I found in my morning newsletter today from The Hockey News an item entitled "Leafs forward Jiri Tlusty releases statement regarding photographs on Internet." My first thought was that it must have involved nudity, or group sex, or something similar. Imagine my surprise, on doing a quick Google search (and no, I'm not going to link to the photo I found, because I don't want to perpetuate the foofooraw over it), when the photos in question were snaps of a couple of fully dressed apparently teen-aged men, arms casually draped over each other's shoulders, mugging for the camera. And one shot appeared to show their tongues touching.
Have we really come to this? Why on earth should a professional hockey player feel a need to apologize for that--or a teen-ager apologize for acting like, well, a teen-ager? I'm sure that if we were to dig into the past histories of the people spreading this story we would find nothing risqué, nothing scandalous, nothing stupid. Not.
I am a bit disappointed that Jiri (or his manager, or his team's PR person, or both) felt the need, in a follow-up interview at the site posting the pictures in question, to be so dismissive of the possibility that he might be gay or bisexual. On the other hand, (a) there's no real reason to think that he might be either gay or bi; (b) he's 19 years old and living in a foreign country; (c) he's just started his professional career--and the stats and the pundits say he might well have what it takes to stay in the NHL for a good, long while; and (d) the NHL is, to the best of my knowledge, the only one of the major professional sports that has yet to have a player, either current or former, come out of the closet.
Strictly on a percentage basis, with some 800 players in the league at any one time, at least four or five of them should be gay or bisexual. Odds are there are gay and/or bi players in the NHL; we just may never know who they are. And that's a disappointment. Nobody should have to lie about his or her identity to keep a job, or to protect a prospective career. I'm not saying that's what Jiri Tlusty did with his statement, just saying that it would be a crying shame if it were in fact true.
Have we really gotten to the point where people are so desperate for celebrity gossip that they're willing to spend hours Googling and clicking through sites on the internet, just to find a potentially compromising photo that they can sell for profit or use to send their hit count through the roof? If we have, then there are apparently quite a few people in the world who simply don't have enough to do.
Update: According to Andy, there were nudes involved, but the site that had posted them was hit with a cease-and-desist letter from a law firm claiming to represent Tlusty, so they were pulled before I went to check the site. According to Andy's story, they were self-portraits that Jiri had taken of himself with a cell-phone camera.
Again, I fail to see why this should be anything that would surprise anyone, or anything that Tlusty had to apologize for. It's not the brightest move in the world for a young man in his position, to be sure, but not illegal nor even necessarily immoral, as long has he wasn't planning to circulate the photos--which I would argue is a reasonable conclusion, given his reaction upon finding out that they had been posted to the net.
People have been interested in showing themselves off (and in looking at other people showing themselves off) since, oh, roughly the dawn of time. The Greeks put erotic designs on drinking cups in antiquity, and the Romans painted lustful scenes on the walls of their private villas. There's an ancient temple in India somewhere that depicts every single sexual position described in the Kama Sutra. From what I can gather, the urge to photograph or reproduce oneself au naturel is a strong one--and I suspect that the major setback to fulfilling that urge in the past was the necessity of trusting someone else not to betray one's interest. That complication has declined somewhat in the age of the digital camera--or rather, it has morphed itself into a new problem. No longer is the worry that someone at the film developing place will see your candid snaps and report you to the police. The worry nowadays is that the people you share your self-portraits with on the internets may not always be what they claim (or appear) to be. And given the nature of the internets, once those images are out there, it's going to be virtually impossible to make them go away.
It is telling, and disappointing, that we find ourselves, solidly ensconced in the twenty-first century, but ruled (or at least wanting people to think we are ruled) by the hidebound mores of our Puritan forebearers. (It would come as a great surprise, I suspect, to many of those who hold up the Puritans as model citizens, to learn just how deep the springs of depravity ran in them--but that for another post when I have more time.) It is understandable why a young man in the prime of his life might experiment with his new toy by turning its lens upon himself in his altogether. It is no less understandable that the same young man might get a thrill out of sending a few of those snaps to some close friends. But what I don't understand is why everyone now seems to feel that this is some heinous deed, a blot upon his young career and his character to boot. I'd be willing to bet that a fair number of the people who are (or who will be shortly) decrying Mr. Tlusty's actions in taking those photographs were also among the first to go and try to hunt them up.
Something else I don't understand--but which I must regrettably acknowledge is only to be expected--is that there would be someone willing to satisfy that prurient curiosity for their own selfish motives. Why is it that, even as we laud them to the skies for the one thing that they do and do well, we so often simultaneously turn upon celebrities and public figures for being human beings instead of the stiff mannequins we would prefer to keep them, the better for us to project our hopes, our dreams, and perhaps our fantasies onto them.
If I could solve that last quandary, I bet I could become a very wealthy man.