By Jon Meerdink
Former Packers safety Darren Sharper has been in the news for all the wrong reasons this week. No, he’s not getting honored by the Packers, the Vikings, or the Saints. No, he hasn’t been elected to any sort of Hall of Fame. No, he didn’t win the lottery.
Darren Sharper is accused of raping multiple women and drugging several more.
Clearly, these are terrible, horrible things if they’re true. They’d undermine everything we know about Darren Sharper to this point.
But that’s the problem, I think. Too often, as fans, we convince ourselves that we know the players we watch. We follow them on the field, on Twitter, on Instagram, and just about everywhere else that someone can post something in 2014. We see them on TV, on YouTube, and hear them on the radio. We know everything there is to know about someone.
But we don’t know them.
Clearly we didn’t know Darren Sharper. By all accounts, he was a fine, upstanding man with no major off the field concerns. All those accounts were wrong, apparently.
For Wisconsin sports fans, this should be a familiar narrative. Can you think of any other sports stars in the state whose on the field exploits belied their off the field activities? Ryan Braun, of course, comes to mind, but he’s hardly the first. Mark Chmura had his situation. Brett Favre had his. Even Chester Marcol, the bespectacled kicker, struggled for years with drugs that would have landed him in prison if he’d been at the wrong place at the wrong time.
It won’t have much of an effect, but this should change the way we watch sports, I think. You can’t make it through a game without hearing about how a certain player is “a great guy” off the field. But is he really? Do we know that for sure? If so, how do we know it?
If you listen to talk radio after a scandal like this breaks, you’ll inevitably hear someone say how they feel betrayed. That may be true, but what does betrayal mean? It would mean that someone has acted contrary to their character in a way that has hurt someone else. If we don’t really know what someone’s character is like, can we really feel betrayed when they let us down?
There will be more stories like Darren Sharper’s. I can say that with complete certainty. Even before this week is out, some athlete will be embroiled in a scandal, major or minor, that will redefine in some way how we think about them. I wonder if it might be better to save ourselves some time and change how we think about people we don’t know in the first place.
Because really, nobody knows what happens when the lights of the NFL’s big stage go off.