While my wife would be a happier person if football, and all sports for that matter, didn’t exist, she does seem to enjoy the Olympics. So while she usually hangs out in a different room when I have sports on, every two years, we sit and enjoy them together. It’s like a rare flower that only blooms once every other year.
When she’s not not watching sports with me, she plies her trade as an occupational therapist specializing in children*. She’s fascinated by people’s ability to overcome physical restrictions to live their lives. Because of this, she does actually get interested in sports when the worlds of sports and health care collide.
*When we first met and she told me this, I thought, "What do children need an occupational therapist for?" and immediately envisioned her making business trips to a Nike sweat shop in Malaysia. Apparently, though, she works with kids with developmental issues -- Downs syndrome, autism, etc -- and helps them with things like fine motor skills.
These two interests naturally lead to her absolute fascination of Oscar Pistorius’ Olympic journey, and we watched each of his races with great interest -- her because of his medical restrictions and me because I love competition.
I also play soccer with a guy from South Africa who told me that back there, Pistorius is more than just a famous athlete. He’s an A-list celebrity who had completely captivated his country.
No doubt, you’ve all read about Pistorius’ current situation. In my house, it was my wife who broke the news to me when she read it online.
To be honest, I haven’t really followed up with the details of the case, and they’re not really germane to this narrative, so I won’t go into further detail about it.
What piqued my curiosity, though, were the numerous comments I heard and read about "how could he do this when he was such an inspiration to so many?".
I found comments like this... well... stupid.
Long ago, I abandoned any concept of looking towards athletes as role models and I find it incredible that others still do. Sure, Pistorius’ story is inspiring, but that means little as we try to evaluate what type of person he really is.
In fact, if we were to draw any conclusions, it’s probably more likely that the fact that he has had to overcome so much makes him more inclined to be a bit of a jerk. Those who face increased adversity are often forced to develop an internal fortitude that can manifest itself in social settings as well as on the field of competition. This is hardly a hard and fast rule, nor is the opposite situation always true, but one can forgive those who grow up in more stressful situations from developing more intense personalities (not forgive them for murder, mind you, but you get my drift).
Bringing this back to football, as free agency begins to slow and we approach the draft, players are and will continue to be judged on every aspect of their physical ability and their character. Evaluating a player’s physical ability is challenging, but can be broken down much more easily than can character.
When a player proves that he owns a particular skill, it’s a pretty good bet that he’ll still possess that skill when you bring him to your team. There are, of course, a multitude of variables that will determine whether that player is a success or a failure, but that’s more an issue of fit, or how the skills come together.
For example, if a player is fast, he’s going to be fast when you bring him on board. You still don’t know if he’ll be able to run good routes, how good his hands are, whether he can grasp the playbook, etc, but he’s not likely to suddenly become slow (injury disclaimer goes here).
Character, however, is much more complicated. Players, and people for that matter, can seem to be perfectly good human beings and suddenly make terrible decisions.
The real question, however, is not about what we can do to better judge the character of a player you’re considering giving potentially millions of dollars, but rather how much should we care.
The amount that a person cares about the character of one of the players on his or her favorite team falls on a spectrum. On one extreme, a person can care intently about it and only support a team if its players have only the highest moral fiber. On the other extreme, a person could care less about a player's life outside of football and be willing to support a player who requires multiple second chances (aside... why is it often stated as "multiple second chances" as opposed to "third or fourth chances"... probably because that way you don’t have to keep count).
In the latter case, a person's support of the player generally only lasts as long as said player is productive on the field.
The Texans to date have generally been a team that has valued the character of the players that they employ. Outside of Marcus Coleman’s DWI while a Texan, I can’t think of another player who has run afoul with the law during their time in Houston.
So, while the internal conflict for a Texans fan has so far been minimal, this may not always be the case and some fans may be faced with a moral rooting dilemma. Would your loyalty to the Texans be diminished if they suddenly started employing players of a less savory ilk?
Let’s make this more tangible.
Would you support the Ed Reed signing if he came with Ray Lewis’ background? What about Pacman Jones’ background?
What about the same situation, except Ed Reed was in his prime?
How would you react if the Texans had a chance to sign someone like a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens with the baggage they carried to play across Andre Johnson?
Does your answer change depending on how desperate the need is on the Texans?
From my perspective, while I would love nothing more than to support a team composed of nothing but J.J. Watts and Andre Johnsons (from both a football and a moral perspective), but the truth of the matter is that my attachment to this team began before either of these players wore Battle Red and Deep Steel Blue and will continue long after their Hall of Fame busts have been carved.
I watch football for the competition and to root for victory, not for a judgment lesson. I will have to ensure that my daughters grow up with the ability to distinguish between rooting for a player and looking up to a player. Who knows, perhaps in time, my position will change.
Until then, I just want the Texans to win.
I will get my morality elsewhere.