Celebrity worship has been a part of the human condition for as long as we have been a part of the landscape. I think we sometimes discount the depth of our involvement in the social elevation of those we think of as being heroes, talented, or special. Celebrity worship — of both real and fictional characters — is the substance of which legends are made. History is replete with its list of legends and there is no shortage of legends in the relatively short story of the United States.
Like elsewhere, U.S. celebrities range from adventurers and explorers, military and war heroes, statesmen/women, scientists, inventors, and giants of industry. We honor those who distinguish themselves in some special way. Unquestionably, Americans hold a special place of regard for our athletes. Because of excellence in their specific field of endeavor, we apply a generalized assessment of excellence as a measure of their character. Unfortunately, this is not always true.
How we treat celebrities after a so-called fall from grace has always been of interest to me. In most cases, critics will attempt to weigh the immorality of celebrity infractions and measure the general interest in forgiveness. Of course, the greatness of the celebrity determines the depth of critical interest and the willingness to forgive. And then we have the elephant in the room of the dynamic of racial disparity in willingness to understand and extend forgiveness.
Michael Vick was accused, convicted, and jailed of dog fighting. The egregiousness of dogfighting cannot be denied but contrast his actions with Ben Roethlisberger, who was credibly accused of rape. One can debate the wickedness of either act — both are unconscionable — but I am of the opinion that crimes against human beings (women) are, at least, as atrocious as those against animals. Vick effectively lost his career while Roethlisberger’s continued uninterrupted.
Most recently, the prurient interest of the media eye has directed our attention to the improprieties of Boston Celtic head coach Ime Udoka. His relationship with famed actress Nia Long has only enflamed interest in his story of sexual infidelity and the violation of team policy. Details of his improprieties are found in both print and electronic media and the immediate response of his team has been a one-year suspension.
Contrast this with the recently disclosed news of former NFL quarterback Brett Favre, who has been verified as having received millions of dollars of funds earmarked for the benefit of low-income Mississippi families. It is understandable that Brett Favre, a favored son of Mississippi, famed collegiate and professional athlete, and businessman would be well-connected politically, in the business community, and in academic circles. For the streetwise, it is also understood that under-the-table deals are quite common in those circles.
The state of Mississippi is currently suing Favre alleging he misspent millions of dollars that had been allocated for welfare. 2017 text messages link Favre with former Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant in a scheme to funnel money intended to help low-income families to him through a nonprofit. Favre used this money to help build a volleyball facility at the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter was a member of the team.
While the indiscretion of Udoka has been recently disclosed, they fill the media. Mississippi filed suit against Favre in May yet related disclosures seem limited and sketchy at best. Udoka’s “sins” may have affected his team and personal relationships, but Favre’s “sins” impacted thousands of Mississippians who are helpless in their defense.
So what is the point of this observation on celebrity? Celebrity and forgiveness are part and parcel of the larger fabric of racism that is pervasive in this nation. They are lenses through which some must analyze the jaundice of their perceptions.