A psychotherapist explores the by-products of fame that encourage athletes’ destructive behavior.
Like all humans, gifted sports players have inner demons; what interests Teitelbaum are the special circumstances that prompt athletes’ loss of perspective and poise. First, he takes a look at why they have been granted wealth and adulation. One cause, Teitelbaum suggests, is the fans’ need for heroes: We are moved and inspired by greatness, and we enhance our self-image by imagining an association with sports stars. They give us a sense of involvement, connection and purposefulness, a romantic yet observable feeling that life can be fantastic. Not to be forgotten, the media’s fawning over athletes taps into a celebrity culture that makes a lot of money for a number of people, from team owners and sportscasters to the sportswear and endorsement industries, never mind the players. Yet Teitelbaum writes persuasively that sports stars have much to answer for, giving hundreds of examples of gambling, substance abuse, sexual assault and even murder. These are the products, he argues, of terminal adolescence, a distorted sense of entitlement, an attitude of omnipotence and invulnerability allowing athletes to reside outside the rules that govern daily life. This attitude in part reflects the violence and moral erosion of society at large, but it also stems from immaturity characterized by a lack of empathy and self-control. Teitelbaum is well aware that emotional frailty often underlies athletes’ physical prowess: Many come from upbringings marred by domestic violence on the one hand and overindulgence on the other, he notes, though there are also many well-adjusted sports stars. When is the front office going to come out of denial? the author asks. “The leagues,” he says, “need to do a better job of policing themselves and withstanding the pressure to be lenient towards those superstars who cross the line.”
An even-handed, practical argument that athletes must be guided by decency and held accountable for their actions—and that fans need to get a life, or at least a dose of reality.