Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Oddly Depressing Rise of the Writer-Athlete: Chris Kluwe and the Mind Above Replacement

Jay Caspian Kang wrote a great article on Grantland about how we tend to put ourselves into the shoes of everyone in professional sports. Titled "Sometimes I Dream that He Is Me", Jay digs into how silly it is when we say things such as "If I were the owner of the Dallas Cowboys." It is more excusable to pretend we are an athlete: at least we've shot a basket or kicked a football before. But most of us have never negotiated a million-dollar deal or had to choose between Bali and Dubai as the site of our winter estate. So pretending we are an owner or commissioner is an even greater sin.

However, certain athletes seem easier to relate to. (As Kang implied, not even the most hardened talk-show caller can really say "If I were Dwight Howard" with a straight face). Take, for example, R.A. Dickey's fine book on his struggles to become a man and a pitcher, or Chris Kluwe's recent writings on Deadspin. It's good to hear from the athletes themselves on Twitter or in an article, without a filter, being themselves. Then why am I oddly depressed about it all? Because perhaps we are the problem.

First, the intellectual bigotry of the modern fan is strikingly clear. We act as if all athletes have a replacement-level mind, fit only for athletic feats. Men deal with physical inferiority by switching the playing field. When Kluwe talks about RPG's to Kotaku, or Dickey makes a LOTR reference, so many fans seem shocked or oddly awed by it. There's a horrible tendency to see athletes as one-track machines and deny them legitimate interests. Just read the comment section of an article if an athlete marries a women who is merely pretty instead of jaw-droppingly beautiful. You would think that athlete had let down mankind. Our idealization of the athlete's athletic gifts to the detriment of their humanity hurts them and us. Worse, it seems intentional. I can keep watching football as long as I don't think about the impact of concussions on another human being just like me, and how even a small headache can easily put me out of commission.

Second, we rely on these athletes to justify our biases. Why in the world does Chris Kluwe's rant on gay marriage have almost two million views on Deadspin? Is it that eloquent, that filled with new information? Couldn't your average 30-something over-posting friend on Facebook write much the same? Why do Christian groups clamor to have Tim Tebow, noted theologian and monk, on stage? If I were an athlete, I'd create a fallback career by being a pitchman for the cause of my choice. Treating the opinions of athletes with such reverence creates a subtle bias that athletes do not have opinions.

But perhaps there is some good in this. Perhaps when Chris Kluwe writes on something that has nothing to do with his job, we idealize that because we wish to do the same. Here am I, let's say Accountant/Amateur Comedian, and I can pursue both options without diminishing or insulting either. I want to live in a world of funny pastors, intelligent athletes, and well-dressed professors, to name a few turns against stereotype. But I don't think we can get to that world if we keep over-reacting every time an athlete shows their humanity.

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