Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Love on the 50 Yard Line?

Amid the resignation of a married Republican congressman who got caught trolling Craigslist for dates and tabloid rumors about House Speaker John Boehner, the media "sex scandal" I'm most fascinated with is the story of New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez and the 17 year old woman he may have wooed and (if only temporarily) won.

Here's the thing: I was surprised to be reminded it, but Sanchez is only 24 himself, and 17 is over the age of consent in both New York and New Jersey. It's hard to be sure what the actual facts here are, but assuming the story reported by Deadspin is accurate, it's not a sordid tale of illicit hookups, and certainly not a case of child abuse; instead, it's an arguably sweet, if peculiarly modern, story of young love. The NBC Sports ProFootballTalk website, even as it's pointing out that Sanchez has broken no law (nor, it seems, NFL or team policy), opines that Sanchez displayed "bad judgment," but why? The young woman's own story, as she originally told it to Deadspin, doesn't make him out as a creepy predator; quite the contrary, he seems to have backed off initially when she told him her age, and only resumed courting her when she assured him she was of legal age. After which he appears to have treated her decently and impressed her as a "genuine" person.

Apparently the main reason PFT thinks Sanchez showed bad judgment is that he should have known that bad behavior and media hogging by other members of the Jets family would put this story in the spotlight. Huh? Say that again? Mrs. Rex Ryan's (possible) foot fetish video ought to constrain Sanchez's love life? Sal Alosi's sideline cheating means the quarterback has to sit home alone? Seriously?

By all accounts, Mark Sanchez is a decent, well-spoken young man. And while we may wish that young women would wait 'til they're older than 17 to become sexually active, we know many do not. If this girl were having a romance with a 24 year old waiter at the local TGIFriday's, it wouldn't be a scandal in anybody's book; why does it become scandalous when her boyfriend is a college-educated millionaire instead? Because he's famous? Because other famous people have behaved badly? That doesn't seem quite right to me.

Of course, it's almost impossible to know the whole, unvarnished truth in a situation like this, and it's possible that details are yet to come that will put this story in a darker light. But the idea of a young woman in her late teens dating a young man in his early twenties does not, on its face, horrify me. I've just been listening to Joseph Ellis' First Family: Abigail & John Adams, a chronicle of one of history's most successful marriages, and I note that John began courting Abigail when she was only 17 and he more than 9 years older, and they were married when she was still shy of 20. That was then and this is now, of course, and I'm certainly not suggesting Mark Sanchez and "E.K." are any John and Abigail Adams. But don't we all know longstanding, happy couples with an age difference on the order of 7 to 9 years? Don't we all know old married folk who met the love of their life while still teens? Is his fame (and the infamy of some of his colleagues) really a good reason to deny a young man (or, for that matter, his young companion) a chance at romance?

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