Out of Bonds: Professional athletes deserve greater empathy

Former National Basketball Association forward Lamar Odom was hospitalized on Oct. 13 for a drug overdose. According to NBC Sports, an inside hospital source explained that Odom was found with “virtually every drug imaginable” in his system. He will most likely have brain damage and is lucky to be alive. And yet, people are choosing to focus on the “scandalous” element of the story rather than feeling genuine concern or sympathy for Odom.

It seems that the main reason people care about this story—and others similar to it—is because people are drawn to celebrities not for their good decisions, but for their bad ones. This is something that is truly a shame.

It seems like any story you hear about an athlete is a bad one. Whether it’s a domestic violence case or sexual assault, these stories seem to dominate the sports news landscape. These are horrible things and indubitably should be covered.

We never hear about all of the great things that these athletes do for their communities, however. We don’t learn about their families and their efforts to help others. This isn’t because these things don’t exist; it’s because we as a society choose to hold these people on a pedestal. We notice every little mistake they make. We look for every little reason we can find to take them off of that pedestal.

Whether it’s wrestling legend John Cena’s countless grants to the Make-a-Wish foundation, Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson’s weekly visits to the Seattle Children’s Hospital, Montreal Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban donating $10 million to the Montreal Children’s Hospital or any of the other countless good deeds athletes have done, we always seem to find a way to overlook the good and focus on the bad.

Odom’s tragic incident will change his life forever. He will have permanent, lasting damage to both his body and his brain. He may never play basketball again. His life will never be as good as it was. In part, this is our fault. Society’s constant criticism gets to these people. It causes them to crack—and sometimes, once they do inevitably crack, there is no putting them back together again.

Fortunately for Odom, he has the support of his ex-wife Khloe Kardashian as well as his two children. But what about the people who don’t have these support beams? These questions are scary hypotheticals, but for some other athletes, they are a reality. Being a role model to half of a nation must be a lot to deal with. We should not be putting this much pressure on professional athletes that lead them to abuse substances simply to handle stress.

The other issue that arises with Odom’s condition is drugs. We seem to forget that being a celebrity like Odom makes it very easy to access illegal substances. Coupled with the scrutiny these people encounter, this is a deadly combination. We’ve seen it with countless athletes and celebrities before—Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, San Francisco Giants pitcher Tim Lincecum and former Miami Dolphins running back Ricky Williams are just a few.

These celebrities have to deal with the possibility of being ostracized for making a mistake. This pressure can weaken individuals and drugs can break weakened individuals. These issues are something we need to watch out for.

We need to remember that no matter how much money they make, athletes are people just like us and they deserve to be cared for.