Turn That Headline Upside Down
By: Jared Naylor
If you’re a football fan (and because you’re reading this I’m assuming you are), you’ve probably found the amount of negative press surrounding the game a bit disconcerting. Every day it seems like another superstar is getting arrested and authenticating the widespread belief that football players are a felonious bunch of idiots. But anyone who’s spent even a small amount of time around the game knows that many of the players are extremely intelligent. And even these players have to deal with the judgmental eyes of people who take the indiscretions of a select few to reflect the face of the many. As a former player and current fan, I find this tendency to focus the majority of our attention on the negative aspects surrounding the game troubling.
I’m not suggesting we pity football players. There are still many great things about being one. For instance, women who might have otherwise been unattainable suddenly have eyes for you. Guys want to be your friend and seem truly interested in all the uninteresting things about you (“You dead lift how much?!”). Teachers want to help with your homework. Kids look up to you and older people want to shake your hand. But there is one thing all of these people won’t tell you – they secretly want you to fail. Well, maybe not you personally, but the idea of you.
Now, before you football players get all upset and unleash a testosterone-fueled verbal assault on your super hot girlfriend’s dad as he goes for a high-five, it might help you to realize that you’re not so different from any of these people. No matter how much we want to feel happy for the success of others, sometimes, most times, in fact, we don’t. The Germans have a word for this – Schadenfreude, which translates to “pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others.” Chances are you’ve noticed this compulsion in yourself and more than likely felt ashamed because of it.
Don’t believe me?
Ever felt a tinge of pleasure when a figure skater at the Olympics crashes and burns on their final triple axel after a near flawless performance? Did you secretly take pleasure when the squeaky clean image of Tiger Woods was tarnished by sex addiction? Or how about someone you know. Maybe you had mixed feelings about a friend’s break-up. On the one hand you feel bad for them. On the other, their failure to maintain their relationship validates the problems you’re having in your own.
I’m not condoning Schadenfreude, merely showing that it exists and is the main reason the media chooses to focus the majority of its time on scandals instead of good deeds. In its most debilitating form, Schadenfreude justifies our own inaction by giving us an example of someone who has tried what we desire to and failed, thus reinforcing our decision not to try at all. This might explain why the most obvious cases of it are directed at public figures such as athletes, actors, and politicians.
These are all highly sought after careers that many people, given the opportunity, would like to have. People who are lucky enough to work these jobs are seen as glamorous and powerful. They are a bunch to be envied, for sure. But along with the acclaim comes the scrutiny. Think about it. When was the last time you read about John from IT’s transgressions against his wife? How about Susie in HR. How many more hours of community service does she have to complete because of her DUI?
I’m not condoning cheating on your spouse or driving under the influence. What I am saying is our tendency to take pleasure in the failures of others, especially those in a position we’d like to be in, leads us to paint a distorted portrait of the world they live in. It makes us believe LA is crammed with crazies, DC full of philanderers, and the NFL crowded with criminals. Are they an eccentric group? Yes, but no more than the rest of us.
Ah, but they chose to live a public life! If they can’t take it, they should do something else!
Guess what… I agree. A public life is a privilege and people in positions of power should be held to a higher standard. But as long as we’re pointing out their problems, why don’t we also celebrate their successes. While we’re chastising a team for its bounty program, let’s also champion its effort to rebuild a ravaged city. If we’re going to keep the Schadenfreude, let’s add some mudita – the Buddhist term for “joy at the good fortune of others.”
There is so much good being done by so many players and they deserve to have their day in the sun. And so I think it’s only right that we use The Football Office as a place to rebuild the game’s image around the world. Let’s celebrate each other’s success and use the mistakes as a means to grow rather than a reason to point another finger. We have enough of that already.