Champagne and CharityThere has not been much real NBA news since Team USA won the FIBA Americas tournament. Greg Oden's upcoming knee surgery is potentially bad news, of course, but it could also end up being a non-story, so while Portland fans swear that they see the ghost of Sam Bowie I'll reserve comment until Oden's doctor issues a post-surgery diagnosis. I have no interest in who is getting divorced or who was supposedly getting divorced but may not be getting divorced after all, nor am I intrigued by various arrests for low level offenses. One story that does not interest me at all attracted my attention simply because of how much play it got in the national media; the coverage--and the motives behind the coverage--is more worthy of analysis than the story itself.
In case you missed it--and I don't know how you could--during a night on the town, Kobe Bryant supposedly spent $21,000 on champagne. Like I said, I don't find that particularly interesting, nor do I know if it is even true. Somehow, this non-story managed to grab the attention of national media outlets and it apparently outraged some people who decried the wastefulness/vanity of this act and wondered why Bryant did not donate this money to charity. If Bryant did in fact spend $21,000 on champagne, one could certainly make a good case that this was a wasteful and vain act but that is not really the point. Earlier this year, Gilbert Arenas held a birthday party for himself, sending out invitations that--according to the Washington Post--cost him $40,000 to make and another $20,000 to send out via Fed Ex. As Clinton Portis might say, it's Arenas' money and it's Arenas' party, so who cares? That seemed to be the approach that most of the media took regarding Arenas' party: this is just Gilbert being Gilbert. So why is what Bryant allegedly did apparently so newsworthy and offensive?
There are two things that need to be considered here. First, according to HoopsHype.com, Bryant will make $19,490,625 this season just in salary from the Lakers and not including his endorsements. Let's say that the average NBA ticket buyer makes $50,000 per year. What Bryant allegedly spent on champagne is the equivalent of that ticket buyer spending $53.87. If you spend a night on the town or go out to eat after a day at the office would it seem right if someone questioned your character because you spent $53.87? Second, Bryant and many other NBA players are very generous in contributing their time and money to worthy charitable endeavors. Some people mock the NBA Cares advertisements but there is a reason that the league bought air time to present this information: the mainstream media does not give anywhere close to adequate coverage of all of the good work that the league and its players do. For those of you who did not click on the above link, it is a piece by Kevin Ding that lists some of the charitable activities of Bryant, Chauncey Billups, Luol Deng and Steve Nash, the four nominees for the 2007 J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, which is presented by the Pro Basketball Writers Association (Nash won the honor this year). All of these players' charitable resumes are impressive and they are not alone: Dikembe Mutombo has spent millions of his own dollars to build a much needed hospital in his native Congo and David Robinson has spent millions of his own dollars to build the Carver Academy, to cite just two more examples. Here is what Ding noted about Bryant:
Bryant launched his charitable foundation (The Vivo Foundation) for young people, offering educational and cultural enrichment such as travel to Italy for Hispanic College Fund students and Phase3 (black youth leaders) students. Hosted a Christmas celebration at Disney World for the Boys & Girls Clubs of South Florida. Has granted nearly 125 wishes to children with life-threatening medical conditions, most through the Make-a-Wish Foundation, including follow-up calls, out-of-state travel and personal parties. Financed improvements and partnered with the Boys & Girls Clubs of Los Angeles and St. Jude's Children's Hospital. Previously donated $100,000 for Hurricane Katrina relief and raised money for South Asia tsunami relief. Active in the Lakers' Read to Achieve and Season of Giving activities.
Here are three relevant questions:
1) Why is flamboyant spending "tolerated" by some celebrities and not others?
2) How much money, as a percentage of one's income, do critics of celebrities' spending habits spend on alcohol and/or other forms of entertainment?
3) How much money, as a percentage of one's income, do those same critics spend on charitable endeavors?
In case I have not made this perfectly clear, I could not care less about Arenas' party or Bryant's champagne and this post is not really about either player; it is about how the media determines what is newsworthy and attempts to shape the public's views of these stories. Bryant's critics are hypocritical in this instance if they don't apply the same standard across the board from A to Z--from Gilbert Arenas to themselves. Many of the top national sportswriters and broadcasters make millions of dollars per year. How much do they spend on champagne? How much do they contribute to charity? If they are going to venture away from discussing what athletes do professionally to applying a microscope to their personal lives then perhaps these "watchdogs" can enlighten the rest of us about their own actions, too.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:28 AM