Greeson: For good and ill, spotlight is part of deal

Greeson: For good and ill, spotlight is part of deal

February 27th, 2014 by Jay Greeson in Sports - Columns

Athletes are people, like you and me. They go to the store and pick up their kids and do normal stuff.

The difference is they have an extreme skill, whether it's hitting a golf ball or shooting a basketball or being 266 pounds and running a 4.53 40.

They are still people, though, and they make mistakes. Because of those extreme skills that set athletes apart, those mistakes are seen and witnessed and dissected by exponentially more people. This is not apologizing for the spotlight, just explaining it, and any athlete or actor or politician who bemoans the increased scrutiny during times of human frailty is simply ignoring the extreme advantages -- be it fame or pay or what have you -- that the spotlight from those extreme gifts and skills allows them.

It's part of the bargain, even for the fringe stars and the borderline celebrities who all too frequently are making mistakes more often than they are making plays.

Meet Steve Elkington, the former PGA golfer who won 10 times on tour including the 1995 PGA Championship. Elkington's golf career was fine, he was ranked in the top 50 for most of the mid-1990s, and that certainly brings a fair amount of notoriety and coin. Good for him.

But Elkington needs to break up with Twitter, the social media forum in which he has become the face of stereotypical hatred, an equal-opportunity bigot. He's a real-life Archie Bunker with 140 characters. He's a throwback in a lot of ways -- think more stereotypical closed-minded angst than penny loafers and persimmon woods-- in a world that has thankfully moved on. He is a joke, whispered ashamedly in bad taste, that has now been shared on global platforms.

And he's a serial offender. His latest strike came Tuesday, when he Tweeted, "ESPN reporting Michael Sam is leading the handbag throw at NFL combine. ... No one else expected to throw today."

Elkington has since deleted the Tweet after claiming the shot was at ESPN's coverage of Sam being the first openly gay football player invited to the combine. Whatever, that's what he does -- Tweet, offend, apologize, delete, repeat.

This is far from Elkington's first toe-dip in the choppy waters of social media controversy. Earlier this month, he insultingly Tweeted about a female reporter's figure to the female reporter, who classily shrugged the comment off, to which Elkington responded with the ultimate mea culpa, "I've been drinking."

Had he been drinking when he used racial slurs last year on Twitter? Or last November after a deadly accident when a helicopter crashed into a Scottish pub, and Elkington tweeted "locals report no beer was spilt."

If you think that's funny, OK. Different tastes for different folks. And yes, we by far live in a world that is wrapped in skin too thin and that far too frequently believes volume is akin to validity and that assailing the source of the opposing view is the same thing as debating or defeating the opposing view.

Yes, Elkington and his ilk are completely free to say and do what they want, within reason. Those are the rights that we are blessed to have because of the ultimate sacrifices of the brave and the proud men and women of the military.

But Elkington and those that embrace free speech must know that free discourse is a two-way street. Speak your mind, sir, but be prepared for the world to realize you're a half-wit. And in this world -- unlike the Barcalounger days of Archie and his living room bigotry -- the connection is global and the whispers of social media become the blaring trumpets of the next hour's headline.

We will defend forever Elkington's right to say whatever he wants -- that's in our core belief system -- but we equally defend our right to call him an idiot.

Elkington the person? He's a clown, and if he had not developed a social dependence on 140 characters and the approval and yuks of 60,000 followers he'll never meet, we'd likely remember him for one golf's most graceful swings.

Now, he's the face and the whispers that make Michael Sam news. Elkington's bigotry and what it represents is the reason that Sam is a big deal whether anyone likes it or not and whether Elkington knows it or not, and regardless of his hashtag, his apology or whether he deletes his latest 140-character quip.

Contact Jay Greeson at 423-757-6273 and follow him on Twitter at @jgreesontfp.