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Mike Beas: on athletes and privacy


It's common for professional athletes from bygone eras to grumble under their breath about today's preposterously high salaries. Others have been known to skip directly over grumbling, leapfrog the urge to voice sternly and go straight to screaming.

But the hip-replacement crowd needs to lower the volume a tad because today's celebrities manufactured by sports have their own buffet spread of issues to deal with. First and foremost, that little thing called privacy. The advent of the internet, picture-taking cellphones, blogging, YouTube and the like force celebs — sports and otherwise — to exist in a world of uncertainty.

Guaranteed, more nervous peering over one's shoulder goes on today than 10 years ago.

Ask Olympic hero Michael Phelps, whose reputation went up in smoke inside a University of South Carolina frat house once pictures of him smoking marijuana showed up in a British tabloid. Gauge the opinion of Erin Andrews, whose broadcasting credibility absorbed a sucker punch when images of her in various states of undress surfaced on the internet. Go quiz LeBron James about the grainy footage leaked showing some college kid dunking over him.

Big stories all three. Huge. And every one made possible because of modern technology, the kind that has made amateur photographers out of billions worldwide.

Somewhere along the line, Mark Spitz, the man whose Olympian standard of seven gold medals stood for 36 years until Phelps came along, must have exhibited some form of behavior of which he wasn't proud. Former CBS broadcaster Phyllis George, a head-turner in her own right during the 1970s, wasn't accumulating worry lines wondering if some creep with a cellphone would be filming her through a motel wall peephole.

Which brings us to Michael Jordan, the player James goes out of his way to emulate. Great as Jordan was, I'm betting there were times he was dunked on in practice. Doubtful Luc Longley or Bill Wennington had anything to do with it. Or Craig Hodges or Stacey King. Much easier to visualize is Scottie Pippen or Dennis Rodman storming to the rim over His Airness and making a point en route to two points.

Travel further back in time and, really, do we want cellphone photos of Ty Cobb climbing into the stands to pummel a heckler who due to an industrial accident had been reduced to one hand and lost three fingers on the other? Or images of Mickey Mantle passed out or Paul Hornung bellied up to a Las Vegas black jack table? Or Wilt Chamberlain . . . uh . . . never mind.

In most cases, yes, we do. We're nosy that way. Yet in other eras, fast-moving rumors were the first building blocks, the ground floor, of sports legend. Not having visual proof to back them up has given these and other stories about long-ago sports icons a mysteriousness that is attractive and stands the test of time.

So the retired athletes and coaches need to quit complaining. Maintaining their privacy meant securing their dignity, and you can't slap a pricetag on that.


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