A (Re)Lapse in Judgement

The beauty of sports can be found in the raw emotion of the game.

Emotion is found in your team’s success and failures.  As a fan, you grow an emotional attachment not only to the team itself, but also to individual players, coaches, and owners. 

A full range of emotions can be felt from game to game or from season to season, depending on the success of your team and the players that you have chosen to follow.  The ebbs and flows of this emotional roller coaster are a substantial part of what brings us back to the game; with eternal hope for the greatest joys that can be provided through triumph, giving us a chance to vicariously experience the greatest accomplishments.

Some players provide fans with a larger range of emotion than others.

Josh Hamilton has always been one of those players. 

As the news broke on Wednesday that Josh Hamilton had suffered a relapse, my mind raced as I sat at my computer to look for more information.  I was hoping it was just alcohol.  I was hoping that maybe he was just having an issue with the pain pills provided after his shoulder surgery. 

As CBS Sports broke the news that Hamilton had turned himself in for cocaine use, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach or betrayed by an old friend. 

I began to think only about baseball and rationalize the situation in cut and dry terms as a Rangers fan.

“Well, at least he isn’t our problem anymore.”

“This never would have happened if he stayed in Texas.”

“Should have seen this coming with his wife going into reality TV.”

“I hope MLB does not suspend him so the Angels are still stuck with that awful contract.”

I sat at my computer, rationalizing the issue, looking past what was really going on and quickly throwing Josh Hamilton under the bus as an idiot who should appreciate what he has been blessed with.  I mean, who in their right mind would not want to play baseball for a living, much less for a $125 million contract?

Then, as this wave of selfishness dissipated, I thought of Josh Hamilton the human being.  I stopped thinking about my allegiance to the Rangers and started thinking about what a horrible thing addiction is and how many people have fallen to its clutches in one way or another. 

My shock and disappointment rapidly turned to sadness.

Something about Hamilton provided a strange attachment to so many people.  People loved his story of recovery.  Fans went nuts over how long he hung around and signed autographs.  Non-baseball fans loved his constant vocalization of his religious beliefs.  Baseball purists loved the sound of the ball coming off of his bat or watching the length of his sweet swing. 

Josh Hamilton was a story of success, the exception to the rule, a real life version of a Disney sports movie; overcoming so much to find prosperity.

We bought in. 

A unique combination of events lead to fans forgetting the reality of everything Hamilton had been through.  With Josh, we became used to the weird; the Red Bull addiction, the issues with blue eyes, giving up tobacco, and the death of Shannon Stone.  The constant barrage of stories from every day Josh distracted greatly from the past of Josh. 

Glowing memories of Hamilton’s MVP season and of his homerun derby performance in New York had so much more power than the whispers of his mistakes.  Hamilton’s biography, Beyond Belief, offered a version of his story that left the reader believing that he had been cured of everything that had previously ailed him. 

Therein lies the problem. 

No one is ever truly cured of addiction.  No one.                   

Sure, people can beat addiction.  Addicts can improve themselves, avoid the situations where they will be tempted, or change their life to move on from their vices.  But the temptation is never completely gone and no one is actually cured. 

The treatment of those with addiction or mental health issues in this country is far different than in so many others.  We treat these as if they are a taboo; we ignore them, we laugh at them, we place blame.  So often when these issues fall on an athlete or celebrity, we are so quick to judge them and find ourselves unable to understand how someone of such privilege cannot keep their life together.  We tend to only look at the positives of their life, unable to, or even unwilling to, step back and look at the possible negative aspects as well. 

Do you honestly think that a line of cocaine is more important to Josh Hamilton than baseball, his family, or the $90 million he has left on his contract?  Do you think that Johnny Manziel would willingly pick a bottle of liquor over a second Heisman?  Do you think Phillip Seymour Hoffman preferred heroin to an Oscar?


Of course not. 

Yet these things are a running joke to us. 

According to drugabuse.gov, a recovering alcoholic gives up alcohol without relapse 1 in 36 times.  One in thirty-six!  A cocaine addict is successful without relapse 6.8% of the time.  These numbers are astonishing. 

You know what else these numbers are?  Completely and totally blind to your career, your financial status, and your celebrity. 

Josh Hamilton is an addict, he will openly admit it.  The Rangers knew it.  The Angels knew it.  We know it as fans.  The odds are stacked against him. 

As Hamilton took me through my range of sports emotions today, I came full-circle by finding the tiniest beacon of hope. 

Josh Hamilton did not fail a drug test, he called the MLB compliance office and turned himself in.  It sounds cliché, but the first step is admitting.  If you join an addiction group, one of the biggest things they teach you is to admit when you slip up, to own your mistakes.  Apparently, Josh Hamilton did just that. 

At this point, as a baseball fan, I think the Josh Hamilton that gave us so much joy in Arlington is gone.  The joy of seeing someone who could debatably be the best player on the planet no longer exists.  It’s time to give up on that hope. 

Instead, let’s wish that Josh Hamilton, the human being, beats this.  Let’s desire that a person who once provided us elation and optimism finds those very things within his own life, without the help of substances.  If Josh Hamilton never sees another pitch, but leads a happy, clean life, it is just fine with me, and by no means am I saying that as a scorned fan.

Get better, Josh.  Do whatever it takes.