03/03/2011 03:50 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fans' Intimate Familiarity With Athletes Is Overrated

I've been an ardent sports fan since realizing how my favorite teams excited and affected me. And while I never suffered from idolatry -- I'd never hyperventilate if Michael Jordan walked in a room -- I've always respected and admired players, including those who rode the bench or had short careers.

However, the shocking and untimely death of former Chicago Bears player Dave Duerson cruelly reminded me of a fact and wake-up call that more fans need to internalize and wake up to like clockwork. If you're a sports fanatic and don't know this, recalibrate your notions about your (likely non-existent personal) relationships with and (mostly uninformed) opinions about pro players and the real lives they lead.

Unless you're married to them, dated them, handled their business affairs, lived with them, slept with them (and not just as a casual booty call) or can call them a relative of some sort, all you essentially know about these guys is how they play the game; the statistics that reflect their performance; what they say and do in interviews; and their image by way of endorsements and public appearances.

Regarding the latter, that image could be contradictory, in whole or in part, relative to the real sum and substance -- the character -- of the running back, third basemen, left winger or shooting guard whose athletic skill and talent makes your armpits moist when you watch them do their athletic thing.

Fanatical fans and casual observers... you don't know any more about the personal life, hang-ups, foibles, mental health or family history of the starting center for the Sacramento Kings, for example, or the backup left tackle for the Houston Titans than you know about where Osama Bin Laden's evil ass is hiding.

You don't know -- unless they're busted by the cops, indicted by the feds, outted by their baby's mama or a vindictive wife, or tricked on by their neighbors, agents, buddies -- if the third string second baseman for the New York Yankees likes a line of cocaine on the weekends. Or if he's a serial masturbator who enjoys the "Girls Gone Wild" video series.

Or if he's a financial wizard despite not graduating from X University. Or was diagnosed as having attention deficit disorder as a weed-smoking teenager. Or is on the verge of financial collapse despite a 10-year career in which he grossed $70 million. Or is bisexual with a hidden interest in farm animals.

Despite sports reporters and sports media delving deeper into the lives of athletes more than ever before, the average, casual American sports fan still is only going to know so much. Perhaps not much more than you've known for years about your 30-something neighbor across the street who drives the green Chevrolet with one rim missing, and who never says hello.

While you know more about the visible, charitable and personable athletes with a high "Q" rating by virtue of their on-the-field success, likeability and marketability, fans still don't know the full measure of the man.

And we shouldn't expect to, either. So stop declaring a guy to be your ideal future husband simply because he's cock strong or bats .354 in the clean-up position. Don't think he has the temperament to safely baby sit your kids because he averages 145 yards a game.

I've purposely belabored the point because Duerson's unnerving death has made me and many of my contemporaries think yet again about the frailty of life and how tomorrow isn't promised to any of us - even when your life ends at your own hands.

Although I was as shocked as anyone to read the details and moving insights into Duerson's complicated financial situation, including filing for bankruptcy, and the effects football had on his cognitive skills, those unfortunate events still don't overshadow or mitigate the effects of the death of a man who excelled at playing a game I love for my favorite football team.

That Duerson elected to take his own life by shooting himself in the chest instead of the head and requesting that his brain be donated to the NFL for research is an unforgettable example of how the adoring public didn't know the full scope of his mental health, personal travails and the consequential impact on his life.

And, again, we shouldn't know it all as it was his life; just as it was his life and job to perform on the football field to fans' adulation and criticism.

Duerson, whose son told the New York Times, wanted "to be a part of the answer" and therefore took his life in a calculated way, won't be forgotten for years to come. He shouldn't be.

Don't forget him, folks, at the same time you remember the immortal words of former New Orleans Saints coach Jim Mora who years ago famously and rightfully scolded know-it-all reporters at a press conference: "You think you know, but you don't know. And you never will."