Javaris Crittenton

The tragedy of the Javaris Crittenton story is obvious. A young woman died, her four children will grow up without a mother, and Crittenton might spend the rest of his life in jail. As tragic as the story is, it wouldn’t be such a public story if Crittenton hadn’t played in the NBA and if he hadn’t been previously involved in a gun-related crime. These details not only give the story context but make it more compelling. Should somebody have seen this coming? Was this preventable?

The answer to these questions is likely “no.” To say otherwise is to fool ourselves that we can really know someone based on fragments of encounters and conversations. And yet I’ve read multiple stories from reporters who have interviewed Crittenton years ago, and claim to have thought they knew him, that reveal the fallacy that we can truly peer into someone’s soul based on the responses they give from mere hours of interviews.

I’ve long suspected that most people who interview others as a significant portion of their jobs flatter themselves that these interviews allow them a glimpse into the windows of the true spirits of their subjects. More and more, I’ve become convinced that none of us should believe that we can understand what people are capable of, given the situation. In fact, I believe most people don’t really understand themselves well enough to know what they’re capable of doing. Maybe you have yourself convinced that you would never commit murder or adultery or betray your best friend, even if you could get away with it — but maybe you just haven’t been presented with the right motivation.

I’m fascinated by the responses of “common folk” to the discovery that one famous, beautiful person cheated on another famous, beautiful person. “I would never cheat on [insert celebrity here],” they say, completely oblivious to the fact that most of us are only as faithful as our options. We can’t understand why O.J. Simpson or Mel Gibson or Rae Carruth would act the way they did because we couldn’t possibly relate to what it’s like to live their lives and be inside their heads. You would need to do a lot more than interview somebody a few times before you could comprehend what it’s like to inhabit their skin.

And still, we read and hear about how shocked people are when public figures do shocking things. “The O.J. I know would never commit those atrocities. The Mel I know wouldn’t say those hateful things.The Rae I know wouldn’t carry out such a terrible action.” Well, I guess we didn’t really know these people at all. So why do we act like we do?

Maybe there’s a sports reporter out there who was previously a psychological profiler with the FBI, but I’m not familiar with that person. The celebrities that we consider to be candid in their interviews are still only revealing a tiny fraction of what they’re really like. These days, we live in a society where people love to pretend that they’re open books. Unfortunately, it takes a tragedy like what happened in Atlanta on August 19 before most of us bother to read the footnotes.