Thursday, June 25, 2009

Joey Votto Is A Person First, And A Ballplayer Second

Sometimes as sports fans we lose sight of what is really important. Sometimes we forget that the athletes we idolize and/or villify are people too, with everyday problems.

And sometimes those problems can become too much to bear. That's what happened to Joey Votto.

His father passed away last August, and almost a year later, it finally hit him. And it hit him hard.

Unable to fully deal with the grief of losing his father, Votto tried to push the feelings away and just play baseball. But after nearly a year of that, the emotions became overwhelming, and after Votto got an upper respiratory infection and had to be hospitalized, the emotions finally broke him.

Votto addressed the Toronto media this week, in a courageous interview, telling reporters the details of his depression, of his anxiety attacks, of the loss of his desire to play baseball, and of the road to recovery upon which he still walks.

What was perhaps most remarkable was the way Votto began the press conference, asking that no members of the media attempt to contact his family or friends about his issues, lest they answer to him.

This wasn't a threat; it was a family man asking other family men and women to respect his wishes. And with good reason.

Because what Votto has had to go through on a daily basis has been exacerbated by the actions of so-called "fans" berating him during his illness, calling him soft, a pussy, or even gay.

These actions, while they are despicable and cowardly, are hardly unexpected, given the strangely intimate relationship fans now share with athletes, for better or for worse.

Gone are the days where an athlete's personal life is one of mystery and intrigue. With the surge in popularity of fantasy sports and the rise of social networking websites like Twitter and Facebook, every sordid detail of an athlete or celebrity's goings-on is well-documented and commented upon.

I myself am guilty of this to a degree. I have Votto on my fantasy team, and I recall being upset earlier in the season that he couldn't get over a goddamn ear infection, not remembering the things he had gone through, not long over half a year earlier. For that I am truly sorry.

What embarrasses me most is that I also went to school with Joey Votto. While I didn't know him well at all, I knew the kind of person he was: a quiet, reserved Italian kid that was deeply close to his family. I grew up with 20 Joey Vottos.

I could not begin to imagine his pain; no one should have to deal with the loss
of a parent at such a young age.

Stories like this are not often told about athletes, especially not now; we the media are more concerned with performance, or with off-the-field shenanigans, or with big-money contracts being earned or not earned.

But stories like this should be told, because they bring to light that athletes and celebrities are just people, no different from you or me, and that's what good journalism is all about: telling compelling stories about people.

So get well soon, Joey, and good luck. You're a heck of a ballplayer, but more importantly, you're a good man. Your father would be proud.


Anonymous said...

Good luck, Joey.

Miranda Adkins said...

Thank you for writing this. I get sick of reading negative things about Votto or any player, especially when it comes to their personal life. Votto is amazing!