I once asked a man, who we’ll call “Jake,” what someone I knew had done to have gotten arrested. Jake shared a close relationship with this person so I was sure he knew what happened. Instead of lurid details, I got a levelheaded reply,”He got caught,” Jake said. I appreciated the integrity of the response. It mocked my own reasons for asking the question. I can honestly say now that I wanted pornography. That is to say, I wanted salacious details regarding the sentenced man’s life. Yet the clean response that Jake offered as an honest and direct answer to my question shamed my prurient interest. I learned a great lesson about respecting another’s boundaries and I understood that being arrested didn’t mean that I was entitled to satisfy my thirst for lewd details about someone’s behavior. So when Jake was facing his own sentence and we were talking about some of the events of his life, I didn’t ask what he had done to get charged, I knew better; I asked about his regrets. Jake told me about the day he caught his wife in an uncompromising position and asked his children to verify what he had seen, and thus to testify against their mother.
I thought about Jake’s story when I came across the story of former football great and current NFL Network Analyst Deion Sanders tweeting pictures of his children allegedly filling out police reports against their mother. From Jake’s story, I learned that a man who maneuvers to put his children in a position to observe their mother in a bad light lives to regret it.
I’m not sure what “truth” Sanders hoped to capture on Twitter but what I saw was arrogance and self-righteousness that blinded him to the dirt on his own hands. When Jake looked over his own life, he was more dazzled by his own dirt than his then wife’s. Not that Jake thought of his wife as an innocent; he certainly did not. But as he recalled that scene, Jake was less impressed by her dirt and more transfixed by his own. And ultimately, that makes sense, we are responsible for our own souls and our own sins. Jakes wasn’t responsible for his ex-wife’s sins; only his. He also had responsibilities regarding his children. Jake believed that he dishonored them.
Thank goodness technology wasn’t available to Jake.
I think it says a lot about how we think of media, athletics, and celebrity that Sanders faces no repercussions for how he uses media though he earns money from it. Apparently the NFL Network doesn’t count on sports fans being turned off by patriarchal performances like Sanders’–even though he has made his family life an aspect of his public life by being on a reality show about his family called Deion & Pilar: Prime Time Love. I was actually turned off by his role on the NFL Network after catching a few episodes of that reality show. I found Sanders to be very disrespectful to his wife. I had admired Sanders’s tremendous athletic talent for both football and baseball; so much so that I ignored critics who claimed that he was self-absorbed. “Even so,” I thought, “he’s a heck of an athlete and I’d want him on my team.” Now I see what they mean. Winning at the cost of having him on my team would be too high a price for me to pay. Now that he isn’t playing, I don’t find him attractive enough to listen to as I am so repulsed by his arrogance.
When I watched Sanders on his reality show, he reminded me of the scene in The Cat in the Hat when the Cat is trying to do as many outrageous things as possible to get and keep the children’s attention, “Look at me! Look at me! Look at me NOW!” says the Cat. I saw Sanders as a man who behaved the way the Cat did in claiming attention for himself. The Cat had at least tried to keep the interest of both the boy and the girl, it wasn’t clear that Sanders was ever interested in keeping the attention of anyone who didn’t find aloof, patriarchal coldness attractive. Though I had at one time watched Sanders on the NFL Network, I tried not to after I saw his reality show because I didn’t think he respected me as someone in his audience. (I’m beginning to feel that way about the been there done that athletes who serve as commentators on sports networks in general. I have grown weary of their commentary on what it’s like in the locker room or on the sidelines. I get that I’m not welcome and I have decided that I wouldn’t want to be given what I have been presented with of Tiki Barber’s behavior and Deion Sanders’s.)
Jake’s story suggests that the borders of shame are porous, but Sanders’s consistent history of arrogance makes me wonder about shamelessness in our time. Jake’s regret stemmed from his feelings of powerlessness to make amends for what he had done, I can’t imagine how Deion Sanders would even go about considering the possibility that he would be powerless or feel indebted to anyone; especially if regret gets linked to a woman. I don’t mean a shallow notion of regret that would suggest that he wished that he hadn’t married her. Instead, I mean regret that is felt as a deep sorrow for pain that you caused that seems to grow as you come more to understand it. Jake’s relationship with his children, from what I could see, became defined by this wound. From that moment onward, he wrestled with how he could ever rectify the harm he had done by encouraging his children to see their mother with contempt. Deion Sanders, from what I know of his public posture, has never appeared repentant about anything…but of course, I don’t know Deion Sanders. Maybe there is a man who exists beyond what he shows on camera and on Twitter. Maybe that man is as uncommon as his athleticism; I hope so.