We Poked Fun at Lamar Odom. Now What?

It is all fun and games. It’s always hilarious to poke, jab, and prod the famous person from a distance. Why not, right? They have money, date beautiful people, and for much of the general public, “their personal issues aren’t real.” Their issues aren’t our problems, we think.

Lamar Odom was reportedly found unconscious at the Love Ranch in Nevada on Tuesday.

When this very good basketball player dated his way into fame and celebrity outside of sports, it was — for many — a green light: It became acceptable to make fun of Odom’s very real, known, and dangerous demons. Now, however, I imagine the jokes are stopping, and the “prayers, thoughts,” and mostly hindsight-given well-wishes are being sent his way.

It all feels dirty to me. Am I alone in saying or thinking this? I don’t think so.

I feel as disgusting and sick in the stomach from it as any of you do who made fun of Odom while he publicly fell from talented basketball player to the worst kind of spectacle.

This isn’t meant as some think-piece, or soap-box rant, or “people are all horrible” spiel. It isn’t even a call to action to become better at how we judge, treat, and joke about athletes’ personal issues. It is merely a question:

What in the f**k are we doing?

We are all — myself included — are guilty of it.

Because (Instead of singling out individual tweeters, here is an entire site dedicated to making fun of Odom) social media gives us a platform for instantly sharing our thoughts, without any true fear of the consequences of our words, we can watch a man spiral downwards and giggle at his expense. It is, honestly, rather sickening.

These are things we wouldn’t do to a person we love. Hell, we wouldn’t make comments in jest about the things Lamar Odom publicly went through even if it involved a person we hated. We wouldn’t.

I would like to say we wouldn’t because most of us know better, but that is clearly not the case — so I can only assume it is because our reputation would take a hit. After all, it isn’t a great look to kick someone when he’s down.

Yet, here we are now, not that far removed from making fun of Lamar Odom for all sorts of things, despite the clear and foreseeable writing on the wall that his story was eventually going to take a sad turn. Whether or not the issue is due to his demons, or even if the health problems which resulted in him becoming unconscious aren’t that serious, do not actually matter.

Much of the public shouldn’t have had to wait until something like this to be humane to another human.

The collective public’s biggest problem, sometimes with exception, is its inability to have empathy for someone who has it better than the masses. We don’t necessarily care that Lamar Odom, or other people in similar places of visibility and glamour, had to work to obtain all the good things in his life; we only care that they aren’t caring about the things we say we’d care about if put in a similar situation.

That’s not even discussing the fact that not a single one of us can relate — at least fully — to another person’s life. We might say it would be easy to follow a given course of action if we had Odom’s athletic gifts, but we will never know — none of us are Lamar Odom. Only he is.

We cannot ever know what we’d do if given a life of celebrity and immense wealth at a relatively young age. We can think about the topic in our dreams, but we can’t know. It’s too different a world, too different an experience. Would any of us be ensnared by a similar sort of pitfall as the ex-superstar? It’s a guess at best. It is always easy to talk a big game when it isn’t actually our life.

Then there’s Odom’s entire origin story, which no one can relate to. Maybe to a certain degree, although I doubt the path Odom took was made inevitable by his backstory, but it probably played at least a small part. Everything and anything plays a part — not only in the bad stuff, but the great stuff as well… though there is nothing great about being mocked by many in public while everything you do seems like a literal scream for some sort of help.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t have innocent fun with sports and athletes, and it is easy in hindsight to call all of us heartless for poking fun at Odom, but there has to be a better way. Truth be told, given the fact that this Odom story seemed predetermined to end tragically, shame on us for not having a little more of a filter before deciding to cock back our 140-characters of attempted hilarity tweets.

We don’t have to name names. Not all athletes who have troubles in their lives end up as distant, mysterious, and withdrawn as Lamar Odom had become over the years. For every Lamar Odom, there are countless others who find a way to find themselves. Still, making fun of those others who struggled, even though they made it, doesn’t seem all that right to me.

But many in the public will continue. They will continue to change the rules for players and coaches as they go. If the masses like a player, that player will be allowed to enter rehab whenever deemed fit. If not — for the various, and usually ignorant, reasons one can readily supply — the masses will call a player a quitter instead.

Many will continue harassing the free-laborers going from high school to college for not transferring schools. Sure, some will shame the grown folk who do so, yet the people who celebrate those kids committing to their favorite schools are equally as bad, as they are enabling a system which gives a teenager fame well before most kids will ever be mentally equipped to handle it.

These guys are on our TVs, though, right? Therefore, they aren’t real. They aren’t real to you, me, or that guy complaining about his fantasy team being all messed up because some running back — god forbid — has to literally pull shards of his own bone from his knee.

So let’s giggle, everyone: Keep having fun at the expense of these guys on our picture-boxes. Just remember: if tragedy strikes, prevalent public attitudes only helped exasperate the problem.

Trust me: Seeing or hearing people make fun of you, whatever the reason, doesn’t help the person with the issue get past the demon that is standing in the way of health and wholeness.

This thought should give all of us pause, as we hope that Lamar Odom will be able to heal and become whole again.

About Joseph Nardone

Joseph has covered college basketball both (barely) professionally and otherwise for over five years. A Column of Enchantment for Rush The Court on Thursdays and other basketball stuff for The Student Section on other days.

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