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Wade & Union“I like Gabrielle Union. That is to say, I appreciate how she presents herself in the public sphere and her dedication to her craft. As a member of the media, if you’ve ever interviewed her you know she is thoughtful and thought-provoking in her answers. If you’ve ever had just a casual conversation with her, you know her to be one of the more humble and genuine people you’d ever like to meet in Hollywood.

There’s nothing negative I can say about her personally or professionally and she’s earned that benefit of the doubt.

Therein, lies the most unfortunate aspects of the most recent public revelations of Union’s “union” to Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade. In the space of a week, Union went from answering questions about her pending nuptials to answering questions about her fiancé starting a new family…but not with her.

The easy way out would have been the gossip route. The easy editorial is waxing rhapsodic and poetic with words like “babymama,” “groupie” and “basketball wives.” Or, I could have strung together humorous, alliterative quips about how condoms cost considerably less than child support.

That would have been both easier and funnier in nature; but would have missed the moment and the opportunity to say something much more meaningful.

We live in a society which exalts people we don’t know personally (celebrities) and creates excuses for people who have multiple children with multiple women (professional athletes). We’ve relegated standards and decency to being reserved only for “regular folks.” We allowed this to happen and created this celebrity-culture monster. Dwyane Wade in a media sense is being allowed have his cake and marry the baker down the street too. Maybe it’s because he’s an NBA star with three championship rings. Maybe (more cynically) it’s because the stereotype of African-American athletes randomly fathering children out of wedlock has muted our sense of outrage.

Maybe one…maybe both.

There is something contemptible about fathering a child on a whim and then having the unmitigated gall to propose to his “main woman” somewhat simultaneous to the birth. It’s as if the marriage proposal was some form of well-conceived, public relations preemptive strike. Wade knew when the baby would be born and the social media onslaught right along with it.

There is something reprehensible about the behavior of Wade and the media which largely has only addressed it in salacious terms, not substantive ones. It’s reasonable to publicly question whether Wade was more concerned with protecting his brand than promising his love to Gabrielle Union.

Despite what Charles Barkley might have said once upon a time, athletes are absolutely role models. It’s not a job offer to be declined as one would decline an invitation to a party. There is no RSVP required and attendance is mandatory.

Wade was #1 in NBA jersey sales once upon a time. Jerseys, sold to kids who have since grown up and likely still emulate Wade on some level. To suggest Wade only influences on-court behavior of his followers is to deny reality. Not reality as in “tv,” but the world which exists beyond the reach of HD cameras, edit bays and slick production techniques.

To be fair, Wade may have explained his transgression(s) adequately to the satisfaction of Union and his children from his first marriage. Maybe, maybe not and future implications remain to be seen. If in fact Union does marry Wade, whatever future, connected issues which may arise are hers and hers alone. She knows what awaits her. There’s a completely different commentary to be offered on the wisdom of a 41-year-old woman, marrying the 31-year-old star athlete with highly questionable sexual judgment. That commentary is not coming today…and hopefully not at all. Hopefully Wade will prove me wrong.

But also to be fair, Wade hasn’t addressed the public implications of his behavior. To suggest that this is now a “private” matter while concurrently publicly celebrating his engagement is self-serving hypocrisy.

African-American men have long been criticized (and rightly so) for fathering innumerable children out of wedlock. Wade’s financial means, which enable him to cut a check monthly does not supersede or supplant his parental responsibilities. Children need full-time parents, not just financial contributions. In addition, if the statistic holds up that 70% of NFL and 60% of NBA athletes go broke within five years of retirement, the child support checks aren’t guaranteed either.

Somewhere, Chad Ochocinco Johnson, Terrell Owens and hundreds of others are nodding together in agreement.

Do not let Wade confuse the issue by book-ending his previous marriage to Siohvaughn Funches and present engagement to Gabrielle Union around his more important behavior in between the two. How Wade and Union choose to handle their relationship within the walls of their home is truly their business and theirs alone. How we objectively characterize the behavior of Dwyane Wade is ours and we have a responsibility to do the right thing, even if Wade won’t”.

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