Ben Zobrist’s lawsuit proves that sticking to sports activities is tough to do

I’ve always been puzzled by the dictates some readers impose on sports journalists. Shall we just write about the games? Nothing else? Or may we address more? Interesting hobbies or occupations of the athletes? Problems out of the field? Private life? Your opinion on topics that have little to do with your sport? What is okay and what is forbidden?

You can understand why a poor scribe might feel helpless.

Questions reached a boiling point a few years ago when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, hoping to draw attention to social injustice, went down on his knees in protest during the national anthem. This has stirred up a large segment of fandom that thought politics and other important issues were as far removed from stadiums and ballpark as possible. Some of these people raved about Tim Tebow’s belief in God when he prayed on the field before the games. Religion is apparently just as much about football as it is forward pass. I have it.

I mention this because ex-cub Ben Zobrist is on the news for something that has very little to do with the game he played, baseball, and very much to do with a game that a lot of people are interested in seem alleged adultery. A story about a sensational lawsuit he filed has been one of the most-read articles on the Sun-Times website for days. I can’t help but think that more than a few in the athletic crowd were busily turning over the juicy details of Zobrist’s suit.

If you are one of those people who just wants to read about what happened during a particular ball game, I would suggest that you skip the paragraph below. However, when I know anything about human nature, read each word:

In the lawsuit submitted to the Peoria Journal Star, Zobrist alleges that his wife, a Christian singer, was having an affair with her minister. Zobrist is demanding $ 6 million in damages from his former pastor who defrauded his charity. Minister Byron Yawn had advised Zobrist and his wife Julianna over the years. According to the lawsuit, Yawn and Julianna Zobrist started an affair in the spring of 2019. They used prepaid cell phones to communicate with each other, claims Zobrist.

Zobrist took a Cubs leave of absence in May 2019 to resolve his marital problems and missed four months of the season. If you want to argue that the hugely popular lawsuit story is actually about sports because Zobrist’s absence affected his team, that’s fine. But he took that vacation two years ago. I suspect that because of the possibility of objectionable details, you were drawn to the latest Zobrist news – just like everyone else.

The same week that Zobrist’s lawsuit became known, Raiders defensive lineman Carl Nassib became the first active NFL player to come out gay. That news brought me back to those who believe that sports coverage should be all about competition in the field. It’s hard to believe that someone is looking at the dynamics of professional sport and finds Nassib’s announcement not worth discussing. A gay athlete in a machismo-fueled locker room – will there be problems? Or have we finally turned enough rough edges in society that our teammates don’t blink their eyes?

Stay with sport? How?

It goes on and on. Think of all the issues that come up that cannot be captured by the white lines of a box. Athletes who conflict with the law. College athletes who want to get paid for their name, image, and likeness. Professional athletes who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Here’s the thing: life is chaotic, and sport, which is something of a mirror image of life, is also chaotic. To think that exercise can be cooped up and told to stay like an obedient pet is ridiculous.

You say you will stick to the purity of youth sport for entertainment? Avoid the bigger, uglier topics? This works well until a parent beats an opposing coach or, God forbid, an opposing player. This happens often enough that someone with a functioning brain asks, “What else do normal adults do?” Suddenly, instead of sticking to exercise, a reporter asks sociologists and other experts about the deeper meaning behind it all.

Top athletes are people with very human problems, like all of us. They have opinions like the rest of us. The sports-loving tribe won’t read any of this unless the details are hot. Then they are all ears – and eyes.

Comments are closed.