Jahlil Okafor has been in the news lately for all the wrong reasons. It isn’t only that he has had some run-ins outside nightclubs or dangerously speeding with his car that makes this a story, either. It is that people are using the number of incidents to help paint a picture that would lead many to believe that it could add up to something more down the road.
That may very well be true, but I implore us to proceed with some caution here. Humans, famous entertainers or whoever, should not be defined for who they are so early in their developmental stages of becoming more mature adults. Nor should we use mistakes in a person’s youth to project future misgivings or hold early transgressions over their head until the end of their uselessness runs its course and we discard them along with the thousands of other entertainers we pretended we cared about but were more interested in discussing their off-the-playing-surface failures.
Okafor is not by definition a kid. He is 19 years-old. In the United States that means he can vote, work adult hours, and kill other young people on behalf of others by way of the orders of older people. He’s also not old enough to drink at establishments, which is part of the handful of transgressions that are being used as some sort of character shortcoming for the Philadelphia 76ers rookie.
The thing is, Okafor is 19. That is young. We can discuss the semantics of when someone should be considered an adult in comparison to when they are legally acknowledge as one. But that would be missing the point., which is: Any young person, specifically when dealing with the adult world for the first time, is going to leave a slew of mistakes in their wake.
Right now we are using the amount of mistakes Okafor has made in a relatively short period to judge him. Again, I plead we use caution here, as we are using that number in a misleading way.
Youthful transgressions are usually not isolated incidents. Sure, some people were more mature at a younger age, possibly never making what others would deem as a mistake at all, but for the rest of us mere mortals our early transition from confident teenager to pretending to be an adult was an era filled with more than one mistake. And that, by definition of how short a period people want kids to become adults, means a large portion of all of our mistakes happened within that small vacuum of time.
With that being said, the number of incidents isn’t what people should be focusing on with Jahlil Okafor. A more nuanced, smarter discussion — if one actually needs to be had — should take place instead. And, honestly, it should be more a discussion focused on questions than one projecting some sort of behavioral issue many want to, in some misguided effort to use a broad brush to paint Okafor as a person with.
Most of those questions are obvious. Why is he fighting outside a club? Why was he speeding? Why did he attempt to use a fake ID to get into an establishment?
Each individual incident can simply be explained away as a kid making an excuse. Granted, it is hard to do so while using the context of all the incidents happening around a short period of time, yet kids who make mistakes tend to do them in bunches. A mistake-zone, if you will. You know, because they are young, immature, naive, and somewhat dumb youths.
Only time and learning about life through experiences, not the number of mistakes, help to mature a person. In fact, often those mistakes are learning experiences, though, often not appreciated or consumed as that until some time after they were made.
The counterargument to that would be something about Okafor being a professional and bluh, bluh, bluh. Naturally, again by definition, Okafor is a professional. Being one, #wellactually, is rather easy. Everyone who is working at a chain restaurant, in our malls, etc. are by definition professions of their trade because they are being paid to do their jobs. A large portion of those people are Okafor’s age, if not younger.
Being considered a professional doesn’t automatically mean one is an adult. Nor should it mean we should expect all those labeled as professionals to act as mature as people in the same trade but a decade older. It is rather silly we think like that, lumping in a large portion of the population into some oversimplified line of thinking when we discuss people as adults.
We do that, mind you, as we don’t use these fictitious measuring systems of adulthood for anyone other than young, rich athletes. Few are judging the mistakes of the 19-year-old working at Starbucks. Because why would they? The person is young. It happens. Well, except for those perceived entitled, rich athletes — am I right, middle-America?
Obviously there’s no way of knowing if Okafor’s youthful mistakes or a true, legitimate harbinger of evil awaiting him. Hindsight, when afforded to us, will allow us to revisit it all at a later time. Until then, though, maybe we should ease up on using them as a way to spit some hot takes on millennials or the immaturity of Okafor as an adult or whatever the hell people are trying so desperately to do with this story.
Mainly because none of us know what we would be like if we were him. I imagine a very small portion of the people reading this are scarily famous, while being dissected by other people from a distance every single time you go to your job, all while money and fame are attached to you, providing a great chance to live it up in ways most people only dream of or see in music videos.
And even if you magically are, it is worth reminding everyone — regarding EVERYTHING — your values, ideals, and lifestyle preferences are not that of everyone else. Let’s stop projecting them onto everyone that WE DON’T KNOW.
We were all 19 once (well, except those who haven’t yet). Look in the mirror. Remember how important you thought you were, with you and your inner-circle of friends thinking the world actually revolved around you, then, if you still feel the need to use Okafor’s mistakes to diminish him as a person — and even as a player — it probably says more about you than him.