Wednesday word: Athlete's controversies must be covered as extensively as their community service
When Kyrie Irving joined the Road Trippin’ With RJ & Channing podcast last week, listeners were likely expecting the point guard to reflect on his season thus far, talk about the upcoming All-Star weekend in New Orleans or possibly just dabble in the X’s and O’s of basketball.
However, what those listeners heard, at least for part of Irving’s time on the show, were some unexpected scientific remarks from the 24-year-old.
Irving claimed that the Earth is flat.
“This is not even a conspiracy theory," Irving said on the podcast. "The Earth is flat. The Earth is flat ... It's right in front of our faces. I'm telling you, it's right in front of our faces. They lie to us."
A day later, Irving doubled down on those thoughts in comments to ESPN.com, telling writer Arash Markazi that people need to do their own research, and that he doesn’t mind holding uncommon beliefs.
While Irving was ridiculed for his beliefs and his subsequent reaffirmation of them, the Cleveland Cavaliers star later explained his comments on Saturday, claiming that his flat-Earth remarks were actually a sort of commentary on the current state of news in America.
"The fact that that could be news all over the world just shows you how it is," Irving said. "The fact that it's a social phenomenon—'Kyrie thinks the world is flat' —is hilarious to me ... That it could actually be news."
While Irving’s experiment may be remembered for its absurdity, the point guard’s ultimate comments illustrate the vast power and influence of athletes in America.
Irving’s flat-Earth remarks largely dominated the media landscape of All-Star weekend, taking air time away from talk of actual basketball and even deflecting attention from the frigid reunion of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant on the West team.
Though Irving’s claims were certainly bold and most definitely false, they wouldn’t have been a story if they were uttered in a barbershop by an average person. Athletes like Irving are viewed as public figures rather than regular citizens, and because of that, society gives a lot of attention to comments like his recent ones.
For example, the act of adultery is widely considered to be an immoral act, but usually wouldn’t hold up as a news story of public importance. However, if the adulterer is a public figure like former Wisconsin basketball coach Bo Ryan, then his private business becomes the subject of an embarrassing public investigation and an unsavory end to a fine coaching career.
Furthermore, while a Division III athlete protesting the NCAA would draw little attention, the same act from Wisconsin’s Nigel Hayes this past October generated tons of buzz and amplified the case for college athletes to be paid.
In short, when you’re a public figure like Irving, Ryan or Hayes, relatively average or mundane actions can gain you lots of attention. It’s not your activity that matters, but your acclaim.
However, while athletes get plenty of attention for their actions—some mundane, some immoral and some illegal—I believe there is an unevenness in the way athletes are portrayed in the media.
If an athlete is arrested, or even worse, caught partying on a boat like New York Giants receiver Odell Beckham Jr., fans will instantly hear about these events, which receive widespread attention and press.
That isn’t to say that there’s nothing wrong with being arrested, or that Beckham couldn’t have acted any smarter just days before a playoff game, but if things such as these are constantly harped on, then there needs to be a consistency in how athletes are depicted.
Did you know that Beckham pledged a $500,000 donation to repair football fields in Louisiana this past September?
Before writing this column, I did not.
Or, here’s another test: How easily are you able to rattle off past sportsmanship award recipients in your favorite league?
I’m not asking that people stop and admire every post-game handshake with the same amount of awe as a touchdown or buzzer-beater, nor do I expect athletes like Irving to receive any less attention for controversial remarks.
Irving and his fellow NBA players, to varying degrees, are entrenched as public figures, with their words and actions naturally drawing far more attention than the average person.
While Irving’s flat-Earth comments illustrated this phenomenon, they certainly won’t end it.
So, until that time comes—if it ever does—let’s continue to laugh at athletes’ ridiculous scientific hypotheses, while equally reporting on their political activism and community service.
Because they may not be perfect, but they’re sure as hell human.Subscribe to The Daily Cardinal Newsletter