Perception in Sports

Evidently, we live in a world where perception dominates over truth. The same thing can be said throughout the sporting world, where people perceive athletes either as role models, or dirty jerks on and off the field. Sometimes, what people perceive about others can be true, but other times, it’s nothing but a false rumor. Keeping your perception about others intact is one thing, but being judgmental of others and throwing stones whilst living in a glass house is another. In other words, it’s definitely okay to be wary of others, but being quick to assume the worst and jumping to conclusions takes you further from figuring out the truth about an individual or a group of people.

In the NFL, several football figures (players, coaches, etc.) receive their enshrinement into the Pro Football Hall of Fame via voting. Whenever people vote for whoever they think deserve that accomplishment, they usually make their choices by perceiving what they’ve done on the field, whether by player statistics, coaching tactics, or anything else related. However, people also perceive nominees by their character on and off the field. Former NFL wide receiver Terrell Owens hasn’t played football for five years, thus making him eligible for the Hall of Fame. It’s evident that he was a finalist given that he obtained 15,934 receiving yards and 153 touchdowns in his NFL career, placing him second overall in receiving yards and third in touchdown catches. Aside from his accomplishments on the field, he was also known for his flamboyant celebrations, antics, and acting like a bad teammate. Some of his actions not only got him fined, but made him lose respect from football fans and analysts. Surprisingly, Owens didn’t make it in the 2016 Hall of Fame class despite those stats. Voters must have taken his characteristics on the field into account, thus perceiving him as someone who didn’t deserve to be inducted. In reality, he really is a genuine person off the field despite some of his drama as a parent. More of that information can be found in Terrell Owens: A Football Life.

Unfortunately, people can also be focused more on perception than truth after the deaths of some athletes. They wonder if he/she hadn’t made past mistakes in life, they would have lived longer. Most of the time people perceive them as thugs despite the fact that some of them repented from their past woes and the public not having a clear picture of them. Take former Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor, for example. After his death in 2007 due to a gunshot wound, people in the media didn’t bother to wait for details. Analysts Michael Wilbon and Colin Cowherd instantly perceived that his troubled past was what led to his death, and they pointed out that they “weren’t even surprised” when they heard about his demise. Not only did they use his past mistakes (spitting in a player’s face, DUI, assault) against him, but they also ran their mouths at the wrong time, given that the family needed to mourn. Despite Taylor’s troubles, he really was a family man who pushed to utilize football to reunite his mother’s side of the family, which he succeeded with. Also, on the night he was shot, he put himself in harm’s way to protect his girlfriend and his 18-month old daughter. His character included strong family orientation, which was a big part of the real Sean Taylor.

Also, in other cases, people can perceive others as thugs even when there is basically no evidence to prove their points. In 2006, three lacrosse players from Duke University were falsely accused of sexual assault after a party the team hosted. After dancer Crystal Mangum reported a rape case against the players, people already started treating the lacrosse team like “Public Enemy Number One” from the Duke campus to national media. When the 2006 lacrosse season commenced, the whole team was not only suspended for the first two games, but Duke President Richard Broadhead had the season cancelled and former athletic director Joe Alleva forced lacrosse coach Mike Pressler to resign. Soon afterwards, when every player had to hand over their DNA and have their photos taken, Magnum confirmed that Collin Finnerty, Dave Evans, and Reade Seligmann were the ones who “raped” her. The whole community of Durham, NC perceived them as rapists and no longer wanted them at Duke. However, Dave Evans (the third and last suspect) managed to have some people change their views on the situation by willing to speak to the community. He firmly said that he fully cooperated with the police when they had a search warrant and that every member on the lacrosse team was innocent including himself, the coaching staff, Finnerty, and Seligmann. Afterwards, he concluded his heartfelt speech by saying, “You have all been told some fantastic lies.” Some people throughout the nation changed their views and decided to wait for the facts to come out and it turned out that former North Carolina attorney Mike Nifong misconducted the case and the players were found innocent. Even Nifong’s former campaign manager knew the whole case was a lie after Evans’s speech. The truth may have come out, but it’s no doubt that perception dominated over the complete truth from when the false accusations first came out. A recent ESPN 30 for 30 documentary called Fantastic Lies further explains the situation.

All in all, it’s sad to say that the world we’re living in has perception being greater than the real truth. This is one of the main reasons why there’s a general distaste in athletes and some other people for the media, since a lot of media members today don’t wait for details to emerge and just want to get a story out. There are countless others who have been perceived as thugs, jerks, and a negative influence on other people. Athletes like Terrell Owens, Sean Taylor (1983-2007), Collin Finnerty, Dave Evans, and Reade Seligmann were perceived as the complete opposites of their real selves. Perception about others may sometimes be true, but it’s also important to avoid judging others before learning what the facts are, even in the world of sports.

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