God knows, sports fans can be a little, well, fanatical.
And few things wake them up like when a star athlete talks about a hot-button topic outside of sports. Religion, politics or lifestyle really sound the alarm.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson perked up the sports world’s ears with an interview he did last week at a San Diego church. The hourlong Q and A covered many topics, but two points have people talking.
One, he and girlfriend Ciara Harris have vowed not to have premarital sex.
Two, he said God spoke to him immediately after that fateful interception in the Super Bowl, telling him “I want to see how you respond.”
For what it’s worth, God spoke to me at Mass the following Sunday. He said Jesus would have given the ball to Marshawn Lynch, but I digress.
Wilson’s interview was notable for its candidness. In press conferences, his answers are usually benign clichés.
It’s also is notable for the inevitable backlash that followed. A Boston radio show mocked Wilson for “hearing voices.”
ESPN’s Bomani Jones bashed Wilson’s views on chastity.
“I think Americans value chastity in a way I find silly, problematic and, ultimately, counterproductive,” he wrote on Twitter.
The irony here is thicker than an offensive lineman after dinner. We want to know everything celebrities do and think away from the stadium, stage or movie set. But we criticize them the moment they profess something we don’t agree with. “Stick to sports,” we say.
I say, don’t be so quick to judge Wilson. He continues to strike that narrow balance of expressing his beliefs without beating us over the head with a mallet of moral superiority.
What Wilson said last week wasn’t proselytizing because of the setting — at a church to a Christian audience. If he spent his postgame press conference espousing the virtues of his faith ad nauseam, it would take on a different weight.
Anyone, including celebrities, is entitled to their own beliefs, provided they choose an appropriate setting to voice them.
Should a bartender “stick to beer” and never talk about politics? Of course not, but I don’t really want to debate foreign policy when I’m sipping an IPA.
Should a teacher “stick to teaching” and never express religious views? Of course not, but please keep your theological opinions out of my daughters’ science classes.
Our sports-obsessed culture has given athletes a larger soapbox than most of us. While they can sometimes make us uncomfortable, we should respect their right to be true to themselves. Their myriad views advance a larger discussion on the issues our society faces.
Most athletes are not as outspoken on social issues as Charles Barkley or as public in their faith as Tim Tebow. Most profess their beliefs through simply living by example, or perhaps with tattoos.
Wilson expresses his faith more overtly, as is his right.
And in an age when so many sports stories are about drugs, domestic violence or adultery, it’s silly to judge someone for what they’re not doing in the bedroom.