A Family Thing

If they ever were distinct, showbiz and sports are quickly becoming indistinguishable. But there's at least one area in which a double standard is preserved: famous family members. If you're related to a famous athlete, you're presumed to have athletic skill yourself; if you're related to an entertainer, you're presumed to be a hack. In honor of Norm MacDonald, I'll call it the Frank Stallone rule.

In sports, because talent is assumed to be genetic, being a family member of a professional athlete is seen as a good thing. Because of people with names like Ken Griffey, Jr., Cal Ripken, Jr., and Sandy Alomar, Jr., siblings and progeny are practically scouted from birth. A corollary of this is that less-talented younger siblings can be given a longer leash than they deserve. Ozzie Canseco, Tommie Aaron and Billy Ripken based their major league careers on this lucky bias. But, as a general practice, scouting family members is successful enough to be more than worthwhile -- sometimes even yielding results outside sports altogether. New York Mets All-Star Tug McGraw's son Tim McGraw is a multiplatinum country singer, which suggests that athletes' genes are remarkably ecumenical. As a rule, in sports there tend to be many more Serena Williamses than Frank Stallones.

In showbiz, on the other hand, siblings and relatives of the famous are generally perceived -- often correctly -- as untalented hangers-on, the only resemblance their outsized egos. Ashlee Simpson, Jamie Lynn Spears, Haylie Duff, Aaron Carter, Lil' Romeo (Master P's rapping son), Don Swayze, and Frank Stallone himself all fall into this category.

Maybe the prejudice is justified: after all, there are a lot of family dynasties in sports. The Mannings, the Alous, the Boones, the Hulls, the Griffeys, the Alomars, the Molinas, the Bondses.In show business, there aren't as many, and the ones there are aren't nearly as storied. The royalty there begins with the Redgraves, Barrymores and Fondas, of course, and more recently the Bridgeses, Coppollas and Estevez/Sheens. Then in the next tier there are the actresses with dads named Bruce, Laura Dern and Gwyneth Paltrow, the troubled Culkin boys, and the families lampooned in the South Park movie, the Baldwins and Arquettes. In the seventh circle of hell, there's Wilson Phillips.

But many entertainers from famous families actually change their name: Joan Fontaine (nee de Havilland); Angelina Jolie (nee Voight); Nicolas Cage (ne Coppolla); and Brian Doyle-Murray (Bill Murray's brother). The ones that do keep their names generally have to have their presence excused by fanboy-style apologia, like Chris Penn, Joaquin Phoenix, Kevin Dillon, Charlie Murphy, or Casey Affleck -- then again, I'm the guy who bores his friends to tears by talking about how Casey's better than Ben. (For one thing, he's self-effacing; for another, he's funny; for a third, his performance in Ocean's 13 is the best acting done by an Affleck in a decade. Interestingly, Casey Affleck recently married Joaquin Phoenix's sister, so now they're related, too.) But he may be the exception that proves the rule.

Stars' late-comer siblings have a bit of a troubled road to fame; growing up in a house with money and glamor and with a cell phone full of celebrity booty calls, it can be hard for them to seem like their own person. Often they have to trade on their sibs' fame just to get in the front door, which can lead to what ESPN's The Sports Guy calls "The Shue Phenomenon": "Whenever a less famous sibling suddenly becomes more famous than their famous sibling (like Andrew Shue surpassing sister Elisabeth during his first few years on Melrose Place)." Kevin Dillon rose to fame playing a thinly version of himself, the struggling actor brother of a Hollywood star on Entourage. Charlie Murphy did the same thing on Chappelle's Show by telling stories about hanging out with his brother Eddie's famous friends. Julia Roberts is the classic example, following her brother Eric into acting, and leaving him in the dust as she became the most bankable star in Hollywood.

So, it seems that celebrity scions and siblings have to work to overcome their pedigree, while athletes' counterparts have a leg up because of it. Is that fair? Or is the conventional wisdom little more than paparazzi-fueled bile? I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet the fantasy baseball farm that Stephen Drew will have an even better career than his brother J.D., whom the Boston Red Sox signed last year for $70 million. At the same time, I really hope that Indiana August Affleck, Suri Cruise, Apple Martin, and Shiloh Jolie-Pitt decided to go into something other than acting. (They might want to change their names while they're at it.)

That's not bigoted. It's just playing the odds.