Since the days when the Coliseum — not the one in downtown Phoenix but the one in Italy — was filled to the brim with the early ancestors of the modern sports fans, the Romans, athletes have been looked at as less human and more warrior. The kind of interchangeable pieces there for the entertainment purposes of the masses.
In today’s 24-hour news cycle where everyone is plugged in as if they’re part of the Matrix minus the large black cord — we’re in wireless times, just ask those Directv commercials– now more than ever the human element of the athlete has continued in the Roman tradition, as in its nonexistent. Even ailments that are inescapable to even the most physically fit, such as cramps, turn into fodder for fans and talking heads. No matter the situation we expect the men we watch play a kids’ game to be more than human because, subconsciously, we forget deep down they’re just like us.
Enter Cardinals defensive back Tyrann Mathieu.
His struggles with, as the police blotters refer to it, a leafy green substance, are as well-known to sports fans as the antics of the Kardashian’s are to bored housewives. They left him with no college team to play for, an uncertain future and a jail cell to call his own.
College football fans wrote him off rather than realizing he was an example of the frailty of the human condition.
The NFL draft offered a path to redemption. It came in the form of the Arizona Cardinals and his former LSU teammate Patrick Peterson in the third round. And the cycle began again.
In his rookie year his unbelievable play put him back on top of the sporting world’s pedestal. He became an impervious warrior in the eyes of the fans once again. Something more than the normal 20-something he had been just a year before while out of football.
That was until he forced the world to see his human side.
Appropriately, in this day and age, it came in the form of a Twitter bio update. Mathieu simply said “I’ve tried committing suicide. But I didn’t, look at me now.”
That simple quote, and the brilliantly conducted follow-up interview by FOXSportsArizona.com’s Craig Morgan, lifted the curtain to show just how human athletes are.
Mathieu should be applauded for his honesty. His willingness to let people into the darkest moment of his life revealed a true vulnerability. It was genuine and raw. A statement that wasn’t made with concern for personal brand or machismo.
It was a statement made as encouragement for his fellow-man who may find themselves in a similar situation. Making himself an example of how human will can triumph over the darkest thoughts.
Yes, professional athletes are entertainers. They’re physical specimens and multi-millionaires. They’re also human just like you and me. Tyrann Mathieu reminded us of that and the power that can come of it if we’re willing to recognize it.