By Daniel I. Dorfman–
CHICAGO (WSCR) Some in the sports world and beyond have been in a furor this week because of Rashard Mendenhall’s tweets about the death of Osama bin Laden and his accompanying questioning of what actually happened on September 11, 2001. Mendenhall had to back down from some of his statements, but it was too little, too late for him as he lost his endorsement deal with Champion on Thursday.
That Mendenhall tweeted some things that most of us thought were strange is just a small aspect to this episode, there is a larger question. Why should anyone care what Rashard Mendenhall or any athlete has to say about anything outside of the athletic arena? Professional athletes in the United States are paid millions of dollars to entertain us. They run, jump, hit and pitch at an amazing level so that we are willing to go out to ballparks or watch them on TV. But most of the time they do not have the background to add anything insightful and the only reason their opinions are sought out is because they receive so much attention.
Of course Mendenhall like every American has the right to say what he wants through whatever platform he chooses to use, be it through the press or through direct communication such as Twitter. No one can stand in the way of an athlete’s First Amendment right to make a fool of him or herself. But while the athlete has the right to speak, that doesn’t mean anyone has to listen.
Mendenhall wasn’t the only athlete talking world events this week. There was Baltimore Oriole Luke Scott, who I’m sure turned down a multitude of offers to be a brain surgeon before choosing to become a baseball player, continued to express doubts about President Obama’s birth even after the White House released Obama’s long form birth certificate last week. If people are determined to be idiots, there is not much that can be done to stop them, except not paying attention to them. We should have learned that lesson when the late Reggie White insulted almost every dimension of the human race in his speech to the Wisconsin legislature in March 1998, maybe 13 years later we will now take it to heart.
In a story in the Kansas City Star this week, Scott acknowledged he does have a bigger platform because he is a baseball. In this case, he is right and we are worse for it. Most of the time athletes, or any other entertainer, are not likely to have any great knowledge of a subject, but people want to hear what they have to say about any subject even if they are not qualified to speak on it.
There are times where it is justifiable to ask an athlete about an issue outside of the athletic arena. Muhammad Ali’s legacy is tied into his refusal to go to Vietnam, so it was reasonable to ask him why he was against the war. When John Rocker was pitching for the Atlanta Braves and he made his racially tinged comments, then it was fair game to ask Chipper Jones or Greg Maddux or any of the other Braves about race relations within the team.
Or an athlete might have a particular knowledge of a subject. Case in point being when Vice President Dick Cheney shot his hunting companion in 2006, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle was asked about the incident, but it was well known Buehrle is an avid hunter so he was able to shed some light on the story.
But those are the exceptions to the rule. As much as I don’t need to hear a Secretary of State talking football strategy, I don’t need to hear an athlete talking foreign policy.
It boils down to a pretty simple rule of thumb: if you need insight on politics there are a multitude of newspapers, websites or broadcast platforms to find reasonable analysis. But the sports section is not one of them.
Do you agree with Daniel? Post your comments below.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a local freelance writer who has written and reported for the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Boston Globe among many other nationally prominent broadcast, online and print media organizations. He is also a researcher for 670 The Score. You can follow him on Twitter @DanDorfman To read more of Daniel’s blogs click here.