Athletes have always been concerned about more than the game, but today’s age of the celebrity-athlete has taken this trend to a new level.

Kids growing up in the ’60s and ’70s idolized stars like Joe Namath and Johnny Unitas. But that idolization occurred because of those athletes’ actions on the field, for their championships and memorable plays.

Today, the case is different. Athletes gain attention for their off-field antics just as much, and sometimes more, than they do for their on-field achievements.

It seems that the quest of some of these players for attention simply can’t be tamed. Case in point: Chad Ochocinco.

Ochocinco has quite a reputation in the sports community. Many fans see him as an outlier, as an attention-starved egomaniac. But I don’t see it that way. Rather, I think Ochocinco is an accurate representation of today’s brand of athlete.

Although impressive on the field, having been selected to the Pro Bowl six times, Ochocinco is more well-known for what he does off the field. He is heavily involved in television and has created two of his own shows (and starred in another). He’s also taken to Twitter, where he is followed by over 1.8 million people. His name alone is evidence enough of his self-made celebrity.

Recently, Ochocinco began a try-out with Sporting Kansas City of Major League Soccer, perhaps the most outlandish publicity move he’s ever made. Although he claims that soccer has always been his favorite sport, this move has more to do with his hunger for the spotlight and an NFL lockout than his love for the world’s game.

But Ochocinco isn’t the only manic attention-seeker out there. The list goes on of athletes who want to take on the role of the celebrity-athlete. LeBron James has his laundry list of endorsements, commercials and an ill-advised television special. Dhani Jones has his own TV show, as does Terrell Owens.

As for the fans, they’re mixed in their reactions to the Ochocincos and Owens of the world. On one hand, it makes sports more entertaining to follow these athletes 24/7. But others have berated the celebrity trend among athletes and see it as a violation of what was once a more humble, even noble, profession.

Personally, I identify with the former camp. Off-the-field antics are something else to talk about, something to add to the conversation. And, on top of that, we still get the sport.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the commercialization of baseball. In that same vein, and for the same reason — the almighty dollar — athletes are broadening their horizons and expanding their roles in popular culture to more than just the guys who play for your favorite team. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

 

Steven Keithley is a freshman in the School of Foreign Service. After The Whistle appears in every other Friday edition of Hoya Sports.

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