I’m a huge sports fan, so much so that I think it hurts my nerd cred. Even though I don’t play that many sports, I’ve watched them since I was young. I’ve paid for MLB.TV for years, I’ve played fantasy football since the early 2000s and I watched or listened to at least part of every Warriors game this season.
Sometimes my fandom really pays off. Last year I got to watch the Golden State Warriors win the NBA Championship and last year I saw the Cubs have one of their most successful and encouraging seasons in decades.
In spite of all the joy (and heartache) that sports have brought me over the years, one integral part of the experience causes me turmoil: the athletes.
On Wednesday night while the Warriors were breaking an NBA record with their 73rd win, Kobe Bryant was playing his last game ever. He had a vintage Kobe performance in that he scored a lot of points while also taking a lot of shots. It was a fitting end for one of the greatest basketball players of all time. Kobe’s career was marked by a competitive drive unlike many others and an exceedingly high work ethic. He won five NBA Championships during his career, which spanned 20 years all with the same team.
I was torn while watching the final moments of Kobe’s final game. I’ve never been a Lakers fan and probably have more disdain for Kobe as a basketball player than love. And every time I think about Kobe and his many accomplishments, my mind always goes to Eagle, CO.
In 2003 Kobe was charged with sexual assault. He claimed the sex was consensual; his accuser did not. The case was dropped when the accuser refused to testify and the civil case was settled out of court. Granted no one really knows what happened in that hotel room, but it doesn’t look good. And as great a player as Kobe was, it’s hard for me to celebrate him because of what he’s allegedly done.
I don’t know if that’s fair. I don’t know what happened. I can’t judge Kobe because I’m a broken sinner in need of grace just as much as he is. I don’t know what he’s done to reconcile his relationship with his wife and children after his infidelity. I don’t even know if I’m correct in withholding my excitement for Kobe’s last game.
I was texting one of my good friends who also happens to be the biggest Lakers fan that I know. He suggested that we should celebrate what is worth celebrating, without worrying about those things that aren’t worth celebrating. I can understand and appreciate that perspective; if I were a Lakers fan perhaps I would hold to it. However, I also think it’s valid to reserve our celebration and excitement if we think there’s a reason to.
I hope that Kobe has repaired the damage he did to his marriage through his infidelity. I hope that he’s able to foster healthier relationships with his former teammates now that he won’t be so driven to compete. I hope that he can find fulfillment outside of basketball. But just because I hope for the best and don’t judge him for anything he did or didn’t do, doesn’t mean I have to celebrate the man.
This has been especially pertinent while playing fantasy football. I used to love football, but the issues of domestic violence and assault are too big to ignore. How could I cheer for Dallas’ defense knowing that Greg Hardy was a member? How could I keep Ray Rice on my bench after I saw the video of him hitting his girlfriend? How can I watch ESPN knowing that Ray Lewis may have had something to do with a murder?
Up to this point issues like this haven’t clouded my love for Steph Curry, the Warriors’ best player. I do celebrate Curry because he seems like someone who genuinely loves Jesus and cares for his family. I always have the caveat, though, that everything could change. Steph could cheat on his wife or get accused of sexual assault, and then I’d have a more difficult time cheering for every three pointer that he makes.
Sports are entertainment and, for the most part, I allow them to entertain me. Much like our choices with TV, movies and music, though, we should think about how sports impact us, and not just the games themselves, but also the athletes who play them.
How do you reconcile a love for sports and athletes who do unlovable things?