Sports is now more than making plays. It’s more than winning games. It’s more than making money. Teams, organizations and owners now have a moral responsibility to take ownership of the actions their employees. We as consumers cannot allow them to run away from the issues by making it about the sport and not what actually happened.
This last month has seen one of the weirdest sports stories anyone has ever followed. Antonio Brown’s actions over this time period have baffled, excited and discouraged sports fans across the country.
From freezing his feet to getting cut from the Patriots after only 11 days his antics and words have been the lead storyline this entire NFL season. But none of that should matter.
What matters is that Brown was accused of sexual assault, is currently getting sued by the accuser yet neither the team or him will answer questions regarding anything other than football.
At a press conference following Brown’s lawsuit going public he stated that “I’m just here to focus on ball.” Following the release of Brown, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was asked what the last straw with Brown. His response a stern “We’re focused on the Jets today” followed by a stare that felt unprofessional to many.
Both Brown and Belichick are within their right to not answer. However, for us as consumers to not only expect them not to respond, but to allow it to end there is unacceptable. We can’t allow athletes and organizations to escape mistakes behind the “focused on the game” mentality.
The response to the actions taken by both Brown and Belicheck varied but there was a large number of people who took to twitter saying that reporters shouldn’t ask questions they know won’t get a response to.
According to this logic, we shouldn’t ask athletes, coaches and organization leaders about any mistakes they make. We should just move on. This line of thinking often falls in to the stick to sports narrative we often see discussed in sports media.
The problem with that narrative and these types of issues is that sports is never just sports and that is because people play sports. We aren’t robots designed to do and say very specific things. Athletes, coaches, owners and even journalists are human beings with flaws. I know, it’s a crazy concept.
What this type of thinking really tells me is that you don’t care about the character of these people. All you care about is the product they produce. They can be a rapist and a criminal or a philanthropist and activist, it doesn’t matter to you. You just want the sports. Sexual assault and violence is not entertaining and you don’t want to be bothered by such distractions.
In reality it needs to be our responsibility to hold these people accountable. Too often we allow the actions of these athletes to be forgotten because of their abilities.
An article from Vice illustrated this perfectly. It laid out 44 NFL players who had serious sexual or physical assault cases in the past few years with the majority of these athletes receiving little to no punishment. Ben Roethlisberger, Jameis Winston, Ahmad Brooks, Adrian Peterson and Adam ‘Pacman’ Jones were just a few of the names on this list. Even after their incidents these men received little punishment from the league and were able to continue their careers.
It is important for the public to be aware of not just what they are watching but who they are watching. An athlete is not just an athlete. They are person. Lebron James doesn’t just play basketball; he is an activist and invests in youth from disadvantaged communities. Antonio Brown is not just a football player. He is likely a criminal who sexually assaulted someone. You don’t have to like the questions we ask athletes but we must recognize their importance, value and purpose.