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The once-happy couple

Mario saga raises hard questions



OK, here's the deal. Sign on the line, or don't.

** Instead of going to a job that pays far less money and requires real work, play a game. We need you to practice for a couple hours a day. Just like real jobs we need you to show up on time but unlike those jobs you'll get several months off. (Well unlike most of those jobs, right, teachers?)

** You'll be able to afford bigger houses than you can possibly use. Cars, alternate residences, you name it. Travel is on us -- and it's first-class all-around, from the charter flights to the best hotels on the continent. We'll pay for all of it. Also, in case that's not enough, we'll throw you meal money that you can pocket or gamble with because we'll feed you all day every day. We even have our own chef!

** You shouldn't have to worry about spending too much of that money on important stuff. Once they get to know you in your new town, a lot of people will do things for you at no cost. Home improvements, restaurant/bar tabs, financial planning ... a lot of this stuff will be free for you. Nice, huh?

** And you'll be famous! Those guys on ESPN you grew up watching? They'll be talking about you! You still play video games? Guess what, you can be yourself in the game without having to create the character! This is great too because a lot of guys spend countless hours on video games so that they don't have to interact too much with the rabble that are always annoyingly saying hello and, you know, "I'm a big fan".

Sure, sometimes this means people will criticize you, and sometimes also it might mean that people will know certain personal details about you that you might prefer they not know. But for all those perks, you can handle that.

Right?

Here's irony for you: An athlete spends $785,000 on an engagement ring -- an ungodly sum -- yet ends up in a salacious court fight over it that gets splayed out publicly. This wouldn't be so except for the amount of the ring. Had the ring cost, say, 1 percent as much, there'd be no public discussion of it, and very possibly there'd be no fight over it in the first place.

Want some more? It seems possible these days that a well-intentioned Mario Williams might envy guys like us. He might be wishing he had a regular job, one that paid exponentially less, just because no one would be talking about him. At times like this, he might wish he could take it all back.

I say might.

Just where these details on Williams' personal life should be considered and where they should be ignored is entirely up to the beholder. There is no clear line on this. Athletes go through breakups just like we do, and some of these things are ugly, and we almost never hear about them. I, for one, don't need that to change.

But...

If our interest is the teams these guys play for, as it is, and their play happens to suffer because of, to some degree, what's going on in their lives away from sports, isn't it useful if not intrusive for fans to know what's up? And further, if there's a record of a player taking drugs to cope that don't seem to fit with the usual sports prescription, don't we have some right to that information too?

They either can have us care -- and subsidize their dream lives -- or not. But it's bad with the good.

I'm not saying we need to look for excuses to give these guys. We all have stress at home, and the challenge of focusing on work and doing our jobs well is one that almost of us can relate to. A football player is no different than a laborer when it comes to that.

Here's the thing though: Athletes don't ask for special treatment when it comes to this stuff. The vast majority of the time they keep it private. There have to be hundreds of cases where some distraction we never knew of explains why a player didn't come with his best in a particular game, or moment. In many of those cases the athlete's legacy takes a hit in the name of privacy. I can respect that.

And 'round and 'round we go.

Add it all up and it's still murky to calculate what right the fans have to know details of the players' personal lives. In the end I think the fans can claim some. Athletes' astronomical salaries, a major propellor in steady ticket hikes not to mention publicly funded stadiums, are some defense for this position. No, we don't need to know which players on the team fought with their spouses the morning of the game. And we're not asking for that.

So what do you say? Is it a deal?

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