Posted by: Mark Nielsen | December 23, 2007

I Got a Woman: Athletes, Musicians, Artists, and False Idols

Heard a radio news item earlier this week about Chicago Bears’ star linebacker Lance Briggs having an “amicable” paternity suit filed against him, for having dropped off in his support level for one of a possible three children out of wedlock (by three women, as if I had to say so…)  Predictably, Lance is calling the mother a golddigger. But I’m not inclined to trust the credibility of a guy who abandoned a crashed Lamborghini last summer, presumably to avoid a DUI charge at 3am.

I also read a Rolling Stone interview not long ago with musician James Blunt: a fine, thoughtful singer and songwriter, but to my chagrin also a sex-crazed drug fiend playing with fire, in deep denial, and apparently looking to burn out quick. Here’s James on why he never tires of performing his hit “You’re Beautiful”: “Every single night the song continues to get me laid.” I’m sorry, but a jerk is a jerk, no matter what decade you’re living in, and only a jerk would make such a shallow, piggish statement. An honest jerk, but still a jerk.

Now, I’m a big boy. I usually try not to get all huffy and judgmental about the stupid stuff grown men and women do. For one thing: I’ve had my moments of weakness over the years, doing slightly stupid things, usually while under the influence — and that’s even with the solid “moral foundation” of a steady life of faith.  So I certainly get it, that many people without that clear code of ethics (or a relationship with God) would occasionally put the “right now” pleasures of the flesh ahead of the “right” kind of respect for the opposite sex, or for themselves and their bodies.

But “getting” this foolishness and ignoring it are not the same thing, and sometimes people’s behavior is just too rotten or too stupid to ignore. This is especially true for a parent or teacher trying to help impressionable kids sort it out. Knowing what you stand for in terms of drinking, drugs and sexual behavior –and saying so, without becoming judgmental or prudish, yet also without apology– gets tougher every year, at least for me. But standing by and saying nothing can be construed as approval of this selfish, short-sighted behavior, so some of us have to keep talking about it, even if it’s just amongst ourselves or with our kids. I know I can’t make the rules for everybody, let alone enforce them, but I still maintain it’s okay to want us all to play by some basic rules of decency, respect, responsibility and honor.

Western cultural products put out so many mixed messages that it’s not hard to understand why the protective and conservative approach taken by most Muslims, for example, has resulted in so many international shouting matches — and worse. In certain U.S. subcultures, the confusing messages can be even more extreme (like the machismo of a sports locker room, the hedonism of the entertainment industry, the experimental atmosphere of most colleges, and the carefully-crafted but contradictory slogan-slinging of political figures who are later revealed as hypocrites and sex fiends).

There are certainly exceptions –big stars with stable long-term marriages, or those who make clear their beliefs through the roles they take or refuse, or through the projects they’re gung-ho to produce or direct themselves (Go Denzel! Go Oprah!… for once I can say something good about her…) Add to these the handful of politicians who walk the talk and make clear that for them it’s a character choice, and even a costly one, not a political stance. And then there’s the occasional confessional songwriter or filmmaker who will actually say “I was a bad guy”… or “I was lost”… or “Respect yourself” or, to paraphrase Charles Barkley: “I shouldn’t be anybody’s hero or role model.”  But these exceptions rarely make for juicy tabloid fodder, and so we end up talking about them one tenth as much as the latest starlet who showed her privates in public.

Many of these exceptions/confessors come out of substance abuse and recovery programs, where if they’re doing it right, they’ve faced their demons and seen how many tentacles these demons have. Two of the more compelling examples of “this is my awful life” reality television I’ve caught the past few years involved radio/tv guy Danny Bonaduce (aka Danny Partridge… ah yes, now you remember) and actor Tom Sizemore. I don’t think either show is on anymore, but the combination of chutzpah and brutal honesty that comes through on camera with these two struggling guys is both interesting and instructive (in a “what NOT to do”/Scared Straight sorta way). When volatile recovering booze/sex addicts or meth addicts turn the camera on themselves, it can be quite engrossing. It’s like watching a car crash, except in slow-motion, with the participants enthusiastically admitting all along: “Look what an ass I’m capable of being.”

I can even admit to a bit of envy toward people with, shall we say, “flexible” ethics and morals. I like sex as much as the next guy. I also think the “altered states” brought on by drink and drugs are weird and fascinating. In short, throwing biological caution to the wind increases the chance of unpredictable things going down, potentially with little ol’ me at the center of some tornado — or at least leaving me with an amusing story to tell for a long time afterward.

But it’s not about me, is it? I can’t do whatever I want– whatever I feel like doing– if it’s putting other lives at risk, or knowingly causing pain, either present or future pain. Liberty doesn’t equal license, and license leads too easlily to licentiousness (look it up). Lance Briggs and his ilk (and the baby mamas, lest we let them off the hook too easily) are bringing an innocent child into the world. There’s no excuse for not taking responsibility for that, and the social costs of so many unplanned pregnancies (celebrity or otherwise) are beyond measure.

Even when there’s not a baby involved, sexual intimacy still, at some deep level, tends to automatically create a bond and an implied promise: not only that we accept the other, but that we’ll be around in the morning, that we’ll stay in the other’s life. It’s an exchanging of spirits, not just an exchange of fluids. At least it’s supposed to be.

The same goes for excessive drinking or doing drugs. The extent to which it leads to irresponsible behavior in the long run is why we have to make and enforce laws, and practice tougher love in our families. An eighteen-year-old kid may not drive drunk or pull a dumb prank out of boredom the first nine times he gets high… but that tenth time, in the heat of the moment, with all the usual rational defenses and inhibitions pushed aside —that’s the night on which a kid’s life can take a sharp left turn, a turn after which there’s no getting back to the road he or she was on before.

We trample each other’s spirits all the time, yes. And we do things we’re later ashamed of. But we shouldn’t be celebrating it, or making excuses for it (he’s young, she’s lonely, he’s “a guy” and plays by his own rules, “it’s a victimless crime”, “I was drunk”, etc.). The courage we show, in taking responsibility or in facing our inner demons, is probably the best way to judge the health of our society.

So keep your eye on the ball, Lance… in your life, not just on the field.


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