Special

Special, adjective: otherwise different from what is usual.

To be special is to not be the same as everything else–or at least the majority. Everyone else is short, but you’re tall. Your brothers are fat and slow, but you’re smaller and can run circles around them. Mike Trout. This girlfriend doesn’t freak out when I want to watch the game. Joey Gallo doing Joey Gallo things. People want to see things they can’t usually see, like the Hope Diamond or a Christopher Nolan sci-fi movie. There’s rarely a line at the cubic zirconia counter at Wal-Mart.

Athletes are people, just like us. They happen to make a good deal more money than we do, and an even smaller segment of them make more than any regular person will see in a lifetime–in a year. Athletes aren’t different people, though. The paychecks are perfect, but the people cashing them sure aren’t. They oversleep, overeat, bicker with friends, and lose girls to other people. One of the prices of fame is that their mistakes trend on Twitter, lead local newscasts, and dominate the public consciousness for a period of time. A software programmer who is irresponsible and receives a DUI is able to deal with his problem and mistake with his family and, at worst, his employer. But if that programmer could throw a ball really fast instead of efficiently migrate your website from flash to HTML 5, that DUI is anything but private. Even in situations where the police or city officials don’t leak the relevant information, Deadspin’s automated Google Alerts are there to pick up the slack. When an athlete makes a mistake, we all know. And judge.

Athletes make the same mistake regular people make. Maybe not the same mistake I would make, or you would slip up with. But we all know people who have gotten pulled over while holding. A friend of a friend might have killed someone years ago, and served their time. It’s possible we know a guy who hits his wife. In fact it’s likely that we know the guy, but are unaware that he hits his wife. The mistakes I make are private, are known to only the people involved or those that I choose to bring into confidence. Which is fine, I’m a regular guy. But so is that cornerback that wrecked his car with a .09 BAC. He just happens to make tons of money, so I know about it and criticize. Even though the same thing happened to me last week. My point is, income taxes aside, athletes are people just like the two of you reading this blog.

Another consequence of being rich and famous, apparently, is that you’re required to be a better person. Once you end up in that highest tax bracket, the freedom to make bad decisions is gone and replaced with an eight figure annual salary. Why else would we bemoan a player who makes a mistake as a “bad role model”? Yes, he might have failed as a role model for your son, but why was he one in the first place? Because he’s on SportsCenter, and you’re not? That’s stupid. Making more money doesn’t make you a better person than me, and it doesn’t require you to be held to a higher standard than me. We’re both men (I’ve heard women play sports, but without evidence, I’ll continue to only use masculine pronouns), what’s the difference?

It’s been done for decades, these men we cheer put on a higher pedestal. And what happens? They fail us. They drink and drive. They hurt or kill someone. They gamble on the sport they play. They have children out of wedlock. Sadly, they even kill. When these things happen, the stories and comments no longer contain exclamations of surprise when the quarterback falls from grace, but the disappointment remains. When this is so prevalent, why do people continue to see these (rich and famous) regular guys as role models? The exception is when the player goes his career without making a monumental slip-up. The guy who makes eight figures and doesn’t cheat on his wife or settle his disagreements outside the bar? He’s special.

Why then, do we try to marry what a guy does off the field with what he does on the field? Celebrate the guys who do good, of course. But, they’re the exception. That’s why they’re celebrated–you don’t celebrate every sunrise. A guy who does something deplorable, I think, should be handled just like the guy in the cubicle next to me who does the same thing. Go through the legal system, make amends, and take full advantage of your second chance. Learn your lessons, do better.

I have a problem with how the media is handling the Greg Hardy signing, obviously. Look, he screwed up. Huge. He, by all accounts, beat the crap out of a woman. You can’t do that. But, the legal system has him on the street. He exercised his right to work the system and settle the dispute with a civil settlement subject to a non disclosure agreement. Does that mean that he did (at least) most of what has been reported? Probably. And I hate that he did that, but I’m not losing any more sleep over him doing it than I would the coal miner in Pennsylvania doing it at the end of a shift. Or someone at church who slipped up the same way. It’s not really my business. My business is making sure I don’t do that. My business is making sure that I’m the best role model for my kids that I can be. That guy running fast and (hopefully) knocking the quarterback down? He’s a good football player. Don’t worry about the rest.

It has to be separate. Is it ideal? No. But humanity isn’t ideal. We screwed that up in Eden. Love him on the field, and pray for him off it. If he screws up, I’ll react the same way as if a friend had screwed up. Sadness, and hope for his future.

The Cowboys are being criticized for making the deal, but if you look at the financials of it, it’s not a huge endorsement. By NFL standards he is receiving average offseason roster and workout bonus money. Once the season starts, he’s essentially on a week-to-week deal. That’s both a testament to the number of teams that didn’t want to deal with him and the new way the Cowboys do business. I doubt Jerry Jones knew this kind of contract existed five years ago. I envision him erecting a statue of Henry Melton’s contract outside the new facility in Frisco. And if he does, I’ll get my picture taken beside it.

Between the hashes, this is an amazing turn of events. I still can’t believe it’s happened. I haven’t gone through Pro Football Focus’s assessment of him in previous years, but we all know he’s great. And in his prime. I’m not condoning what the man did, but he went through the legal system just like anyone else (who can afford a top attorney and a financial settlement). I like that they’ve separated the two parts of the person. Someone was going to sign him. He was eligible to play, and too good of a talent to sit out. Why shouldn’t it be the Cowboys? I want to see this and this happen at AT&T Stadium.

Separate the player from the man. Spend more time being a role model instead of looking for one. Do this, and you’ll be set to enjoy the Cowboys 2015 season.

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