my head for the last several months but I wasn’t quite able to articulate my thoughts until now. Following the recent rash of inappropriate behavior by celebrities and athletes – Tiger Woods, Jesse James, Ben Roethlisberger, Tito Ortiz, etc. – I have found two questions consistently in my head. 1) What does the public have a “right” to know about the private lives of celebrities? 2) Why have celebrities not figured out that right or wrong their lives play out on television and considered the value of better behavior?
The first is of particular interest to me. I can’t tell you how many of my coworkers, friends and students have seemed personally insulted by the behavior of the aforementioned men. Why? I think Tiger Woods and the gang are dirtbags but they didn’t do anything to me. My life was unaffected other than the fact that television news was dominated by their actions. I feel compassion for the people that they hurt and a general sense of sadness that these things happen at all. However, my life isn’t changed because of their actions. There has been a HUGE debate over whether or not Tiger should formally respond to how many women, what types of action, where/when/why, etc. Why? While I truly believe that athletes and celebrities should at least attempt to be role models I do not believe that their lives have to be a completely open book just because the media invades their lives constantly. That being said, I also believe that you are fair game when you live your life in the public eye. For example, Tiger has at times promoted Nike, Gillette, Gatorade, car companies, heath products, etc. His presence as a spokesperson has encouraged people to trust these companies and their products. As a result, people feel a connection to him. However, I believe an apology is all he owes the general public. He owes Elin, his family, the PGA and his sponsors something more but it isn’t necessary for him to give the rest of us all the dirty details. His future behavior will dictate whether he takes his role as a celebrity, spokesperson, role model seriously.
As for my second question, I am incapable of understanding the naivety of some athletes and celebrities. After the media circus surrounding past personal drama (marriages, divorces, cheating scandals, tax evasion, etc.) how does anyone think they can get away with disgusting and inappropriate behavior? Did Jesse James really believe he could hide numerous affairs? Did Tiger really believe he could keep 14+ mistresses without something eventually coming out? Michael Phelps couldn’t smoke pot without it becoming tabloid fodder, why would you possibly think that Nazi poses and sexual exploits could remain under the radar?
That being said I also have a HUGE problem with Ben Roethlisberger and his stupidity. He is already embroiled in a sexual assault case. What the hell is he doing in a bar with underage girls even if he is behaving perfectly? Right after the scandal broke there was a sports commentator who made the analogy that if you had been arrested for arson you shouldn’t be dumb enough to get caught playing with matches. Brilliant point! That is exactly the mindset Ben should have been channeling. Instead, while we know that charges will not be filed in the most recent incident we have no idea how the life of his victim has been changed by this ordeal or how his own life and career will be affected long-term by his stupidity. He has been given a six game suspension and ordered to attend counseling – hopefully he will actually learn something and make positive changes.
I guess my point is that while these celebrities and athletes may believe that it is none of our business what they do in their “private” lives, they are mistaken. Fair or unfair, they don’t have private lives and they have made career choices that have put them in the spotlight. Like it or not, it is time to put on your big boy pants and behave accordingly. However, they are right about one thing – unless your life was personally affected by their actions, they don’t owe you any more than an apology – they need to save their energy, contrition and efforts for the people they are directly connected with including their families, teams, friends and sponsors.