“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” This is a quote from Batman in “The Dark Knight” (2008), but as we see with each passing day, “life” really does imitate “art.” To many, athletes are heroes. Day in and day out professional athletes achieve at world class levels while under incredible pressure. They can do things that a large percentage of the population can’t, and not for lack of trying. However, much like Harvey Dent, it seems athletes are having a hard time dying as heroes.
Back in the day, all an athlete had to do in order to be ever adored by faithful fans was score a lot of whatever type of points are best in their respective sport and maybe win a couple championships. After a decade or two, they would be proverbially put out to pasture and be celebrated in memoriam. With the advent of social media and the general increased celebrity of athletes, these guys don’t just disappear anymore. Today, athletes have a staggeringly impressive ability to convince the world that they are actually bad people long after their careers are over.
Take for example former Red Sox hero Curt Schilling. Schilling rose to Boston sports area fame in 2004 after pitching Game 6 of the American League Championship Series on an injured ankle. He earned the win in what would become known as the “Bloody Sock” game. His performance was integral to a Red Sox curse-reversing playoff run. Schilling became a member of the Boston sports lore inner circle, and after he retired in 2007 he never should have had to pay for a beer in Boston again.
Since that famous game, Schilling hasn’t been doing so hot. His first fiasco was trying to get involved in video games and state governments. He founded 38 Studios, a video game company that bore reference to his jersey number. Schilling’s company took big loans from the state of Rhode Island to hire game developers, only to default on the loans and fire the game developers not long after producing one video game. But we can let one failed video game company slide, right? Schilling would realize maybe he wasn’t cut out to be the skipper of a tech firm and go back to being a retired but celebrated ball player. He was doing more or less that when two weeks ago Schilling went on a 10-tweet rant in his attempt to debunk the theories of Charles Darwin.
I never signed up for this. Bring me back to the days of fourth grade when I thought that Curt Schilling was an ace pitcher instead of some crazy guy who bankrupts companies and doesn’t believe in evolution. Sure, the idea of a retired player using his fame to start a company is cool, but not when he’s going to lay off his entire staff with an email. And yeah, conceptually the idea of “following” my favorite athletes and former athletes on social media sounds great, but it has become increasingly evident that there is some appeal to not knowing what some athletes think. Maybe what made athletes so easy to celebrate was the fact that fandom abstracts them away from who they really are. It’s easier to cheer a guy on for throwing strikes than for his opinions on evolutionary biology. Today we know a lot about our athletes and we pay attention to them for a long time, and sometimes that makes it harder to love them.