Privacy and Professional Sports

Mitch Waxman

Almost every American male, at some point in his life, has dreamed of becoming a professional athlete. Heck, I was convinced throughout elementary school that I would play in the NBA someday. Perhaps because we’ve had our dreams crushed, sports fans don’t tend to give athletes the benefit of the doubt. Their every move is chronicled on sports talk shows, websites and television stations. This lack of privacy is simply acknowledged as “coming with the territory.” Yet at some point, a line needs to be drawn in regards to how much sports fans should know about our favorite athlete’s lives. With the recent dilemma surrounding Vince Young, the need for a definitive line has become much more important.

During Week 1 of the NFL season, the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars were engaged in a close, low-scoring and what many would call ugly, game. The game was played in front of the Titan faithful, and in the fourth quarter, Vince Young trotted off the field to a cascade of boos after his second interception of the game. On the sideline Young was visibly shaken by the reaction, even asking Tennessee Head Coach Jeff Fisher to remove him from the game. Fisher refused to remove his star quarterback from the contest, only to have Young sprain his MCL four plays later. He was forced to leave the game.

Throughout Young’s entire football-playing career, he had never suffered an injury of this magnitude; never before had he been forced to leave the football stadium on crutches. The pain he felt from the boos, and the frustration of the injury seemed to take their toll on the former University of Texas star.

The next night, Young had “abruptly” left his house at 7 p.m., with an unloaded gun, and those with him at his home, including family members, were “concerned with his emotional well-being,” according to Nashville Metro Police spokesman Don Aaron. Fisher was notified of the situation and called the Nashville police, asking them to search for Young, who was found at a friend’s home watching Monday Night Football.

This manhunt is something that sports fans across America do not need to know about, but of course when an athlete has the police searching for him in a major city, those secrets won’t be secrets for long. As the week rolled along and more details about the Young incident surfaced, the poor man’s shield of privacy was obliterated.

The first mistake came from Young’s mother. This one I can’t blame entirely on the sports media. Last Thursday, Felicia Young decided that she needed to come to her son’s defense in front of America.

“What would you think, if you were tired of being ridiculed and persecuted and talked about and not being treated very well, what would you do? What kind of decision would you make?” Felicia Young asked the media. “But we’re not talking about football right now. We’re talking about what would make him happy, and that is the most important thing.”

Vince Young is a grown man, and grown men don’t need their mothers arguing for them in front of 300 million people. I don’t think that America needed to hear Felicia’s defense, but I understand that she said it to the media and it is their job to report it.

The blatant abuse of Young’s privacy came to a head with a report that surfaced last Saturday. A report surfaced suggesting that Vince Young had mentioned contemplating suicide to his therapist. Now I’m not a therapist, but I was under the impression that these meetings are confidential. If I told my therapist something of that nature, I wouldn’t want it to be surfacing on the web hours, weeks, months or even years later. Frankly, I feel a little uncomfortable simply knowing about something that seems so personal, having never come close to meeting Vince Young directly.

This absurd story ended with Vince Young fielding questions that he should have never had to answer at the Titans’ practice field. He had to reaffirm his commitment to the game numerous times, and he even had to explain why his mother needed to know where he was going.

I love sports. I’m passionate about my favorite teams. When those athletes are on their respective fields of play, everything they do can be my business. That’s what they are paid for. But when they leave the stadium to lead their own lives, I need to back off. I don’t follow my barber home and see what he does on a Saturday night. Likewise I don’t need to know what Vince Young does in his free time.