October 10, 2003

We Need a Little Less Hubris

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When I was in the eighth grade, my English teacher made our class take two hours a week to read Greek mythology. We were supposed to learn about Zeus, Hera, Athena and all those other wonderful gods and their wonderful tales. To me, it was boring stuff — even with the great pictures, it was dry. While most of my classmates spent their time dutifully reading, I spent my time drawing little “swooshes” on the page that detailed Nike, the goddess of victory. You can’t blame me … Nike was the apparel of choice back then, at least out in California.

As I moved on into high school, we were assigned classics such as Antigone (which I’m sure all those incoming freshmen loved, right?) and Oedipus. Ah, you just can’t beat incest and murder.

Well, although I didn’t read the literature as carefully as my teachers would have liked, I did draw one pretty important lesson. Apparently, heroes were always doomed because they had a little too much pride. They were a little too full of themselves. They suffered from hubris.

And that brings me to professional sports and athletes. Because it’s become clear that like me, they also decided to draw “swooshes” or shoot free throws or practice their slapshot instead of reading. How else can you explain some of the inexplicable acts that athletes have perpetrated over the last few years?

On Sept. 29, Atlanta Thrashers’ star forward Dany Heatley crashed his sports car in a one-car accident while speeding along in excess of 80 miles per hour on a narrow road. Heatley, one of the brightest young players in the NHL, escaped the wreck with complete tears of his medial collateral ligament and anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee. Yeah, his season is over before it even began and his career is in jeopardy. But he was lucky. His passenger and teammate, Dan Snyder, sustained a fractured skull in the accident and died this past Sunday. He was only 25. Heatley is only 22. And now, after losing his teammate and possibly his career, Heatley may lose his freedom, as he faces a charge of first-degree vehicular homicide.

In a situation such as this, fans feel sympathy and sorrow. And while I share those same feelings, I’m also befuddled. Not that Heatley and Snyder deserved the cruel hand that fate dealt to them, but there’s a reason why speed limits are in place. There’s a reason why you’re supposed to drive at the speed limit or slightly above as most people do. There are consequences when you don’t obey the regulations in place … sometimes those punishments are merely speeding tickets and fines. In this case, unfortunately, it was a life.

Athletes seem to be more prone to reckless behavior than the average American. Many people argue that athletes aren’t more reckless, but are just in the public eye. All I know is that if I were in the public eye, I’d live my life more carefully than I already do.

The fact of the matter is that athletes think they’re invincible. Many times, whether they’re on a court, a field, or a rink, they are. They have thousands if not millions of fans who revere them. Sure, they’re always at risk for on-field injuries, but for the most part, they’re on top of the world, or so they think. And after their games, and after their seasons, they carry that feeling with them to their private lives.

That’s why Jay Williams sped around in his high-powered motor bike. Now, he can barely walk and his once promising basketball career is in jeopardy. That’s why Jeff Kent popped a wheelie during spring training in 2002. He wound up breaking his wrist. That’s why Bobby Phils drag-raced teammate David Wesley after practice for the then-Charlotte Hornets. Tragically, he endured the same fate as Snyder. And that’s why Kobe Bryant felt that he could commit adultery (or worse) and keep it from his wife and newborn child.

At the end of the day, athletes are the same as you, I, and any other human being. They still breathe air, eat food, and drink water. Their bones still break, and when they’re cut, they bleed. It’s a shame that too many times, they’re not aware of their mortality. For some, such as Dany Heatley and Dan Snyder, they realize just a little too late.

Archived article by Alex Ip