Privacy, Civility and an All-Star Decision

I don’t care that Derek Jeter decided not to take part in this year’s Major League Baseball All-Star game.

Sure, it would have been great to watch Jeter play in the midsummer classic a few days after he made baseball history by becoming the first New York Yankee to reach the 3,000-hit mark.

But if the veteran shortstop feels he needs a few days off (as he did), that’s his prerogative.

The real question here is not whether Jeter should or should not have skipped the All-Star game. The more intriguing issue is how and why a personal decision became a much discussed topic of public debate and just what that says about the world in which we live today.

For better or for worse, our public figures are under more scrutiny than ever. In part, this is a result of today’s 24/7 news cycle, but it also reflects the public’s insatiable appetite for news, information and gossip.

On one hand, public figures — whether they be athletes, entertainers or government leaders — owe their fame, wealth and fortune to the general public, so one could legitimately argue that we have a right to know details of their lives.

But on the other hand, they are people just like all of us. They are fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and friends, and they are entitled to a modicum of privacy.

When I was a music critic, the leader of a popular rock band told me:

“When we were first starting out, we used to say, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we hit it big and we got to be so popular we couldn’t even walk down the street?’ Well, it turned out we did hit it big and we did get to be so popular we couldn’t walk down the street, and you know what? It wasn’t that great after all.”

The man’s point is well-taken. If given the chance, most of us would sacrifice a bit of personal privacy in return for fame, fortune or power — and there’s no denying that we would enjoy those fruits of success.

But at what price?

“The right to privacy, it seems, is what makes us civilized,” Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, the daughter of President John F. Kennedy, wrote in The Right to Privacy, a 1995 book she co-authored with Ellen Alderman.

The two authors’ words about privacy and civility are even more appropriate today. Yes, public figures do need to be accountable, and they should not be immune from criticism. But before we sound off about something they’ve done — or haven’t done — remember that it’s no fun to live in a glass house.

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