The Lesser of Two Options

When I was a kid, there was a joke that circulated in my classroom (if joke is really the term for it) in which someone was asked, “What would you rather do: slide down a razor blade into a barrel of iodine or drink an entire gallon of monkey snot?” Now, there may have been some sort of psychological profiling involved in the selection of an answer, but it was pretty much beyond our sixth grade minds.  All it really did was cure a minute or two of boredom and cause me to pause before hitting Rick Rue over the head with the M section of the encyclopedia.

I did, truthfully, give that conundrum some thought.  I didn’t like either option, but given my hatred of physical pain, the monkey snot seemed the way to go.  The one thing that didn’t enter into my mind (maybe this was the bliss of being 12) was which option was more socially acceptable.  Fortunately, in the eyes of the general public, neither is really acceptable.  (In the eyes of the guys from “Jackass”, both are equally cool.)  So there was really nothing to lose (or gain) in that little riddle.

That whole episode has been in my head lately as I’ve watched now-former University of Minnesota athletic director Norwood Teague struggle with how to publicly spin the reasons for his leaving his post. Teague resigned after two university employees came forward with accusations of inappropriate sexual advances by Teague. These included inappropriately touching both at a university-sponsored event and sending a slew of graphic texts to one. A few days later, Star Tribune reporter Amelia Rayno said that she had also been the victim of inappropriate advances from Teague, which followed a pattern similar to the other incidents.

Clearly, this was embarrassing to Teague, in a way that had nothing to do with his unfortunate resemblance to former Senator and notoriously uninspired Presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson.  Watching his career crash due to this series of embarrassing and disgusting allegations, Teague turned to a time-honored escape hatch: demon booze.

Teague explained his behavior in his resignation statement. “While I am proud of the accomplishments, I want to take stock of my life and get professional help for my alcohol issues.”

Obviously, given my respect for women and love of booze, I’m having a hard time accepting this explanation.  Look, I’ve been intoxicated in the company of very attractive women on more than a few occasions. And I have never engaged in the kind of behavior Teague has confessed to.  And I’m not bragging about that because it’s any kind of accomplishment. It’s simply how someone is supposed to act.  Which means that Teague is not dealing with an alcohol issue.  He’s dealing with a mental illness.

Okay, I can hear you already.  “C’mon, Joe, you’re totally overstating the case.  Not everything has to be turned into mental illness.”  Or maybe, “No way, Joe.  Teague has to take responsibility.  He can’t use mental illness as a cover.”  Well, if you’re thinking like that, you’re kind of contributing to the issue.  Here’s what I mean:

Teague has a problem.  That much is clear and universally agreed upon, even by Teague himself.  But his problem is either with alcohol or with his treatment of the women around him.  Since alcohol produces an altered state and has become something of an accepted problem in our society, Teague seems to be opting for that.  After all, those with substance abuse issues are lauded for dealing with them, while those with mental illness are regarded as fundamentally broken and incurable.

But dealing with it as an alcohol problem doesn’t get Teague anywhere.  In the interest of full disclosure, I am guilty of the following while under the influence: flirting, asking for a date, attempting a good night kiss. In that order and not always successfully. If I am stymied at any one stage, I do not move on to the next one, figuring I’ve gotten the message. But with each stage, there’s an outcome I’m hoping for that depends entirely on the response of the woman in question. If I flirt, I’m hoping she’ll flirt back. If I ask her on a date, I hope she’ll go out with me. If I lean in to kiss her, I hope she’ll let me.  Win or lose, I go into said action with a realistic hope of success.

Which makes Teague’s behavior, and behavior akin to it, so hard to accept. What’s the dream there? When pawing at a woman who has consistently rejected him, does he think, “Well, the 78th time should be the charm”? Does he text a woman thinking, “If my constant groping didn’t get the job done, this filthy text message will certainly tug at her heartstrings.” This is behavior on the level of construction workers hooting and hollering at passing women or some dude texting a picture of his dong. There is no realistic outcome to that kind of behavior, which means its driven strictly by the compulsion to act. And acting compulsively outside of societal norms is the definition of a mental illness.

What’s truly disturbing here is that Teague is not seeking treatment for the actual problem.  Whether this is because society continues to stigmatize mental illness or because he’s too proud to admit the real issue or a combination of both, nothing good can come of taking the wrong approach.  I won’t blame him for having a mental illness, but I WILL blame him for not seeking treatment.  Teague has a problem with how he treats women he’s attracted to and seems to think he can Betty Ford Clinic his way out of it.  It’s akin to treating obsessive compulsive disorder with an exorcism.  And the lack of courage to face the real problem further stigmatizes those with mental illness and drives them further into a self-imposed cocoon of denial.  And that makes an already sad situation just that much sadder.

Somebody get the monkey snot ready.

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