Kathleen Quinn Votaw
I was enjoying spring training in Phoenix with my family last month when we saw a man and a young boy approach one of the players and ask for his autograph. The ball player didn’t just refuse, he was exceptionally rude. Seeing the disappointment on that little boy’s face, I couldn’t restrain myself and blurted, “Just sign the damn ball!” The ball player turned to me and said: "Lady, do you know how many people come up to me every day?"
Honestly, I don’t care how many fans, especially children, want his attention every day. Signing autographs takes time and effort, but with fame (and money and power) comes responsibility. The celebrities among us, whatever their field, show their character by what they give their community in return for the mountain of privilege that’s bestowed upon them. They should honor that or go do something else. We’ll never know how that player’s rudeness and arrogance affected that little boy’s thinking.
You can use fame selfishly to get what you want, whenever you want. Or you can use it for the benefit of others, as some of the rich and powerful choose to do. Either way, and like it or not, famous people are role models for society, and especially for children. Based on their public attitudes, many celebrities don’t seem to understand the impact that even their smallest words and deeds can have on impressionable others. Why is that? And what can we do about it?
As British author Neil Gaiman says in The Sandman, “I've been making a list of the things they don't teach you at school. They don't teach you how to love somebody. They don't teach you how to be famous. They don't teach you how to be rich or how to be poor. They don't teach you how to walk away from someone you don't love any longer. They don't teach you how to know what's going on in someone else's mind. They don't teach you what to say to someone who's dying. They don't teach you anything worth knowing.”
Although I would argue that we learn many things worth knowing in school, it’s interesting to recognize that we are not trained to be who we turn out to be in life. We sing and suddenly we’re a famous singer; we like to write and we become a highly regarded novelist; we’re innovative and we become a powerful executive. We may have perfected our skill over time, but may not have dug down deep to develop our character.
Maybe it’s incumbent upon us as fans, parents, employees and the public in general to demand more of our celebrities. “We’ll give you fame and fortune; you give us something to look up to. Otherwise, the deal is off.” We shouldn’t allow fame to overshadow a lack of character—and yet we do it all of the time. By vocalizing our expectations, we can teach what it means to have character and how important it is to us.
So next time you see a celebrity refuse to give an autograph, say something! Just imagine the power of thousands of people shouting in unison, over and over: “Just sign the damn ball!”