Oh, Darnell Dockett, we hardly knew ye; but then we knew ye a whole lot better when ye got naked online in front of thousands of viewers.
Dockett, a defensive lineman for the Arizona Cardinals, has apologized after being chastised by coach Ken Whisenhunt and general manager Rod Graves for streaming live video of himself taking a shower, according to the Arizona Republic, which first reported the news. It seems Dockett, who tweets regularly, performed his public ablutions on Ustream after a dare and a $1,000 bet, then later bragged about it on Twitter.
The Cardinals DE was quoted as saying: "It's a learning experience for me. I've never been in trouble, I've never been in the news or on gossip sites or things like that. I apologize to all the kids, everybody in the community who looks up to me. I apologize to my team. I walked by each player individually and apologized. I got to do better things than that." He added: "Y'all will never see me on no news or media, anything like that again, unless it's for me trying to take somebody's head off."
Shower-gate encapsulates a number of trends and lessons for social media. As Dockett himself noted, it doesn't take but a moment for an online, er, event to get picked up by the traditional news media. Second, people are still coming to terms with the fact that their individual (I hesitate to use the word "private" in this case, for obvious reasons) behavior on social media can have a big impact on relationships with colleagues and professional life generally. Third, mistakes committed online live forever: I guarantee Darnell will be hearing about his shower 50 years from now, when he'll be able to watch it online like it was yesterday.
But all that said, I'd also like to add my own reaction, which can be summed up: meh. It's pretty funny, and worth some lighthearted reporting, but it ranks well below "scandal"-level material, and it seems a little much to have Dockett apologizing to his teammates and fans. Apologize for what, exactly?
His transgression wasn't showering per se -- which would be commendable for encouraging good hygiene -- but exposing himself online. In an era of explicit celebrity sex tapes, "sexting" and Adult Friend Finder, I just don't think this is that big a deal, especially because all he did was take off his clothes: no one else appears in the video and it's actually a pretty humdrum event as far as that goes. It's certainly less scandalous than the off-field behavior of other NFL and college players (rape, gun violence, dog fighting, etc.).
Second of all, it seems like some kind of weird puritan hypocrisy on the part of sports fans and the broader society. After all, we worship athletes for their physical prowess and appreciate -- or at least recognize -- their physical beauty, and we invite them to objectify themselves for our enjoyment. Would everything be okay if Dockett had showered in a swimsuit? What if it was a flesh-toned swimsuit that made it look like he was naked, but he actually wasn't? Or what if there was always a strategically-placed houseplant in the way, a la Austin Powers?
It's funny because near-nudity is perfectly acceptable. In October ESPN Magazine's "Body Issue" featured photos of nude athletes, strategically posed to show "everything but": one photo of surfer Claire Bevilacqua showed her topless with just her hair covering her nipples. The new issue of Vanity Fair, covering the global obsession with soccer, features 32 soccer players in (pretty tiny) underwear bearing their national colors; while they're not naked, some might as well be. The same goes for every single edition of Sports Illustrated's Swimsuit Issue: these models are basically naked, and that's the whole point.