*Being a professional athlete (or collegiate athlete in certain cases) seems like a great deal. You play a sport you love and on top of that you gain prestige and wealth. You can enjoy all of the benefits of your career as long as you follow the cardinal rule: shut up.
The bottom line is that no one wants to hear millionaires complain. And make no mistake we perceive their comments as complaints unless they are A. speaking specifically about their sport, B. saying how lucky they are to get paid to play a sport, or C. praising the fans of their sport.
Cases in point: Josh Gordon, Chris Paul, and Johnny Manziel.
Josh Gordon is a professional football player. Or perhaps more accurately, has been a professional football player up until this year because he has put his career in serious jeopardy via repeated violations of the NFL substance abuse policy.
Gordon has been suspended three times and so is a repeat offender by definition. In response to his last suspension Gordon wrote an open letter to deny he had a problem and trying to explain himself. The public reaction to Gordon can be summarized as: “shut up and go to rehab.” No wanted to hear his justification of his drinking or complaints about how he is viewed because people (by virtue of his profession) had already concluded he has a dream job and is screwing up something they wouldn’t.
Chris Paul is a professional basketball player. He recently received a technical foul for questioning the judgment of a female referee. After the game Paul again questioned the referee’s judgment and said “maybe this isn’t for her” in reference to her career choice.
Paul has since been criticized and accused for being sexist. Unlike Gordon, Chris Paul had no history of anti female speech but public opinion turned against him just the same. The public distaste for athletes complaining (and he was complaining) meant it didn’t matter whether or not Paul had a reason to be upset; it only mattered that at the moment Paul wasn’t expressing gratitude for his place in the world.
On the other hand Johnny Manziel checked himself into rehab recently after a lackluster season for presumably alcohol abuse. The difference between Gordon and Paul, and Manziel is that the latter didn’t speak about his situation but instead had his people release a statement.
Although Manziel deemed his problem serious enough to willing submit to a rehabilitation program and did not play up to expectations (a combination of both Gordon and Paul’s situations), his reputation has been enhanced. This is only because he didn’t actually speak so the public could imagine him to be sincere, mature, and not complaining.
Johnny Football hasn’t done a lot right as a professional athlete. But somehow he did learn the most important lesson of all. Shut up.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.