In the United States, as well as worldwide, we tend to put professional athletes up on a pedestal, considering them to be superhumans who know all the right decisions to make in all circumstances. We follow their every move, both on and off the field. While it is important to hold athletes accountable just like every other member of society, we need to bear in mind that they are humans just like the rest of us and they have a life that is more complex than what we see on the field and through the media. Recently, there have been many things that have served as reminders to the world that athletes are more than just athletes, they are people with families and personal beliefs that are stronger than their jobs at times.
One of the most extreme examples that shows the humanity of professional athletes is the many who have been convicted for crimes they committed, many while still playing for their respective teams. If you look up athletes who have committed crimes on Google, Wikipedia comes up with an extensive list of athletes worldwide on all different sports teams who have been tried—and in many cases convicted—of various crimes.
One former Patriots player who has recently been in the news is Aaron Hernandez. In April 2015 Hernandez was convicted of the murder of Odin Lloyd and sentenced to life in prison. This past week, Hernandez was found dead in his cell, which after an autopsy was ruled as a suicide.
This is just one example of how a former athlete is no different from the general population. He committed a crime and was forced to serve the time, just like anyone else, showing that athletes are not superheroes and have more of a life than what is seen on the field and with the media.
Another example of the Patriots players being “only human” is the decision of some current players to not visit the White House for the ceremony honoring their Super Bowl victory. Prior to the ceremony, many players had publicly announced that they would not be visiting the White House due to political beliefs—and for many of these players, there was backlash from the public about this personal decision.
Although these players are a part of the winning team, they are still entitled to their own personal beliefs, including their own political inclinations, which would make this their personal decision to attend or not. It is important to remember that while their performance on the field is a very public matter, they also have private lives off the field that they do not have to justify.
Addiction is also a key challenge facing athletes that is often brought into the spotlight. Many current and former athletes in the U.S.—and internationally—have been affected by addiction and have had to seek treatment in order to continue their professional careers. One notable example of this is the Argentinian soccer player Diego Maradona, who battled a serious cocaine addiction. He suffered an overdose in 2004, which resulted in him having to spend significant time in the hospital for various related medical issues.
But in 2007, Maradona made a public statement saying he had stopped drinking and had not used cocaine in two and a half years. Maradona was a soccer manager and coach, as well as a player. He was considered to be one of the greatest soccer players of all time, despite his problems with addiction. This shows that great athletes are just as susceptible as the rest of the world to have personal problems that they have to deal with, including addiction and medical issues.
It is not just the players who have personal lives that affect their beliefs and actions. They also have families and loved ones who are a significant part of their lives and who have a great ability to affect the player on and off the field.
While this may sometimes be easy to forget, as we think of them solely as the players we see on the field or court, Celtics fans were reminded of the importance this past week with the untimely death of Isaiah Thomas’s 22-year-old younger sister, Chyna Thomas. Although Thomas has continued to play with the Celtics in games one and two—and will return to play in game three—his sadness has been noticeable. As he continues to play despite this tragedy, he shows how players have to balance work and family just as everyone else has to. Despite the things that happen on the court, there will always be things happening off the court that affect players and their performance, poignantly demonstrating their humanity.
It is important to remember that while these athletes have gained their fame for playing a sport, they are still humans and have lives off the field—outside of work—that may not be as perfect or as simple as we would expect them to be. As a society we have a habit of glorifying athletes who perform exceptionally and it is important to acknowledge and respect that they are humans and are capable of having personal lives outside of the limelight.