In Defense of Professional Athletes with a look at “Just Wright”

So… speaking of professional male athletes: there are approximately 462 NBA players, 1760 NFL Players, 800 MLB players and 720 Hockey dudes. I don't know from golf, soccer and boxing but let's just round up and say that in these here United States of America (and a few parts of Canada), there are approximately 5000 current professional athletes and who knows how many retired. To hear folks tell it, every last one of them is a megalomaniacal, wife-beating, gun-toting, sex fiend who can't save a penny, speak coherent sentences or look beyond their personal bling.

Before I get into my personal experiences, I have to point out that I've been amazed and unamused at the sweeping generalizations attached to that group. Maybe because as a single black female, I've seen that kind of random media bias and subsequent shade-throwing up close and personal these days? The caricature of the spoiled, rude, 12-baby-mama-with-all-the-drama rich boys is perpetuated because that's generally the story the media focuses on. (Don't get me started on Basketball Wives) It's sexier to talk about Plaxico Burress shooting himself, Ricky Williams smoking pot and Dwayne Wade's divorce than to talk about the 400+ foundations, charities and kids' camps currently attributed to professional athletes.

There is a movie coming out May 14th that I'm fairly excited about. It's "Just Wright" starring Queen Latifah and Common (rise of the rapping actors, FTW!). Official synopsis from Fox Searchlight: Leslie Wright (Queen Latifah) is a straight-shooting physical therapist who gets the gig of a lifetime working with NBA All-Star Scott McKnight (Common). All is going well until Leslie finds herself falling for Scott, forcing her to choose between the gig and the tug-of-war inside her heart. Oblivious to her romantic overtures, McKnight is instead drawn to the affections of Leslie's childhood friend Morgan (Paula Patton), who has her sights set on being an NBA trophy wife. Is Leslie destined to play the role of "best friend" forever or will Scott finally see that what he always wanted is right in front of him?

One of my least favorite reviewers (who shall remain nameless because I refuse to send traffic to his site) said he thought the movie was way too bland. He felt that the main characters have been stripped of personality and he couldn't buy Common's character because he "is the nicest, safest, NBA player in history. I mean c'mon a nice and considerate NBA player?? Here's an idea…what if the film had made him an arrogant, loud mouth, annoying person (with maybe a baby momma somewhere) to hide the fact that he's an insecure, lonely person afraid his glory years as a player have passed him by? You know a REAL person."

For real tho? Have you met any players… in like… REAL life? Or are you stereotyping based on what you've read? Glory days as a player? Most athletes have 3 – 5 years of a career (if they're lucky) and then they're done. 72% of those playing never reach star (let alone superstar) status. If you knew you could only do your job for three years and then you have to do something completely different… that might change your outlook.

I've had the interesting life experience of knowing, dating, and hanging around professional athletes for years. Being bougie in nature, I was never one to gawk or jock. I never have been nor ever will be any flavor of groupie. To me, they were just guys with high-profile jobs and more change jingling than others. Of course I've seen the good, the bad and ugly. But I've seen a lot more good than bad and ugly. There's something that happens when you start depositing checks with nine figures and have a microphone in your face morning, noon and night. It doesn't happen to the athlete, it happens to the people around them and then the athlete is forced to react. The dynamic gets strange when people begin to think you're important because of how you move/protect/deflect a ball. Not everybody reacts well to having long-lost cousins call you up for bail/house payment/random loan at 3:00 in the morning, having your mother steal your credit cards, having your housekeeper put your personal items on eBay behind your back, having random women whip out their breasts and say "sign these" – all of these are stories that I have witnessed personally. Now if you don't have a strong foundation and support system, all of that is going to do something to your head. As one athlete said, "We're grown-assed men playing little boy games. And that we get adored."

My point is - selfish jerks with problematic lives are everywhere. Some have money and high-profile jobs, others do not. If regular Joe has a bad day, two people hear about it. If Superbowl Joe has a bad day, it's YouTubed and leading on ESPN Sportscenter. I'm in no way excusing the bad behavior that we've seen exhibited by some athletes (and the women that chase them). I'm just going to say it's not easy. These guys work incredibly hard. Even the most naturally gifted athlete has to maintain his athleticism, learn the nuance of his position and deal with all the extra stuff that comes along with being a multi-millionaire before 40. I know, I know – boo-hoo, he makes $52 million and has to work for it. I'm just saying… your paycheck probably isn't published on the Internet. Your performance at work isn't witnessed by millions and presumably, no one spits on you and threatens to burn your house down if you make a mistake.

I've had the pleasure of being around athletes that were grounded, those that planned for the future, kept the drama at a minimum and had an idea of who they were when the lights weren't shining and the game is gone. So-called "good men" trying to do the right thing for themselves and their families. I've also been around those other cats and just stayed out of their way. The same way not all men cheat, not all professional athletes walk around with an inflated sense of self.

I've also had the interesting phenomenon of being judged because I dated professional athletes. As if there is only "a certain type of girl" with a "certain kind of look" and an agenda that spends time with those guys. I'm going to call bullshiggity on that whole thought process. I've literally met a guy, he finds out the name of a guy I used to date and all of a sudden he's looking at me in a different kind of way. Le Huge Sigh.

Long post short? Stop hatin' on athletes unless you know some that have done you wrong personally. And even then, quit painting them all with the same brush.

Oh, and go see the darn movie. It may be watered down but that makes me happy. When we can have romantic comedies starring African-Americans that are just as so-so as those starring Caucasians – we're come a long way. And by so-so let's talk about anything starring that chick from Grey's Anatomy (27 dresses), half of Julia Roberts' (Duplicity) and Meg Ryan's (French Kiss) movies, that last movie with Sarah Jessica Parker (Did you hear about the Morgans) and something awful I saw with Amy Adams (Leap Year). I think we deserve the chance to be equally "just okay". I can't wait to check it out. Most of the folks I know that have seen advanced screenings enjoyed it. I personally love a BougieTale of romance up on the big screen.

So BougieLand, thoughts on the professional athlete? Have I altered your view of them and the women that date them at all? Who's planning on seeing "Just Wright"? The floor is yours.