Honesty on the Internet:
Debunking the ‘Highlight Reel Effect’
Taylor Falotico

Your favorite athlete just had one of the greatest games of their career. They’re feeling glorious, soaking in their individual victory with their teammates. It’s a great day to play the game, and play it well. That is, until they sit down for their post-game interview. Unfortunately, career highlights can’t override reporters’ pending questions about what they did last weekend, last year, or as far back as their time in high school.

Professional athletes are public figures, known for their obvious talent and consistent hard work. They are idolized by younger athletes, who do everything in their power to mimic their movements, practice the same drills, and play for the same teams professional athletes once competed on. High school athletes often commit to colleges that have produced the most professional players to network their way into a career, too. We see this in the AAU level too, where athletes play under certain travel teams that NBA players, for example, were once part of.

If athletes gain attention for their physical prowess, should they be responsible for every other aspect of their life being idolized? Can we force a mentorship upon professional athletes, people who simply dedicated themselves to a game? Surely, it’s fair to hold people accountable for their decisions – especially when they are representing an organization that is bigger than themselves – but to what extent?

Today’s athletes are tasked with playing a sport professionally and being as close to a perfect person as possible. When your entire life is now publicized – where you shop, how you travel, who you associate with, and what you say – there will always be people with criticisms regarding your choices. If the cameras are on you for long enough, it seems borderline inevitable to not slip up in some fashion.

It seems as though we’ve forgotten athletes are people too, whether they play professionally or recreationally. They can and likely will make mistakes, debatable decisions, and misspeak like the rest of us. We can make all the right decisions in our own eyes, and someone else will interpret our choices as incorrect, unmoral, or flat out wrong. Considering how perspective varies from person to person, no one can truly make all the right decisions if what’s deemed as right is subjective.

Currently playing for the Phoenix Suns, small forward Kevin Durant previously opened up about his marijuana usage this past year. Durant disclosed the frequency of marijuana usage in the NBA, commenting it’s “like wine at this point”. While not every player smokes (or may not admit to), it’s clear that enough players do for a debate to swarm if players should discuss their usage openly.

Does consuming marijuana deem Durant and fellow athletes as bad role models? Is it in the best interest to ask these athletes to pretend they don’t and deny their truths?

The bigger picture of this issue – professional athletes using marijuana – is only a subsection of a larger concern. As we know, social media is a highlight reel that’s unrepresentative and unrealistic. It creates echo chambers where the same lifestyles, values, and appearances are consistently underlined. If we promote just one ‘right’ way to live, then we’re fostering narrow-minded perspectives. We aren’t encouraging people to explore and consider various approaches to life.

Thus, how can we critique the Internet for being dishonest in promoting only conventionally ‘good’ things if we simultaneously attack people for being true in their platforms? Durant’s decision to consume marijuana shouldn’t tarnish his role model status. Rather, his honesty in a deceitful world makes him more of a role model by demonstrating integrity and accountability.

Even if all athletes denied everything controversial they do or don’t do, say or don’t say, it doesn’t mean they are or aren’t. We can’t ask professional athletes to be chronically perfect and then wonder why younger athletes are petrified to make mistakes. If we can’t publicly make mistakes anymore, then we fail to promote forgiveness and embrace being human. Since success is derived from error, we cannot ask accomplished people to shy away from their mistakes or controversial moves.

We are raising a generation on the belief that they are unable to bounce back from publicized criticisms. You should be able to play a professional sport with the grace of making your own decisions in your personal life. Granted, this doesn’t mean you have the right to act maliciously with the intent of harming others, but this is marijuana usage we are talking about. Is it really heinous and criminal? Does one controversial act overshadow one’s character?

Your decisions aren’t always something others have to approve of. Rather, they are something you should at least accept and admit to. People are highlighted as role models for different reasons, and deliberate dishonesty isn’t one of them.