Michael Beasley’s Illness and Judgment

30 08 2009

Heat forward Michael Beasley’s recent admittance into a substance-abuse program allows us to examine our judgments against those with illnesses and how that intersects with sports coverage.

When Beasley checked into the Houston-based rehab program, the public reaction was uniformly negative. The internet comments on the story ranged from aggressive lamentations on how “the NBA is all a waste of talent,” to dismissive statements like “Beasley is just another Eddie Griffin,” to the eloquent “what an idiot” and more of the same.

The lack of empathy didn’t surprise me; after my time on these internets, I have come to expect routine bile from internet commentors.

However, I did have a surprising epiphany when I thought about Beasley: people don’t care about someone who has committed a transgression. Even if the “transgression” is substance abuse and doesn’t affect society as a whole.

I suppose NBA ticket holders can be upset that there’s a possibility that he could miss some games. These ticket holders wouldn’t be able to see Beasley play basketball. But how utilitarian is that of them? A person has a drug-abuse problem and they’re upset because they dropped $50 and now, there’s a possibility that they’ll only be able to watch Dwyane Wade.

Although no one knows the details surrounding Beasley’s situation, everyone is up in arms about it. From what I know, if Michael Beasley the Basketball Player is abusing drugs, how does that affect me? Besides a peripheral transgression of a law on substance abuse — depending on the substance — what is it about Michael Beasley that makes people sick to their stomach?

Aside from a Dwyane Wade tweet, I haven’t heard any words of support for Beasley’s struggle nor have I heard any acknowledgement of the maturity it takes to check oneself into rehab.

Michael Beasley the Person is barely 20 years old. By all accounts, the substance-abuse program had been scheduled for weeks.  Multiple sources say that Beasley has been in Houston working out for the past two weeks, attending counseling sessions and undergoing clinical treatment to address stress and substance-abuse issues.

I know that most drugs are taboo in our society so when someone tries to address a drug-related problem, it’s met with cynicism and disgust. But I think we need to recognize that rehab programs shouldn’t be denigrated in the fall-out of our government’s “war on drugs.” I’m not a recreational drug user but I recognize that the stigma associated with government-approved vices (tobacco, alcohol, etc.) are very different from the stigma associated with non-approved vices.

The supposed deviancy of non-approved vices gives the public free reign to pass judgment when it really shouldn’t. Michael Beasley’s situation is a sad, private matter. Would it be different if he was on a nicotine patch or attended AA seminars?

Regardless, Beasley is a young person with a personal problem and shouldn’t be subjected to all of this maliciousness. With 24/7 sports news coverage, it’s important for us to take a hard look at ourselves, how we respond to athletes’ situations and what it is we derive from professionals sports in general.


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