Recently, former Heavyweight Champion "Iron Mike" Tyson said he’s on the verge of dying because he’s a “vicious alcoholic.” Tyson said that he’s been hiding his substance abuse for years and pretending to be sober. A few days after Tyson’s harrowing admission, the gossip mill was abuzz following allegations that former Los Angeles Lakers star and current Kardashian spouse Lamar Odom has been suffering from a drug addiction for the better part of the last two years.To make matters worse, days after the public became engrossed with his supposed downward spiral, the one-time forward was arrested on a DUI suspicion after driving too slow in Los Angeles.
I’m not ashamed to say I will be paying close attention to media reports on how the DUI case and Odom’s other issues play themselves out. But still I must admit there’s something disturbing about how bad celebrity news is covered and consumed by us all.
First of all, the need to independently corroborate a story has all but vanished. If one outlet reports it, everyone gets to report it and avoid culpability by tacking “reportedly” onto their headlines. Perhaps TMZ, who originally reported the Odom story, has become so reliable in times like this that there’s no need to verify their reports. But it’s scary to know that it only takes one post by one outlet for every publication on the internet to peg a person as a crack addict.
The reaction from many news consumers isn’t much better. Whenever there is bad news about celebrities, many people first feel a need to publicly state that they don’t “feel sorry” for them. As if sympathy alone had ever healed someone who is suffering. Folks also make statements to the effect of “if I had that kind of money, I would…" or "if I were a celebrity, I wouldn’t…” do whatever terrible thing the celebrity is doing. No doubt some of these reactions are driven by schadenfreude; but I believe just as many folks are genuinely convinced that those with money or notoriety have more reasons to live. That’s a ridiculous amount of weight to give fortune and fame— two statuses that can easily be taken away.
To be clear, I’m not asking you to identify with Tyson or Odom nor am I asking you to like them. In fact, I have mixed feelings about them both. As a child who enjoyed boxing, I was a big fan of Iron Mike. But as an adult, I'm unable to disregard the fact that he’s also a man who was incarcerated for rape and who has acted out in other violent ways. An as a fan of Odom’s wife Khloe, I love the way he interacts with her on their television show…but I am alarmed by how absent his children from a previous relationship appear to be from his present life.
What I am asking, however, to recognize that we share something very important with Tyson and Odom and each other—that is our humanity. We’re all human beings with real lives, real stories and real problems. Athletes problems aren’t solved by adoration and none of us are any less worthy of life just because the paparazzi doesn’t care where we ate for dinner. We all have to work through our issues and hope that folks aren’t too hard on us when we don’t live up to expectations.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter and blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at PlayerPerspective.com.