I’m not the biggest reader in the world, but I do love reading biographies and autobiographies about successful people. I really use them as tools to help me get better. In fact, every time I’m faced with a transition in my career, I re-read my mentor John H. Johnson’s book, “Succeeding Against the Odds.”
But now, the only way some celebrities can get a book published is to release shocking information that will trend on Twitter.
And it’s going too far.
Case in point, three books that come to mind are biographies by boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard, weatherman Al Roker and basketball legend Julius Erving.
I remember Sugar Ray Leonard as an intelligent, skilled, Olympic champion turned professional boxer. He was a student of the game who revered Sugar Ray Robinson so much, he took his name. He was amazing in the ring defeating Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns and Marvelous Marvin Hagler in two of the best bouts in history. Outside of the ring he was just as dazzling. Aside from his successful career as a boxing analyst on each of the major networks, including ESPN and HBO, he had huge commercial endorsements. The most memorable one for me was the 7 Up ad with his son Ray Jr. But when his book, “Sugar Ray Leonard, the Big Fight,” came out, most of his interviews were about him being sexually abused by a male Olympic trainer and another man. I’m certain some publisher encouraged him to make a shocking revelation to sell more books. Admitting to being molested is something that probably helped other victims, and that’s good. But I know it’s not what a fan like me was looking for. I wanted to read about how he changed the face of professional boxing and about the pride he brought to so many African Americans who had never seen a boxer rise to that kind of stardom.
If we had to book the first guest on our fictional TV Show, “This Dude Is Asking for It,” it would be Al Roker. The long-time NBC “Today” show anchor/weather man/actor/author /husband to the beautiful journalist, Deborah Roberts, had a squeaky clean career. He lost a ton of weight after a gastric bypass operation and unlike a lot of people, was able to keep off the weight for years. I wanted to know more about how he went from a local weatherman to having one the best jobs in the world …and more importantly, how a fat man like him got Deborah Roberts. He wrote a book, “Not Goin’ Back,” that probably answered those questions. But he also revealed that he “pooped his pants,” at the White House back in 2002. That embarrassing story was brought up on every television interview and on all the social media sites. Al Roker became the butt of the joke on every late night talk show, and at least one early morning national radio show in the country. The idea of him going to the pressroom restroom, throwing away his underwear and going commando for the rest of the day was too much. That one story not only ruined his credibility for me, but I don’t think I want to shake his hand anymore either.
But I saved the best example for last. It caused me to wonder if everyone’s dignity had a price or are there still some things that aren’t for sale in our world.
Julius Erving was the first real NBA superstar and one of the game’s first players to have a shoe marketed under his name. In the late 70s, Philadelphia 76ers’ management built a team around Dr. J. On the court, he created the “baseline move,” one of the most spectacular shots in NBA history and he was one of the most respected players in the league. Known as a true ambassador for the game, he was the epitome of class.
You might be able to read that story in his new book, “Dr. J.,” but I’m not sure how much meaning it will have after being overshadowed by headlines about his affair with sports writer Samantha Stevens. Here’s the quote from his autobiography that has gone viral:
She becomes someone who helps me unwind if I’m feeling high-strung or stressed. I can drive over and spend a relaxing evening that might even include oral sex. I can only remember one time that we actually had intercourse, and that was because she had just gotten this new orthodontia to straighten her teeth. With wire and gleaming metal bristling in her mouth, oral sex was not an option.
During that one sexual encounter, Dr. J. conceived a child with his mistress.
He goes on to say how bad he felt when his daughter was competing in Wimbledon in 1999 and the news of the affair with her mother was leaked.
“I’ve paid a terrible price for my sins and there is some justice in that. But should Alexandra have had to pay a price? What sin did she commit?” he writes.
Everybody makes mistakes, but by bringing this up again in his new book, look at all the people he’s hurting. His ex-wife, his children, the child’s mother and all of the people who thought he was a better man than that.
I don’t know what Dr. J.’s financial situation is or how much he was paid for his book, but I can’t imagine it could be worth ruining his reputation.
Before you say I’m being judgmental or naïve, let me stop you. Dr. J. isn’t the first athlete to write a tell-all book and if I don’t like it, I have the option not to read it, which is what I’m choosing. But the story is still out there and it’s not like it would have been out there if he’d written this book 20 years ago. There are more media outlets now, plus social media. So, on one hand, it’s a story that will never go away and on the other hand, it’s a story that people are already done talking about. Beyond the shock value, it really served no purpose. Who ever told Dr. J. that revisiting this part of his life would sell books probably didn’t bother to remind him he’d be selling his soul along with it.