The Prisons Of Our Design

In no way do I mean to pick on Chicago per se, necessarily. I love the city; I made plenty of 6-8 hour drives from my dinky little college in Iowa between 2000 and 2004 to enjoy the city and it remains on my list of preferred cities to live in should my day job take me out of California any time soon. But ballers are not having the best of times with the city. Eddy Curry and Antoine Walker both got jacked at home last year while in the Windy City, and Illinois native son Rashard Mendenhall, fresh from being drafted in the first round by the Pittsburgh Steelers, got held up last night while out walking.

Fortunately, Mendenhall and the woman who was with him are OK, and he told his mom it wasn’t anything worth trying to lose his life over.

The “athlete getting robbed or assaulted” story always twinges a nerve in me (and I suspect a few others), because you can largely sense how this will play out when (not if) it makes the screamer shows on ESPN and past the desk of various columnists over the next day or so. Many will gloss over, but others, desperate for time to fill, always trend towards something more than the usual lament about how the streets aren’t safe. What Mendenhall went through is pretty much garden variety ish for anyone these days — it doesn’t read like he was targeted because of who he is yet, and I want to leave that emphasis on yet. But I can sense a train of thought forming in the response of mainstream blowhards to this for one simple reason: Mendenhall was out at 2 A.M. when he was robbed.

When Darrent Williams was killed outside a Denver nightclub and when then-Nuggets forward Julius Hodge was shot, there was more than a fair share of noxious thought that determined that pro athletes basically need to stay in, avoid going out at all, and become shut-ins — as if they could not have lives outside of their careers if they did not have any benefit to the team. Skip Bayless routinely spouts this line of thinking whenever an athlete and a crime scene are in the same sentence (whether victim or accused suspect), and it reached its vile nadir with Gregg Easterbrook choosing to opine on Williams’ death for Page 2 about how no one should be out after midnight when Williams’ casket wasn’t even in the ground yet. Whether it was Tank Johnson getting pulled over in Arizona for what appeared to be nothing close to DUI or Adam Jones’ myriad of police run-ins, the degree of actual involvement did not matter; the lesson is the same.

Other people can be out late. If you’re a professional athlete, we’re going to judge you if you’re out after midnight, or in any situation that doesn’t look good for the team.

Cedric Benson will see a bit of this now, too. After being arrested and now facing charges of boating under the influence in his home state of Texas, he’ll not only get the charges of “why was he out late boating?”, but he’ll also get the fun of dealing with some members of the Bears’ fanbase that is less concerned about the legal process — as Benson claims the boat officers at the check mistreated and abused him, and that he was not intoxicated — and more interested in getting rid of a first round pick that has underperformed in the uniform. Two things are telling about the Chicago Trib’s piece on Benson’s arrest:

  1. The implications of Benson’s salary cap hit are prominent, as if they were relevant to the legal issues (they really aren’t and color the perception that a reader takes from the article).
  2. The note about how in Austin, the Lower Colorado River Authority is viewed with skepticism, as if what happened to Benson is not unusual behavior for those particular authority figures.

If you wonder why athletes seem less accomodating to fan requests and disconnected from the ordinary fans among us, this might be a part of it — if you are in the prism of public view and subject to irrational suggestions that you restrict your hours and your activities because of the potential things that could happen to you, why deal with the unknown, the fan who wants something from you, never mind the press that presumes you are boozing it up and ignoring your rehab from an injury even before you’re arraigned and with few exceptions, aren’t really buying your side of the story based on poor assumptions?

3 Responses

  1. There’s actually been a rash of shooting deaths in the Windy City in the past few weeks. It’s a bad scene.

    Also, is it just me, or does that mugshot of Cedric Benson look like he got popped in the left eye during the course of his arrest? I guess it could be pepper spray, but looks more like a shiner to me.

    — Ajax.

  2. I’m glad Mendenhall is okay. It couldhave been a lot worse and thank goodness it never reached that point.

  3. Very interesting; this really can be applied as a larger societal problem.

    Sad as it may be, people under the lights are guilty until proven innocent. This type of brush-stroking only inflames the cognitive divide between “normal people” and professional athletes.

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