Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Clinquant Characters or Real People?!

“But in a culture in which accountability is something to be shoveled off to the next sucker down the line, their place of employment comes with a rigid measure of success or failure. Ever try to bargain with a scoreboard? Those implacable numbers up there in lights are the captains of the fates of men such as Meyer. It is easy to reduce them to figures on a television screen, there to bleed for our entertainment. Gladiators in headphones. It is easy to forget they have vulnerable bodies, vulnerable psyches, vulnerable families.” – Mike Lopresti (USA Today)

The above is a direct quote from an article written in response to the shocking and sudden news of Urban Meyer’s retirement as head football coach at the prestigious University of Florida, and his just as sudden “un-retirement” and decision to take a leave of absence instead. I must admit that this quote struck a deep chord in me. Why? You might ask. Well, in a manner of speaking it is intensely personal for me because I have a son who plays college football, but also because as a pastor, I have, to a very limited degree experienced some of what Urban Meyer must be feeling. It is a difficult thing to live your life under the scrutiny of the public eye and be judged for decisions that are often intensely personal and intensely difficult. Most people have the benefit of second, third, and fourth guesses to make very personal decisions in private, and sadly, they often sit in judgment over those who, for better or worse, have only one opportunity to make personal decisions under the glare of very public scrutiny. Men like Meyer are mercilessly held accountable for those decisions even when those holding them accountable don’t have all the necessary information to make a qualified judgment.

As the story unfolded over the weekend, I listened to the “Talking Heads” on TV second guess Meyer’s decision as well as the timing of his announcement. They speculated as to what the “real reasons” might be for his retirement and pondered whether he’d earned the right to be able to put the University of Florida football program on hold for an unspecified period of time while he sorts out his personal/health issues. Some of them made so bold as to suggest that he’d pulled a “Brett Favre.” Why does such a personal issue have to become such a media feeding frenzy? Doesn’t he have the right to wrestle with the weight of personal decisions and ultimately recant a previous position he’d adopted? We’ve probably all wrestled with and rescinded a major decision at least one time in our lives, and yet we don’t accord him the same right? Before you make the absurdly tired argument that you don’t live in the public eye and he does, so that means that increased scrutiny comes with the territory, I want to remind you that that is exactly what my argument is against. Like the above quote suggests, we seem to ignore the fact that these public figures are human and have feelings and families when we vilify and denigrate them as if they are simply “figures on a television screen” and nothing more.

I subscribe to an internet site that does a splendid job of covering the A to Z’s of USF football, where my son plays. I have had to bite my tongue on numerous occasions as I read many of the insensitive and spiteful comments about individual players who might have had a less than stellar game, or who've run into trouble as a result of violating a campus traffic ordinance. They are called unmentionable names and derided and insulted as if they are clinquant cartoon characters as opposed to real people with real feelings and real families. Their commitment is called into question as well as their pedigree, and I’ve often wondered if the fact that we purchase a season ticket and support the boosters club gives us a right to rudely invade the private lives of people we don’t really know. I know what it feels like to have to make a decision that affects the lives of multiple people around me while knowing that I’m fallible and imperfect. We often lack the character to extend to others the same grace and courtesy that we expect to be extended to us.

Urban Meyer has decided to take a leave of absence instead of retiring. Why isn’t that sufficient for us? Why do we have to second guess his reasons, his motivation and his timing? I’m not sure that it’s sufficient to say that the public nature of his profession invalidates his ability to live a private life, because to say so would be to disregard his family’s rights to privacy too. I’m convinced that we spend inordinately more time than is appropriate making other people’s business our business, and I wonder if the fact that we spend our time living vicariously through “celebrities” invariably presages such unbridled invasions of privacy. Just my two cents!