Here is a difficult issue to navigate. We're all, the non-monsters among us, trying to be more compassionate beings. We are listening to what other people tell us about who they are and how they would like to be treated, respecting boundaries and anxieties and disorders and always giving the benefit of the doubt. This is all, generally, a positive and essential development. The superstructures of society are crumbling or already destroyed. The world looks more and more like Robocop all time. We need to be kind to each other, because we are in many respects all we've got.
And at the same time, it can be hard to reconcile this worldview with your occasional desire to tell somebody, politely and with all the goodwill you can muster, that you would really appreciate it if they would just do their goddamn job. Because there is such a thing as laziness, a lack of attention to detail, your brother in this struggle called living biffing a drink order when you're tired, and not feeling particularly sympathetic. Other people's shortcomings can be frustrating. Bordering on offensive, if you're in the mood to be outraged.
Ben Simmons has claimed to have a bona fide mental health problem. You should respect that. Even if he's lying, you still should. Because it costs you nothing to take a guy you don't know at his word that he's going through some stuff that makes it tough or perhaps impossible to show up to work. And he doesn't owe you anything, anyway, being a ballplayer who answers only to the folks he's entered into contract with and the amorphous cabal of corporate interests that govern the NBA. How you feel about Ben Simmons and the peculiarities of his situation does not matter. This is about being a less miserable person, not regulating the behavior of strangers, extending a uniform generosity to everybody who hasn't thoroughly proved they don't deserve it.
There's this cliché that crops up often in 80s cop movies and TV shows, the kind where Charles Bronson or Clint Eastwood or Captain Kirk himself tote a huge gun and clear the streets of degenerate scum, where a guy who's burned down an orphanage or assaulted a dozen women will, caught dead to rights, fake a frothing nervous breakdown where they scream about being mentally deranged, and how you can't punish somebody for being sick. It's deplorable straw-manning, especially given that a lot of people in our jails are much more mentally ill than they are malignant, but it's an appealing fantasy for authoritarians: if you offer a criminal even an ounce of understand, he'll exploit it to his advantage. Arsonists will run free!
This is obviously incorrect and harmful thinking. But how suspicious should you be of others, their motives and what they're capable of? It is indeed not the best idea in the world to walk home alone at two in the morning, because there are people around who will beat you over the head and take your money. There aren't nearly as many of them as the deluded authoritarian imagines, but they certainly exist.
(By the way, I walk home alone at two in the morning pretty often. It's not my abiding trust in my fellow man. I just like how the city quiet yellow feels at night. And I'm stupid.)
Ben Simmons didn't properly explain himself, when he unilaterally decided he wasn't going to play for the Philadelphia 76ers anymore. But we can piece together his argument, given the mental health claim. It doesn't reflect terribly well on Simmons, or on his estimation of our intelligence. Basically: Joel Embiid alluding to Simmons's crucial passed-up dunk attempt and Doc Rivers being not totally sold on the idea that Simmons is a championship-caliber point guard, in the immediate aftermath of the Sixers' season ending, which was more than a little bit Simmons's fault, so traumatized Simmons that he needed to take an extended basketball sabbatical… that coincidentally ended as soon as the Brooklyn Nets traded for him. He'll reportedly debut for the Nets in a matter of weeks.
Being compassionate does not require you to be a credulous moron. Simmons clearly worked a societal soft spot in an attempt to insulate himself from criticism. But who did he hurt? Sixers fans, who were completely sick of him, now have James Harden to root for. (And the great news is, Harden can absolutely be trusted in big games.) Simmons was simply colossally annoying for a few months, doubly so because he probably was going through some struggles that would have been easy to empathize with if he had even tried to express them to the Sixers or the general public. His unspoken policy was I'm sick until you trade me.
You want to stand up for people like Ben Simmons, if not Ben Simmons specifically, because he is to all appearances a deeply petulant dude. Which is different from being bad, though sometimes it is hard to articulate exactly how. You want to tell extravagantly aggrieved Sixers fans to settle down, without denying that they make some good points.
With Simmons having gotten that trade he wanted, we can finally stop twisting ourselves in knots, stop calibrating what benevolent or rotten people we are by examining our role in the possibly fraudulent plight of a rich and famous athlete. We can once again celebrate the beauty of Simmons's open floor game and ding him for passing up jumpers. Simmons needs that, and so do we. It is time for him to become a less aggravating version of himself. Not altogether unaggravating—you have seen him play, right?—but rid of baggage that he never seemed interested in carrying anyway. As a social or cultural comment, Ben Simmons is a vexing dud. Maybe basketball will work out better.