By Adam Gaub
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
There's something I wanted to say as the Phoenix Suns use McKale Center this week for practice: I'm sorry.
What, might you ask, do I have to be sorry for?
Well, where student-athletes are concerned, everything.
You see, I was born and raised right here in Tucson, and ever since I can remember, I had a basketball in my hands and the Wildcat logo on my shirt (or hat, shorts, socks, etc.).
When I was 6, I would sit at my first-grade teacher's desk reading the sports section, fastidiously studying Arizona's box scores, devouring analyses about our upcoming opponents, and memorizing the cool graphics that listed all the players names and numbers along with the starting lineups.
Arizona athletes were my heroes.
When I grew up I dreamed of becoming like the next Matt Muehlebach, Kevin Flanagan or Sean Elliott. (As some have no idea who those players are, it simply furthers my belief that native Tucsonans should be given more of a chance to win men's basketball tickets than people who didn't grow up here.)
I even wrote Lute Olson a letter that year, telling him in oversized first-grade print that he should start Khalid Reeves instead of Matt Othick. It wasn't such a bad call for a 6-year-old: Reeves was a first-round draft pick and played six seasons in the NBA, while Othick spent just one year on the bench with the San Antonio Spurs. I got a letter back from Olson, as well as an autographed picture of the team, and my love for Arizona basketball was permanently cemented that day.
It is hero worship that befits the mind of a child. All of us had those we idolized and mimicked in the days of our youth, whether it was our parents, older siblings, athletes or others.
With time, however, we should grow out of this phase to some degree. As we age and mature, we learn from life, gaining experience and knowledge that builds us into our own person, so that the mystique around those we idolized in our youth slowly begins to fade.
However, I still idolized Arizona athletes when I began my college career, especially its basketball players, treating them as if they were these demigods, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.
It has taken four years of being on campus, sharing classes with athletes and seeing them interact as everyday human beings that I was able to fully see the extent of their humanity.
Hassan Adams may be able to dunk a basketball with considerable ease, but he still has to go to class. Isaiah Fox may be able to work me over in the post, but he still has to stay up late trudging through research papers. Daniel Dillon may be able to drain 3-pointers from 30 feet away with his eyes closed, but still he has relationships that cause stress, pain and anxiety, just like the rest of us.
I don't think I'll ever be able to convince myself that ex-Arizona softball player Jennie Finch isn't on a completely different level than me.
But that's the problem.
Athletes, despite their amazing, God-given talents, are still human beings, susceptible to the emotions, struggles and fears that we all face on a daily basis.
We should certainly respect their ability to perform, and yes, even marvel at the amazing abilities they are able to put on display - but not any more so than we should marvel the deep intellectual insight of a brilliant Ph.D. candidate or the masterful manipulation of a musical instrument by a talented campus musician.
It is when we slip back into the hero worship of our youth that we fail these athletes.
I apologize because the apology needs to start with me.
How can I expect athletes to become role models to the community around them and to the children that look up to them if all they see is a campus that worships them more fervently than most churchgoers worship God?
I'm going to borrow the phrase "I ain't saying she's a gold digger" from Kanye West and apply it to all of us who relish letting others know we hang out with athletes. The popularity game that was played in high school now has the stakes raised, because some of our best athletes have that ability to make their fame and fortune after college, and who doesn't want to be able to say that they're friends with a star?
For the record, I'm not excluded in this - I still tell the story about how I was mistaken for ex-Arizona basketball star Luke Walton at a Taco Bell by his own tutor - because it makes me feel kind of cool that someone would think I was a stud athlete.
Rather than helping our athletes to become better men and women, we make it more difficult, instead making it easier for them to get caught up into a lifestyle of self-gratification that does little to promote positive values to the youths who look up to them.
The reason many athletes are full of themselves is because we are the ones filling them up.
Don't kill me with hate mail here. My point is not to say that student-athletes are all self-indulgent, egotistical roosters, because not only would that be placing myself on some arrogantly imagined moral plateau, it also would be just flat-out untrue.
If there is a lesson to be learned, it's that I can't change the behavior of the student body or the athletes who represent it in the sports venues around campus.
But I can change me. I can start by saying that while I still love and follow a good many of our sports teams, I don't need to treat our athletes like gods among mere mortals.
I can treat them like people. Real people.
Adam Gaub is a journalism senior. He can be reached at email@example.com.