Zero Sum Games
When I heard that silky smooth voice coming out of that obviously homeless face I was amazed. Dude sounded like he came straight out my AM dial but had the face of the Crypt Keeper on crack. Considering his story, that description might not be too far from the truth. Mr. Williams was the prime example of a face built for radio. Ted Williams gained nationwide notoriety for being the homeless man with the voice built for broadcast. I saw his story on MSNBC while watching Countdown with Keith Olbermann.
I was a bit late to this party though. By the time I heard Mr. William’s story, he had become bigger than he thought he’d ever be in his miserable life (assuming that being homeless would be a miserable existence) and he was well into his fifteen minutes of fame. After a life that was filled with alcohol and drugs and criminal convictions and a loss of just about all of his worldly possessions and a loss of friends and family, he was about to turn his life around. He was getting job offers from the Cleveland Cavaliers and from NBC and from anybody else who heard this man’s tale and wanted to help.
As I got ready for work this morning, I heard Mr. William’s voice announcing the beginning of the Today Show. So Mr. Williams got a job and he got it super quick. Good for him! But then I thought, what happened to the guy that was announcing the beginning of the Today Show. Everybody was breaking their neck trying to get in front of this guy, to give him an opportunity to make him the latest success story that’s supposed to inspire the rest of us struggling to make a living. What about the rest of us who haven’t done all the drugs and alcohol and the rest of the self-abuse that makes our stories average and not worth much attention when compared to a homeless man with a golden voice?
Opportunities in America are a zero sum game. It’s one of the reasons so many people get so excited and bent out of shape about such myths as affirmative action makes it mandatory that black people get jobs over more qualified white people. Despite the fact that the impacts of affirmative action’s effects on reversing racial disparity are wildly exaggerated, there is the overwhelming fear for a lot of people that in order for a black person to get an opportunity, a more deserving white person won’t get one. We all know that in an environment that is driven solely by the principles of capitalism, those who we want to give opportunities to, the people who can pull at our sympathies or who can sell their skills the best, will do well. People we don’t care about or feel that they can’t do for us won’t do so well.
Will the previous announcer for the Today Show go without a job? I doubt it. I would think that NBC change the voice announcers for their shows on a regular basis. But it helps to illustrate the point I’m trying to make. We celebrate Mr. Williams getting a job. But what about the guy he replaces? The Cavaliers were ready to make Mr. Williams their announcer. What was going to happen to the announcer that they already had if they already had one? And what about all those people who were standing in line waiting for the opportunities that everybody wanted to throw Mr. Williams’ way? Was he really that much more deserving of an opportunity than everyone else?
Unfortunately, people need to remember that there was a reason Mr. Williams was homeless and down on his luck. With a rather recent history of drugs and alcohol and crime, Mr. Williams poses a serious risk for his next employer. He’s not working to pick himself up. He just happened to be at the right place at the right time with the right talent to get a huge leap over everyone else he should have been competing against. With such a high profile opportunity being given to him on a silver platter with the blessings of the vast majority of the fickle American public, success could be coming way too fast and way too furious. If he can’t handle all of this sudden attention, it could be a bigger curse than any single bottle of alcohol could ever be. His story could go a lot like those lottery winners who find themselves financially bankrupt not too long after winning the multimillion dollar jackpot.
I’m not hating. I wish Mr. Williams beaucoup success. He’s never done anything to me, other than burn that scary homeless visage into my memory. Dude has a face that looks like a banshee straight from the pit of hell. If I was sitting at a light and he walked up to my car I’d roll up the window thinking he was some undercover soul stealer after my life essence or something. Nevertheless, he has an opportunity to do something better for himself.
But the point that he shouldn’t forget is that it’s only an opportunity. It has the potential to not work out in one of those happily ever after endings. Here in America, opportunities are a zero sum game. As soon as someone else comes along and can relate to us in a way that we can relate to, dude can be history again. As quickly as someone else comes along with a sign saying that they’re homeless and looking for an opportunity, they’ll be the next flavor for however long it lasts.