Our Sports Idols are Ruining our Brains

Gord RandallGord Randall is a senior writer and podcast host for Grandstand Central, who is a high school teacher by trade. He is also the lead analyst on “Krown Countdown U” on CHCH TV and CBCSports.ca. In his spare time, he also is the head coach of a high school football program in Vancouver, BC.

Culture

You may have heard Stephen Curry (three years at Davidson University, no degree) thinks the moon landing never happened. But, have you ever paused to wonder why anyone gives a damn? Steph is far from the first celebrity to share a stupid anti-intellectual opinion, but for some reason we see more and more of these coming to light all the time. Now, it’s not a problem in a vacuum that Curry believes in something that has absolutely zero evidence to support it. However, we live in an age where gullibility and uninformed opinions are bigger than ever, and our biggest athletes are unwittingly driving society’s dumb train right off the cliff.

There is no shortage of celebrity takes that apparently bring some doubt into long ago established science. Hell, a celebrity bullshitter who looks at extensive evidence of climate change and flat out says “I don’t believe it” currently inhabits the White House. Kyrie Irving (one year at Duke University, no degree) partying like it’s 1399 and insisting the earth is flat would be laughable…except that, as I see first hand, a lot of people happily put stock in what he’s saying purely because he’s a star athlete.

The brains of society are regressing, and at the root of the problem is this pathological habit society has developed of glorifying stupid takes from poorly educated people like Kyrie Irving. Why do people think Kyrie and Steph hold the secrets to the universe? Because they think people are rich and famous because they’re smarter than everybody else? It’s an asinine notion, and since we as a society seem incapable of collectively rolling our eyes and telling our idols they’re wrong, it seems the athletes are going to have to take responsibility themselves.

To hold celebrities or a generation completely at fault for this phenomenon is a massive oversimplification, and a lot of other places deserve blame for it developing into the epidemic problem it has. When Steph Curry, for example, blurted out some nonsense about us never being to the moon on a podcast, it spawned breathless pieces from every corner of a media primarily driven by volume of content (he wrote, completely unironically).

A Google search of “Steph Curry Moon Landing” returns almost a half a million news results, from such respected media outlets as the (Failing) New York Times, Newsweek, and Time Magazine. Further legitimizing the story came the think pieces firing back and feeling the need to reprove that the moon landing was actually real (again, not a hint of irony). This included NASA themselves, who unintentionally helped turn those comments into a real conversation by offering to show Curry proof that the landing actually happened.

Apparently America’s great debate is back to “was the moon landing staged?”, joining a greatest hits collection from the past few years that also includes “do vaccines hurt people?”, “is the Earth flat?” and “were dinosaurs just pets for people?”.

Since we’re apparently taking our scientific inspiration from basketball players and the Flintstones now, here’s some from some hack writer: there is real harm being done by objective scientific facts being questioned. Numerous major measles outbreaks, for example, have occurred across the United States and Europe in the past five years, including one particularly famous outbreak at Disneyland of all places. This is all a direct result of the anti-vaccination movement, driven to mainstream popularity in the United States in large part due to Jenny McCarthy (two years at Southern Illinois University, no degree), who is an authority we should listen to purely because she’s famous.

Now, the premise of this piece may be coming across as “all athletes are idiots, don’t listen to them”, which isn’t at all the case. Whether they’re overly educated, like Dolph Lundgren (Master’s in Chemical Engineering, University of Sydney), or just have a high school diploma, many celebrities are able to provide thoughtful ideas, challenge society and generally add great things to the public discourse. LeBron James, for example, isn’t out here telling us that the sun rotates around the earth. That being said, we have to develop some common sense and a healthy skepticism of the sources of our ideas. Too often, we give credibility to celebrities’ ideas because we feel like we know them, instead of truly considering the information and the accountability of its source.

Speaking of accountability, by the way, Stephen Curry has now referred to his comments on the moon landing as a joke, and supports the premise of this article himself. The money quote from Steph, “For kids out there that hang on every word that we say, which is important, understand that you should not believe something just because somebody says it. You should do your homework and understand what you actually believe”. Is this a clever cover-up put together by a well-paid PR firm? That’s up to you to decide, but thankfully someone has decided to drive this topic in the right direction (By the way, good on the gentlemen of Pardon the Interruption for being all over the dangerous precedent Curry’s “embarrassing” comment sets and chiding him for it).

As an educator, I run into roadblocks left and right from these movements…at best having to waste time reproving things that have already been proven, and at worst having ideas such as the earth being flat completely derail students’ worldview and distract them from focusing on more important developments or learning about the amazing physics behind it.

We in the education world must also take a significant portion of the blame for the rise of the gullible fools in society. We’ve been far too slow to adapt to a world with more misinformation than ever, all available at your fingertips instantly, and constantly pushed by those who stand to benefit from you buying what they’re selling. We’ve spent decades teaching youth the facts, stats, and dates to memorize, instead of teaching them the proper skills to decide which of those facts are actually worth memorizing. It’s become all too apparent that far too many people out there completely lack these critical thinking skills; the same ones that say “hey, why would Kyrie Irving know so much more about geology than most of society?”. In the age of fake news, using these skills to filter information is absolutely vital.

We’ve created a society with a worse bullshit filter than ever, and one with a high tolerance for believing just about any message delivered to them, so long as they like the speaker enough. Under the guise of free speech and exchange of ideas, we allow people to carelessly peddle whatever baseless ideas they may think. The reality of this situation, though, is that this isn’t the mark of a society enlightened more than ever. It’s instead a mark of one that has lost its ability to sift out nonsense.

It’s not Stephen Curry’s or Kyrie Irving’s responsibility to keep their stupid opinions to themselves. Instead, it’s our society’s responsibility to build up our resiliency to such illogical, anti-intellectual thoughts. We can’t keep having a tolerance for certain opinions because of free speech, and we must have a line beyond which it’s not acceptable for people to suggest contrary opinions. We once had that line in the sand, but it’s been washed away by a rising sea of denial and redrawn inland, only to be washed away again.  

We seem to be all too willing to have ill-educated famous people influence us into believing whatever it is they believe. At the bare minimum, we need to start validating people’s opinions based not on their Instagram following, but on corroborating information ourselves and actually taking the opportunity to critically approach the world. It’s time to smarten up, sheeple!