July 30, 2007

Barry, FloJo, Ben and Me

When I first glanced over this headline, I thought it said 'sports sandals', not sports scandals. Both are an affront to the senses, but one is obviously more headline-worthy.

The writer wants to know why we forgive our sports stars for doping. Or worse yet, why do we pretend they don't? He speaks to several university profs who laugh at the idea that sport is now about anything other than money and glory. They remind us we get what we pay for, literally. The piece also tracks back to 1904 when the American winner of the marathon, Thomas Hicks, used strychnine to hold off exhaustion. Cripes, you'd think if you used strychnine the only thing you'd have to test for would be time of death.

I think guys like Pete Rose (gambling is cheating) and Barry Bonds are a joke. I think the whole Tour de France is as big a farce as the former East German swim teams. China has been growing athletes to order forever, and when Canada's Ben Jonson lost his gold medal for using steriods, it was then handed to Carl Lewis. Who in 2003 was named in Sports Illustrated as having taken banned substances. Either way, the whole sport lost a little of its varnish for me. The death of Flo Jo (Florence Joyner - she of the dragon fingernails) tells the important part of this story. A huge problem in all of this, real or rumour? I don't trust any of it anymore. And hence, I care less.

Long rumoured to have taken steroids, her premature death should have been a wake up call. But we don't care what happens to our athletes after the summer of love - we've become such a bunch of instant gratification junkies that we consume and use not just goods and experiences for our entertainment value, but people as well.

If our girls look at models and think they can naturally be that thin, then our boys are looking at jocks and thinking they can naturally be that big. Or fast. Or strong. And we have the mistaken idea that sports stars are role models. Maybe in another time, they were. But now? I don't know anymore. I expect so little from everyone from politicians to celebrities that I'm rarely disappointed.

Premature deaths and illnesses should be making people think, but if children enter into a lifestyle it's long before they can be properly making those decisions for themselves. It's kind of the Judy Garland syndrome for jocks. Keep her high, keep her working, she'll be fine. Yeah.

I read a cool thing a while back, where Aaron Sorkin, a writer, was lamenting that if people go to a play or movie and spend the whole time trying to figure out the background behind the words ('oh, is that character really the writer's wife? Is that one the business partner?'), that they might as well not bother. If you can't absorb the action in front of you without constantly thinking about the sordid underbelly, you have missed the point.

Too much sport misses the point these days.


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