In the aftermath of the loss of Jose Fernandez, stadiums all across Major League Baseball provided recognition to the loss of one of the game’s best young stars. As the last few weeks of the season played out, many players could be seen with “JF16” etched on the front of their hat, there were moments of silence across the league, and tributes to the late pitcher.
Regardless of the circumstances, losing a loved one; be it family, friends, teammates, etc., is a terrible time. When you care about a person, the circumstances surrounding their death seem trivial compared to the big picture: that someone you love is lost and that you cannot get them back. We saw this across Major League Baseball in the days and weeks since the loss the Fernandez.
Now, the results of the autopsy are out, and baseball; both the fans and the league itself, are face-to-face with the harsh truth of the circumstances that led to Fernandez death. When the incident first occurred, I would be hard pressed to find people who didn’t suspect that alcohol played a role in the disastrous crash. It is South Beach, on a boat, in the middle of the night; these circumstances make it easy to suspect that some foul play was involved. Then, the real shocker was released. There was cocaine found in Jose Fernandez’s system at the time of death.
Now, public opinion is going to kick in. With this news being released, people are going to be looking at those ceremonies in Major League Baseball with a critical eye, and people are going to be using the toxicology report as a means to tarnish Fernandez’s name. I think, though, there is a bigger message here, and that is: Athletes are not role models.
Back in 1993, Charles Barkley created an infamous ad for Nike in which he stated: “I am not a role model.” To this day, people look at athletes and their multi-million dollar contracts and view them as people who should be role models to a younger generation. Why do we still allow ourselves to get wrapped up in this athletes-as-role-models mentality?
We look at each sport, and in every sport, there are examples to prove to us why that is such a huge mistake. We have the Kobe Bryant extra-marital affair scandal that has taken place. We have the Ray Rice scandal in the NFL. In the NHL we had Bob Probert had issues with alcohol and cocaine, as well.
But, in the case of Jose Fernandez, we have many other athletes within the sport to point to that demonstrate to us why athletes are not meant to be immortalized. We can look at Doc Ellis, who has a documentary viewable on Netflix about throwing a perfect game under the influence of LSD, or Doc Gooden, who had his issues with alcoholism. We have the revolving door of stories Josh Hamilton has provided fans with during his storied career. Miguel Cabrera’s drinking had led to a physical altercation with his wife some years back. This does not even begin to look at the steroid issue in MLB that has tainted so many prominent stars’ careers.
Time in and time out, we allow ourselves to be so enthralled with a player’s performance on the field, that we allow ourselves to believe that they are “it.” They are super-human; they could not possibly do anything wrong, or anything immoral. We allow ourselves to believe that mega millions and big muscles could lead to a super-human ability to deny temptation. In reality, we should realize that the people in these circumstances have even more access to the commodities that we would never want our kids to be around. They deal with more temptation than anyone else because they are always under the spotlight, they are always dealing with people that either want to impress them or whom they want to impress.
The loss of Jose Fernandez is a shame, yes. He was 24 years old, he was electric on the mound, he was personable. Perhaps, though, with the most recent news surrounding his death, we as a nation begin to look at athletes more objectively and stop creating an aura of them being larger than life. At the end of the day, they are humans just like the rest of us. If we want to commend them on the effort, they put forth to get where they are that is one thing.
ut, to believe that an athlete is an ideal, after all of the times we have been let down? That’s plain foolish.