One look at Terrence Jones’ Facebook profile and you’re bound to see messages of hope, inspiration, and sheer idiocy.
People want to know a guy like Jones because he’s about to be famous. He’s 18 years old, and yet the world wants a piece of his ass because he wears a jersey and can dunk a basketball. They want to say they know a guy like that. That they’re friends with him, even in a virtual sense. That he acknowledged them once.
It’s always been that way with athletes. It’s called “jersey chasing,” and so many people are guilty of it.
There used to be a saying that you don’t meet your heroes, because they’ll only let you down. It’s why I’ve never said a word to Ken Griffey Jr., to be honest. I’ve seen him in person, been mere feet from him, but haven’t spoken to him. I don’t want to be disappointed. And the bar I’ve set for that guy is so high that only Superman could scale it. Who knows if Griffey can fly like that.
These days, that saying has gone out the window. Thanks to social networking sites, fans can be closer to their heroes than ever before. So close, in fact, that heroes barely exist anymore. Celebrities are just like us, stripped down to a user name and 140-to-420 characters of typespace.
Despite the connection we now have with our favorite athletes and movie stars, it doesn’t change the fact that many laypeople are still drawn to the idea of hanging out with someone famous. In sports, it just so happens that men and women alike are drawn to the very fabric of what defines an athlete, hence the term “jersey chaser.” Just by putting on a uniform, in some cases, a previously-average human being can become a superstar to normal folk. That’s powerful stuff.
Case in point, a man who, for his own privacy, we shall rename Toby.
Toby is one of the most notorious jersey chasers I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. A Seattle-based sports fanatic, he treats Facebook like a social gathering of bigwigs of which he is the host. Of all his virtual friends, I’d wager that upwards of 75% are people he doesn’t really know, but people he can brag about to whomever will listen.
The majority of Toby’s Facebook activity has something to do with his famous acquaintances. He bombards their walls with comments, mentions them in his status updates, and makes new “friends” on a regular basis. He’s like a kid collecting baseball cards. Except in this case, the cards are Facebook profiles and the people are real. It’s actually kind of creepy. But it’s reality. And more importantly, it’s his life. So we probably shouldn’t judge too harshly.
Toby is like many local sports fans who have found Terrence Jones on Facebook in recent days and have acted as his online adviser, imploring him to “do the right thing” when making one of the biggest decisions of his life. Toby, like so many others, has Jones’ best interests at heart, and knows that no matter what choice Jones makes, it will be a good one.
Translation: I care about you, so you should pick my school.
It’s a complete shame watching something like this go down. Jersey chasing at its absolute worst.
Amidst the veritable chalkboard of Jones’ Facebook wall, we have fans from newfound rivals Washington and Kentucky duking it out to see who cares more about the kid.
To see who can degrade the others’ school more harshly.
To see who can better describe everything that’s great about their team.
To see who can empower this young man, currently wrestling with a decision that will ultimately define who he becomes, to a greater degree.
Never mind that this kid is still in high school.
Never mind that these are grown adults, with jobs and careers fighting over someone who could be their son.
Never mind that this is an embarrassment to both programs and all those individuals involved.
This isn’t about doing the right thing, or caring about a young man who we don’t even know. In the end, Jones will choose one school, leaving the other school’s fans behind. When he makes his choice, half the people who are on their knees for him at this moment will stand up and walk away, likely upset, likely disappointed, likely bitter. His Facebook wall, however trivial, will be filled with conflicting messages of celebration and hate. It’s not fair to put that on some kid, whether you give a damn about him or not. And it’s up to society to realize that.
Our infatuation with celebrities or even pseudo-celebrities has trickled down to this: exploiting adolescents for the right to claim them as our own. Like Toby, we now “collect” famous people. And as it turns out, there is no limit to the type of person worthy of our collection. Even if he’s barely 18 years old. Even if he’s still in high school.
Terrence Jones is a great basketball player, and as a University of Washington fan, I’d love to have him on my team.
But if he just so happens to renege on his verbal commitment and look instead to Kentucky or some other institution to provide him with an education both on and off the court, I’ll be okay. And you’ll be okay. And I guarantee you that the sun will rise in the morning.
At the end of the day, doing the right thing has nothing to do with some kid you’ve never met. It has nothing to do with these athletes and actors that you want to get to know. It has nothing to do with someone else’s personal choice, whether that be about college or something different entirely.
We all have differing opinions on how to do the right thing. It’s not my place, nor anyone else’s, to tell you exactly what that is.
All I know is that at this point in time, we are unfairly spreading that message to Mr. Jones, a high school student who has every opportunity to become the man that he wants to be.
And no matter how you look at it, that is just not right.