One hundred years ago, the ability to throw something sixty yards would’ve been a mildly amusing talent to have in the brickyard, on lunch breaks. The guys could all gather round and bet on how far you could chuck this or that for a few minutes. But then the whistle would blow and you’d all have to get back to work. Real work.
Speedy legs would’ve come in handy if you were in the delivery business or had to get a message to the next farm over, three miles away. And a strong back would’ve guaranteed you pretty much nothing but a first string position on the hay bailing detail.
But there was no mechanism or institution in place that would allow you to earn millions of dollars for any of those “talents.” Keep in mind, this was true for anyone of ANY race.
I think about this all the time. Because my own little quirk – the ability to write and sing songs – would’ve basically relegated me to performing on the front porch, for family members and hired hands, after the work day. Or being a street performer, nodding and smiling to passing tippers, or working in some sort of Vaudeville show. I think about this a lot because …well …the people in my profession are almost back to doing JUST THAT.
See, it doesn’t take long for an ivory tower to implode and for someone with “luxury talents” to end up scraping by any way they can. People who throw and catch balls for living should think about that every once in a while.
These days, we are all fortunate enough to live in a “leisure society.” We don’t have to grow or kill our own food anymore. We don’t have to protect our homes with shotguns. We are pretty much safe from weather and wild animals. We live in climate controlled pods, where we can watch the entire world through electronic windows. We have free time and disposable income. So, we engage in as many leisure activities as we do vital ones. And we’ve made those activities big business.
This is unprecedented in human history. Remember that. These leisure activities have ushered into existence the super star artist, entertainer and athlete. We’ve decided we’re okay with these people becoming a type of royalty. But there’s an unspoken contract between super stars and the general public.
The public agrees to cheer you on and never complain about your absolute privilege. They will forgive you for stupidity, crass behavior, infidelity, addiction or professional missteps. But you have to live up to YOUR end of the bargain …
See, the elephant in the room is that YOU were born with perfect facial symmetry or uncanny talent or physical superiority or amazing hand-eye coordination or something special that THEY do not posses and never will. THEY have had to come to grips with being average and somewhere in the middle. And while YOU are experiencing unqualified and unprecedented pampering, THEY are slugging it out in cubicles and behind check-out stands and in uber cars and on job sites and in barracks.
And as long as you don’t break the trust (the contract) between YOU and THEM, they will gladly surrender good portions of their income to YOU in exchange for getting to watch, listen to or experience something they will never achieve. They will dream through you and win through you soar through you and sing through you and dance through you and live miracles through you.
All YOU have to do is be great at your thing, acknowledge that you understand how fortunate you are to have such a rare opportunity, acknowledge the system and experiment (meaning, the COUNTRY) that allows you to participate in this activity is special and last (but certainly not least) you have to fully implement the “illusion clause.”
The “Illusion Clause” (in the unspoken contract), stipulates that you at least pretend that you like the people allowing you this opportunity. You smile at them, give back to their communities and basically make them believe that if circumstances were different, you would probably hang out with them and be their friend.
I’m always a fan of super stars who can implement this clause effortlessly. It’s why I was such a Peyton Manning fan. I know, in real life, we’re not ever gonna hang out. But I always thought we could be bros if he just met me. As a performer, I live on the other side of this contract as well and I know this is not always true. No, seriously …you’re NOT gonna be BFFs with Justin Timberlake. He will call security on you without missing a beat. But when you see him perform, he’s living up to his part of the unspoken contract and at least making you THINK you guys are besties.
The NFL has probably lost me as a fan forever. The unspoken contract between us has been broken. See, I support the country and the troops and I stand for the flag and the pledge and the anthem. And I have very deep reasons why I do those things. But I now know that a lot of those players out there don’t really like or respect me. They don’t care anything about me. And that’s all totally fine. But it seems they still want my support and attention. The NFL has asked for the same thing. But that’s where the unspoken contract gets interesting …
Look, I’m not naive enough to think that every person on a field or a stage or a screen agrees with all my points of view on everything. But I want them to at least give me the illusion of respect for supporting their talent. If you come see me perform, you can believe I appreciate you and I honor you with my best effort. I don’t take it lightly. I understand how many choices you have, how hard you work for your money (that you’re giving to me) and how lucky I am to be there.
In short …I respect the unspoken contract.
People are tired. They’re just tired of constantly being told they’re racists when they have no idea what they’ve done wrong. They’re trying to keep the mortgage paid and get the kids through school and have enough money for Christmas presents and keep the cars out of the shop and lose that extra fifteen pounds and afford health insurance and maybe even take the family to a beach somewhere once a year. They love America, they love the flag, they support the troops and they are racking their brains to figure out what they can do to remedy the problem these rich, physical specimens seem to have with the country. If someone would just tell them what to do, most of them would gladly do it. But a blatant disrespect of something their grandpas and uncles and fathers and brothers fought and died for …is a breach of the unspoken contract.
I offer a friendly word to all the entertainers and athletes (AND sports institutions) who feel the need to continually berate their audience: One day all those “regular” people might discover that they are just fine without your specialized talent. And they might get tired of funding your movies and TV shows and concerts with their hard earned money or your stadiums with their inflated tax dollars. And you could find yourself throwing things around the brick yard …on lunch breaks.