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Sunday Sermon: Don't Read The Comments

Welcome to the Sunday Sermon, where the topic today will be negativity, and more specifically, how to deal with it. 

It's a subject that's been on my mind a lot lately, in part because of two recent events. 

The first (of course) is The Last Dance. Tonight in Episode 5 and 6, we'll get a full picture of the spectrum of Jordan's life off the court. His greatness coupled with his good looks and charismatic personality drew the world's fascination. And it's obsession.

This comment from Jordan in tonight's episode (previewed on the Jump) really struck me. 

"You know It's funny that a lot of people say they'd like to be Michael Jordan for a day or for a week, but let them be Michael Jordan for a year and see if they like it. I don't think they quite understand that it's no fun." 

At that point, he was worth hundreds of millions of dollars - and at that point, he seemed to be universally beloved.

We later see Jordan holed up in a hotel room, self quarantining himself from the scrutiny and desires of the world around him.

"This is not a lifestyle that you envy, being confined to this room," Jordan declares.

The public fascination had its drawbacks. Jordan's seemingly untouchable public persona was rocked by Sam Smith's tell-all book The Jordan Rules, which fueled the media speculation around his gambling habits. This and other outside forces worked to knock him off of his pedestal and chip away at his reputation. 

"People build you up to tear you down. If a team wins too much you want them to lose," Ahmad Rashad noted, referencing his friend Jordan.

Indeed, the public has an appetite for these kinds of rise and fall type narratives. 

Of course, this is part of the job. The outside noise and constant criticism is all part of being an entertainer. All part of being in the public eye. But it doesn't mean it's fun. And it doesn't mean it doesn't take an emotional toll.

It's evident that this scrutiny and criticism drove Jordan away from the game, causing him to leave earlier than he would have otherwise.

My fame it was good at the beginning. Anytime people talk about you in a positive way it's great to hear those comments. When you're on a pedestal people now take shots of you. That really changes the whole idea of being out there for people to see you you want to get behind closed doors so that people don't know you as much. I'd rather be behind closed doors than to [have people take shots] that really don't know [me] as a person.

Even with all his fame and money, Michael Jordan let the negativity get to him. 

The second event that got me thinking about negativity was earlier this weekend, the rapper Wale was trending. "Fans" were discussing how good Wale really was compared to different rappers. The beauty and genius of this group couldn't be appreciated for what it is, the public wanted to debate who was better, like they do of course with athletes (cue the MJ vs Lebron debate).

Wale has been open about his struggle with depression, anxiety, and addiction over the course of his career. Much of it, he mentioned, stemmed from constantly allowing the public's perception and critique of his work to affect his self-worth. 

Here's Wale talking about it in a 2015 Billboard article

I constantly work my ass off and I'm not in these magazines -- all I can go by is the people and what they say. People ask, "Why do you check social-media comments?" But what else do I have, bro? I don't get no major articles.

My confidence was shot, so I'd be taking whatever to keep me in a good mood, to get me in the right mood for an interview. I was depressed not being where I wanna be in my career when I've put the work in. I wasn't sleeping. I was drinking all day and I didn't have anyone to go to. I couldn't fight it.

I can't even explain to my mom what my job entails. I didn't have one-on-ones with my mom or dad. My point is that I grew up with the outside world meaning the most to me. I rely on the people's opinions, because I don't have much outside of that.”

And as you might imagine, on social media, there are a lot of negative comments. Well, when you take it as a percentage of the whole, it's not a LOT of negative comments, but there are enough. We all get them. And if that's your measuring stick as it relates to your value as an artist and as a person, the toll can be immense. 

We on the Barstool content team, of course on a much smaller scale, deal with this as well. The other night I was texting back and forth with Brandon Walker and we started discussing this exact same thing -- negativity. He passed along some wise advice he got from Big Cat. 

"The trick is to stop listening and to stop reading the comments. Dan tells me this every day." 

And he's not the only one; John Henry Feitelberg is famously on record as never reading comments either. They aren't the only ones.

To be honest, it's hard for me to keep out the noise. I think we all battle this to some degree with the negative voices in our own head, and I am no exception. I go back and forth reading comments on the blog, YouTube, and in my mentions. I usually always regret it. We pick and choose the feedback we listen to from the outside. Mostly, the ones we choose to believe reinforce the toxic, unhealthy things we tell ourselves. 

And what I've discovered, from MJ and Wale and many others, is that no matter how great, no matter how accomplished, almost everyone has an inkling of this living inside of them. And if you don't, enough negative outside noise might just be enough to push you there. 

The most healthy, successful ones, in whatever field, all find a way to discipline themselves to avoid that shit. They figure out a way to protect their energy and peace at all costs so they can remain productive and focused. This is so they can stay sane. They're able to always remember that most people looking to tear someone else down don't feel great about themselves, either. 

As Michael Jordan said, the people who take shots don't really even know you as a person. 

So when I saw how Wale responded Saturday, I was inspired. 

I spoke about the importance of authenticity a couple of weeks ago and how its a winning ingredient in not just content but in all facets of business. Nothing is a bigger threat to authenticity than negativism and unwarranted criticism. If you're worrying or reading what other people think about you, inevitably you'll slowly change, and adapt who you are in order to fit what you believe the world wants you to be. 

Eventually, you'll look up and see that you've sacrificed some, many, or all of the things that make you "you", all for likes and praise. Who cares if you like you if the world loves you? Who cares if the things that you say represent your true beliefs as long as those beliefs are popular with "your audience"? Pretty soon you become someone else, and pretending to be someone else is no way to live your life. 

So the negativism, the online anonymous criticism? It doesn't matter if you're Michael Jordan or posting on your personal IG. If the negativity gets to you, all that means is your normal. 

The point of all this is that while it’s an entertainer's job to please the crowd, we need to care about the artist as much as we care about the art. And furthermore, if we believe that authenticity wins then we need to do everything we can to protect it. That might mean we have to turn off mention notifications, actively not click on your name trending on social media (like Wale), seek therapy, or (like MJ) leave the field altogether.

It's what you choose to do with it that matters. And as long as you don't let it change who you are as a person, then you'll always win in the end, the negativity be damned.