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Sense of Hypocrisy & Outrage

By tt stern-enzi · August 15th, 2007 · The Alternative

Barry Bonds breaks baseball's all-time home run record, and the cloud hanging over him means little to me. I have my reasons: He remains unconvicted in a court of law, and I fail to see whether steroids increased his hand-eye coordination, the key component to his freakish accomplishment.

Why are we so concerned about something we call "performance enhancers" anyway? We're all seeking means of enhancing our performance in one way or another -- bigger breasts, longer-lasting penises, high-speed connections, hybrid cars.

The baseball commissioner didn't appear at Bonds' home run record-breaking game, but then again neither did the commissioner at the time of Henry Aaron's fateful swing in 1974. Still, you could say that back in '74 the world was blind to the effort and was full of a different kind of color commentary.

I have my own issues with a certain professional athlete, one who's currently in town as part of the 2007 Western & Southern Tennis Masters Series. Australian Lleyton Hewitt draws my ire every time I catch one of his matches -- as I'll likely do in person this week (see the To Do pick on the tournament on page 29) -- based on a racially motivated comment he directed toward James Blake, a top African-American tennis player and an acknowledged all-around nice guy, during one of their matches a few years ago.

Hewitt apologized for his miscue and Blake has graciously accepted, but I continue to bear a grudge. It's the kind of grudge I had as a kid over the comments of former Alabama Gov. George Wallace regarding upholding segregation.

But let's move onto a different field of play. There's news about the singer R. Kelly finally having his day in court, and I confess to holding the man to a horrible double standard (just like everyone else).

I was among the naysayers regarding his extended legal battles over whether he appeared in a sex video pissing on a minor and was ready to slip the noose around his neck. And my anger rose with each CD release from this R&B performer that played to the sex fantasies he was seemingly flaunting before us.

But, again, the man hasn't been convicted. So what's the difference between Kelly and Roman Polanski?

Oh, that's right, Polanski was convicted of having sex with a minor back in the 1970s. He fled the country and the punishment awaiting him for his crimes.

In the intervening years, he's produced films and worked with an amazing cast of performers and collaborators who obviously have no qualms about dealing with him despite his conviction and flight. He won an Academy Award a few years ago for The Pianist, which he was unable to accept in person because, well, he's a fugitive from justice.

And now Polanski makes an appearance in Rush Hour 3 as a French police officer who physically accosts Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan during a pointlessly gratuitous interrogation sequence. Nothing's stopping him, and, curiously enough, there's no call for his head from the moral authorities.

Celebrity makes all of us judge, jury and executioner in the court of public opinion, but there are no standard rules. We express outrage and crucify a man for jumping up and down on a couch on an afternoon talk show while declaring his undying love.

We label him crazy for this and his religious beliefs simply because they don't align with our own. We allow rumors of undefined sexual orientation to swirl around celebrities as if it matters what they do between the sheets and with whom. As if we were the objects of their scandalous deeds.

If you get caught driving under the influence, does your boss have the right to suspend you from your job for months? Does everyone have the right to question you when you find yourself looking for a bite to eat and you stop by the local strip club?

Professional sports leagues need to curtail the conduct codes a bit. Just because you pay players tons of money doesn't mean you have the right to dictate the minuitia of their lives. They're paid for their performance on the field, not off.

Charles Barkley used to say all the time that he wasn't a role model simply because he could rebound a basketball and slam it through a little hoop suspended over a court. And he proceeded to live his outrageous life off the court throwing grown men through restaurant windows, spitting on kids at game and subjecting friends to that atrocious golf swing of his.

Talk about outrage. Even a non-golfer like myself who barely knows one club from the next could step up and swing through better than that freakazoid.

But let me say that I love Barkley the man and the former basketball player. As much as I idolized Michael Jordan on the court, I have to admit that he never did much for me off it. He courted complacency and a safe image that stood in stark contrast to the bold, defiant game face he projected during the heat of competition.

Entertainers, on the whole, speak primarily through the deeds of their chosen fields of endeavor. As spectators, we listen actively and passively, but we should feel compelled to speak out, too.

We should understand that our voices and actions exist in a state of a highly engaged contradiction. It's up to each of us to check ourselves based on the examples before us.

Muhammad Ali surrendered his title and years of his competitive life to address a social wrong. Meanwhile, Jordan has helped spawn a generation of athletes who wouldn't piss on someone ablaze right next to them. Maybe they don't comprehend that the fire is hot, maybe they just don't care or maybe they see how the act of pissing on someone might lead to a whole other mess of trouble.

We should all watch out for where and on whom we might be pissing.

CONTACT TT STERN-ENZI: letters(at)citybeat.com. His column appears here in the third issue of each month.


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