Warren Sapp, Allen Iverson, and the Tragedy of the Riches-to-Rags Athlete

Jake,

I'm cynical by nature, and hardly a patient sufferer of fools. Still, that doesn't mean I lack empathy. In the boneheaded cases of Sapp, Petrino and Guillen, it's easy to feel outraged. Easier still to chuckle. Almost impossible to not sit in blithe judgement, hepped up on schadenfreude and the sheer shameless giddy joy of good ol' fashioned human rubbernecking. This is pretty much why reality television exists, and great wide swaths of the Internet, too. Plus Taiwanese news animation. Deep down in our petty, collective heart of hearts, we are all Nelson from The Simpsons, sneering and pointing a finger.

Ha ha.

And yet: There's something very familiar about the guys we're laughing at, something very old about their stories. Squandered riches. Cheatin' hearts. Foot-in-mouth disease. The classic stuff of self-destruction—not to mention country music—common to athletes and coaches and presidents alike. Shakespeare would size up the likes of Sapp in seconds; ancient Greek playwrights wouldn't find Petrino's saga the least bit surprising (well, maybe except for all the texting. And his inexplicable failure to use a motorcycle sidecar). These men are buffoons, sure—but hardly different from the rest of us, save the outlandish degree of their buffoonery. After all, who hasn't wasted money in moronic fashion? Screwed up royally in romance? Lied in a futile effort to stave off embarrassment? Held an unpopular opinion, and lacked the good sense to keep quiet about it?

(Hint: even Jesus was guilty of the last one).

I'm not saying that when society looks in the mirror, it sees Petrino's absurd, trial-lawyer-catnip neck brace looking back. I'm not saying that Sapp's alleged domestic violence is commonplace, or that Guillen's lack of tact is par for the course anywhere outside anonymous Internet comments and Curb Your Enthusiasm reruns. I am saying that their sins are a little more familiar than most of us would like to admit, and that in discussing and judging and mocking all three men—in doing the same with a seemingly endless series of high-profile scandals in sports and beyond—we're not just inoculating ourselves from their mistakes. We're offering up a silent prayer to the gods, in this case Deadspin and TMZ: There but for the grace of not being a celebrity go I.

So yeah: I can laugh at idiocy, and still feel sorry for its purveyors. Well, except when it comes to just-fired Isiah Thomas. That guy is hopeless.

–Patrick

Presented by

Sports Roundtable

Patrick Hruby, Jake Simpson, and Hampton Stevens 

Saving the Bees

Honeybees contribute more than $15 billion to the U.S. economy. A short documentary considers how desperate beekeepers are trying to keep their hives alive.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Entertainment

Just In