Earlier this month, former Chicago Blackhawks player Brent Sopel tweeted the following in response to the Chicago teachers’ strike:
CPS teachers strike during this economy. Be happy you have a job in a profession YOU chose.
Sopel’s replies to people who weren’t too pleased with his tweet have since disappeared, but as I recall he was ranting about how much money he gives to charity and how that makes him “special,” and how he was only able to become a millionaire pro-athlete because he worked hard and most people just aren’t willing to work that hard: in other words, a typical rich dude “I got where I am through my own hard work and you would be like me if you weren’t so darn lazy” rant.
Here’s the thing. No, Brent Sopel, hard work was not the only thing that allowed you to become a professional athlete. Chances are, you have some innate talent. Also, I bet there were people who helped you out along the way: to borrow Barack Obama’s much-maligned words, “you didn’t build that.” You obviously were given the opportunity to play hockey: is this because your parents were able to pay for your equipment and lessons? Did they own a car and drive you to practice? Was there a coach who helped you out? You must have lived in a neighbourhood with access to a skating rink. Not everyone does. Finally, how about the fact that you happened to be born with a Y chromosome? The fact is, I could have worked my ass off and practiced hockey for 10 hours a day since I was three years old and even if I turned out to be the female Sidney Crosby, my chances of playing in the NHL are slim to none simply because I am female. Ever think about that, Brent? How half the population is automatically excluded from the opportunity you supposedly got only via your own hard work? No, I didn’t think so. Sopel’s complete lack of awareness of his own privilege was a bit disgusting.
(I’m not trying to whine about the fact that women aren’t allowed in the NHL — whatever. I’m just pointing out a fact.)
Fast forward to today. This morning I watched The Daily Show with breakfast, as I always do. The first segment, about new guidelines for school lunches, made me despair at the stupidity of the world (this often happens when I watch TDS), but then the interview segment unexpectedly cheered me up. The guest: Amar’e Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, there to promote the two books he’s written for children.
In Stoudemire, I saw a sort of anti-Sopel. He and Jon Stewart, a basketball fan who is as short as I am female, discussed the quirk of genetics (he’s 6’11”) that has helped him to become a pro-basketball player. No doubt Stoudemire also worked hard to get where he is, but he is at least aware that his height played a role in his success and that not everyone shares this advantage. This, he says, is why he wants to help children to educate themselves. He stated flat out that most people, no matter how hard they work, will not make the NBA; therefore, let’s encourage kids to put that hard work into reading and education, which can benefit everyone. Obviously, as a librarian, I appreciate anyone who promotes books. But I also felt Stoudemire’s message of practical hard work and realistic aspiration was refreshing. Certainly, it was nice to hear a successful and wealthy person happily acknowledging the role luck/circumstance/genetics played in his success.