It’s not so much a case of ‘nice guys finish last.’ They simply get stuck in the middle—and nobody cares about the middle.
A few days ago NFL star Michael Vick won BET’s Sportsman of the Year, and I threw up a little in my mouth. It’s not that I’m holding a hateful grudge against Vick. He’s an incredible athlete and does seem to be turning his life around. It’s that the word sportsmanship, with its connotations of ethics and character, seems too gentle a word to describe him, especially this early, especially when others are far more deserving. The decision got me thinking. About how, for celebrities in the spotlight, pedestals turn to pendulums with uncanny precision.
The pedestal turning to pendulum is like when celebrities raise thousand of dollars to send X-ray machines and birth delivering tools to a poor village in Africa only to discover years later that the machines and tools are collecting dust and midwives are still pulling and twisting out placentas with their bare hands and quite often leaving mothers dead.
Or when philanthropists send mosquito nets to help a small African community without the foresight to know it will actually put the local maker of mosquito nets and the 10 distributors that work for him out of business and leave in its good-heartedness an even poorer community. It’s the result of when young men poster the walls of their bedroom and the walls of their mind with the men portrayed as the pinnacle of manliness. It’s when the best of intentions creates or worsens or otherwise has no influence on the original undesirable.
Many young men of yesteryear were horribly disappointed and depressed after they’d spent a lifetime grunting under heavy weights and eating wild concoctions of foods (in order to sculpt themselves like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone) only to learn it wasn’t possible through natural means. Their bodies were wrecked, and often their marriages and lives succumbed too.
Really? Sportsman of the Year? Of all the sports, of all the athletes who have done great things consistently throughout their entire lives, Michael Vick was the one man of sport in the entire world of sport to be recognized with such a prestigious award? Or, is Michael Vick simply the most popular athlete who acted despicably, went away for a while, and returned as the heroic American flawed-to-fawned over comeback story? If the latter, there’s a difference between being “Sportsman of the Year” and spending a year trying to make up for countless acts of disgustingness.
Enter the Weiner. Congressman Anthony Weiner’s actions had audiences captivated for weeks. People wanted to see the pictures, read the text messages, and hear his statements. Republicans said it was actions typical of a Democrat, Democrats said this stuff happens to everybody, and late night talk show hosts had limitless material. But it was HBO’s Bill Maher who actually said something enlightening regarding the situation when he was on CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360.
Because this is how it works in America … when you do something unspeakable … you have to go away, then he [Weiner] can come back. He needs to go away right now, let it calm down, nobody’s going to leave him alone until he does, and then, then the story will be a comeback, which America also loves. A year or two people will forget about it because there will be eight other scandals that will have happened in the intervening time … a year from now people will be like, “What did Weiner do? It was something with his penis, I can’t remember. Whatever.” And then he can come back.
What did Eliot Spitzer do? Something with prostitution, I think, but whatever, he says some pretty wise things on his new primetime television show. What did Ben Roethlisberger get accused of, and what do plenty of women who have met him in Pittsburgh say about him? I forget, something with sexual assault maybe, but remember that Super Bowl pass to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the endzone?
Are we entering a time when the Rudy-like stories become only day-long viral YouTube videos while the prestigious jobs, awards, and headlines go to those who make a few good decisions for the sake of righting a thousand wrongs? Is our male cultural pendulum swinging toward those fail-hards who make incremental comebacks because it’s easier to live up to them rather than embracing the magazined men of fantasy? What about the middle? It’s not so much a case of “the good guy finishes last” as it is that the good guy gets stuck in the middle and nobody cares about the middle.
In March of this year, Adrian Peterson equated the NFL life to “modern-day slavery” when there actually is modern-day slavery, and he certainly isn’t aware or emotionally invested enough in it for it to actually censor his words. How long will he need to go away (and how much will he need to donate to foundations while he’s away) before he’s a hero?
In December 2010, a senior writer at the Bleacher Report wrote “Michael Vick is the American Dream” in an introduction to his story about why Vick should have been Sports Illustrated’s 2010 Sportsman of the Year instead of Drew Brees. He used the clichéd “bootstrap” metaphor to explain why.
Golfer Rory Mcllroy has been making all the headlines in the golf world. He’s the youngest U.S. Open champion since 1923. He’s been called “The next Tiger Woods.” In September 2010, Rory said the following during a press conference:
Watching Tiger winning the masters in ’97, winning four majors in a row in 2000–2001, you know it’s … you sort of don’t really believe it, and you put him on such a high pedestal, and then you meet the guy and you realize that he’s just, obviously he’s an unbelievable golfer, but, you know, he’s just a normal guy and … before I’d sort of met him … you feel as though he’s superhuman.
But Tiger’s been away for a while. He’s been away. This bodes well for him.
To be great, even the world’s best, in one miniscule thing in this huge world does not mean you are a good man. It means you are great at one minuscule thing in this huge world. It’s time to embrace the well-rounded, the blended, even if it means being so-so in everything deemed manly, even if it means you’re stuck with the majority of decent dudes in the silent center.
—Main image: “Noir” by Stephen Sheffield. Stephen has been sharing his images with the Good Men Project since the project’s inception. He owns a photo studio in Boston.