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Green: Reality television hurts athletes (Jan. 18)

By Mary Green | Thursday, January 17, 2013

With the rise in social media in the last few years, athletes and fans are more connected now than ever. Your average Joe the Plumber can tweet at LeBron James, like Tim Tebow’s Sunday Bible passage, and watch Chris Bosh’s used car salesman attempt on repeat on YouTube.

Of course, all good things can turn ugly when they are overdone. In the world of athlete-fan interactions, that shadowy place is the land of the reality television show.

Last week, America’s favorite grill-donning gold medalist, Ryan Lochte, announced that he would debut a new reality series, “What Would Ryan Lochte Do,” on E! in April. It’s one thing for the Olympian to cameo in Team USA’s “Call Me Maybe” music video or even to trademark his signature phrase, “Jeah!” (which, by the way, has yet to really take off).

However, Lochte’s seemingly witless persona has descended into pure annoyance with this new series. It’s fair to say that Americans got their fill of befuddled laughs at the swimmer’s expense when he picked Auburn as the winner of the Texas A&M-LSU matchup on College GameDay last October. Hearing more foolish remarks from Lochte on a regular basis will change his appearance from an endearing goofball to an overexposed nuisance, if he has not crossed that line already.

The problem with reality TV series is that they take self-promotion to a new level that need not be reached. For the most part, the athletes appearing on these shows have sunk into some phase of obscurity and want to hoist themselves back to relevance. Terrell Owens, always one to stir up feelings of disdain and irritation, will participate in Fox’s “Stars in Danger: The High Dive,” a celebrity diving competition this spring with the likes of other has-beens, including JWoww and multiple Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. T.O. needs a show like this to stay relevant in pop culture since no team picked him up from free agency this fall. In Lochte’s case, he can only make major headlines every four years, so the fame-seeking Olympian needs another source of notoriety.

Regardless of their motivations for trying to reenter the minds of Americans, there is a reason that these stars have faded from the spotlight. Perhaps they should heed that fact instead of making fools of themselves on national television, or in the cases of Owens and Lochte, making fools of themselves once more.

Not only do reality shows hurt athletes’ images in the eyes of the fans, but they also seem to affect their game. Take a look at the Kardashian series alone. Lamar Odom certainly has not prospered in the time since his ascent from supporting role on “Keeping Up with the Kardashians” to star of the aptly-titled “Khloe and Lamar” with his wife, Khloe Kardashian Odom. His points-per-game average dropped from 14.4 to 6.6 post-trade from the Lakers to the Mavericks and post-debut the spinoff, and his activity on the Clippers this season has diminished even more, currently netting 3.6 points per game, a career low.

Two other stars, Reggie Bush and Miles Austin, have also seen their numbers shrink on the gridiron immediately after frequent appearances on Kardashian shows. (I would say three, but that would mean admitting Kris Humphries was a star in the first place.)

Of course, the connection between gaining fame and losing game in conjunction with reality television series is not scientifically proven by any means. However, it is hard to ignore this burgeoning trend. For America’s sake and sanity, Lochte should keep off the small screen and stay in the pool, reappearing only when necessary, with the next time being Rio in 2016. Fans should want their favorite players to stick to what brought them renown in the first place, athletics, before they take this gift for granted and lose it altogether. That being said, I’m sure there are a few NFL fans who wouldn’t mind Ndamukong Suh starring in his own new series next fall.

Contact Mary Green at mgreen8@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.