Hot Air Athletes

Jonathan Papelbon joins the team of professional loudmouths


Jonathan Papelbon and I have a couple of things in common. We both went to Bishop Kenny High School, so chances are he, too, has a collection of white shirts, blue pants and maroon ties. Chances are he saw "Star Trek" in a religion class — assuming Sister Edith's curriculum hasn't changed. And he has a habit of saying whatever he thinks. This habit revealed itself — yet again — recently.

Papelbon is best known for his relief stint with the 2007 Boston Red Sox, where he looked like he might be a once-in-a-generation closer along the lines of a Goose Gossage. His time in Boston ended soon enough, but his predilection for explosive quotes remains — thank goodness. In what was intended to be an anodyne interview with regional sports network CSN Philadelphia, Papelbon made some comments regarding the incident at the Boston Marathon, stoking a fire of national controversy.

"Today's day and age has gotten so crazy. Shoot man, Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything. You got all this stuff going on; it's just a little bit insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it," said the pitcher.

Compared to former Atlanta Braves reliever John Rocker's comments in 1999, at the height of his career, criticizing the diversity of New York City ("It's the most hectic, nerve-racking city. Imagine having to take the [number] 7 train to the ballpark, looking like you're [riding through] Beirut next to some kid with purple hair next to some queer with AIDS right next to some 20-year-old mom with four kids. It's depressing."), those comments seem relatively sane, I guess, but what wouldn't?

Still, when one's being measured against Rocker (who'll be here on June 6 as a special attraction at a Jacksonville Suns game), that's a red flag. And when one deconstructs Papelbon's sentiment, it's just as insipid.

Let's start with the first sentence. "Today's day and age has gotten so crazy." Really, Jon, you don't say.

What day and age hasn't been crazy? From tribal wars documented in the Old Testament onward to the tribal wars of today, every day and age has been replete with wanton destruction. Yes, what happened in Boston was horrible by any measure, but was it necessarily anomalous, on a global scale? Not so much.

"Obama wants to take our guns from us and everything."

Considering the ahistorical nature of Papelbon's first statement, it might be nice if Obama actually did take the guns away and replace them with history books. When reading and hearing statements like that, I always wonder who "our" actually are. Why all gun owners are essentially equated — I wonder that too.

"You got all this stuff going on — it's just a little insane for me, man. I'm not sure how to take it."

Is it really insane? As capitalism as we know it enters its final spin cycle, familiar patterns take shape. Immense wealth redistribution toward the top 1 percent and the corporate class. The destruction of the middle class and its purchasing power that, say 50 years ago, allowed one-income families to thrive far better than they do today. Why wouldn't we expect the kind of incidents we saw in Boston, where (as the current narrative holds) two brothers from Chechnya failed to assimilate, despite living in Cambridge and going to a school that facilitated diversity?

What galls me about Papelbon's statement isn't the right-wing shock-jock rhetoric. Been there, done that. What galls me is the utter myopia of it. We all had reactions to what happened in Boston, and many people said many things in the heat of the moment that mercifully will be elided from the historical narrative. Papelbon's words will be forgotten soon; the people of Philadelphia, where he pitches now, have little interest in political correctness — this is the city where Michael "Bad Newz Kennels" Vick successfully completed his path of personal redemption after a career in which he embodied almost every stereotype of an overpaid thug athlete. Papelbon doesn't fit that bill.

He's more like Ryan Lochte, the Florida Gators swimmer who medaled 11 times in the Olympics, a quip machine who says ill-advised frat-boy things. Or like Chipper Jones, the former Braves third baseman and Bolles School alum, who in response to Rutgers' Mike Rice getting fired for physically abusing his players, tweeted, "Apparently mine and some people's views of what verbal and physical abuse is, differs. That's ur right. This is my twitter account."

This world is one of double standards, where the rantings of half-informed white males will always be protected or encouraged. Just bros being bros. 

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