Oct 10, 2007

Dopey Athletes

The recent Marion Jones scandal regarding "doping" in athletic competition got me hyped about the issue. While I respect the movement to have athletic competition grounded in fair and equal play, I also see serious disconnects in this ethical stand. And, the negative spiritual impact it has on the athlete.

Competition can bring out the worst in human nature. As someone that played sports as a child I know that at times you have to work up intense feelings in order to win over your opponent. I played the positiion of linesman in football as a kid. I was stocky you see. The mantra for a linesman was to take that quarterback out.

Certain sports are about aggression, working through pain, or getting the upper hand. All sports are about winning. No one wants second or third place. I'm reminded of Michelle Kwan covering her bronze medal with her hands, at her last Olympics appearance, while the national anthem of the winner was played during the medal ceremony.

The emphasis is on the winner. First place is where we shower praise. The athletes that beats all athletes are the ones we record in history and assign a place among the legends of the sports world pantheon.

The golden rule in sports is to win! Duh. The problem is the new rule to win at ALL cost no matter what. I would argue that the corruption in not winning at all cost, but rather, winning to make the money and fame attached. Whether it's a multi-million dollar product endorsement contract, your face on a box of Wheaties, a phone call from the president, going to Disney World, or air time on some TV show, the modern victory laurel placed on the winner's head has become the most lethal drug.

Today's athletes are being further removed from the true happiness of an athlete. The love of their sport and the conquering of their own physical challenges in that sport. What makes sport magic is for the individual to be able to connect the ideal in his or her mind with the reality of his or her body. I want to train this body to run faster. I want to develop my skill in order to make that ball go swish through the net with no backboard. I want to spin and jump on ice in a way that amazes. These thoughts are the work of an athlete.

Doping takes all that away. The athlete that wins through doping is left with a big fat WHAT IF. Think about it. What if I trained harder? Maybe I wouldn't need those steroids. What if I practiced longer? Maybe I would have mastered that skill. What if I test positive for doping? Maybe my medal, ring, or trophy will be taken away.

Michelle Kwan should have been celebrated for coming in third. Unfortunately I think she was made to feel ashamed of it. She competed against some of the fiercest skaters in the world. She should have been celebrated but wasn't. Shame on the sports world for betraying her effort.

Shame on the athletes that dope up before a competition for betraying their bodies, their sport and the truth. You wear a tainted medal, that trophy is tarnished, that ring belongs on another finger. Over time your legend will become more the myth in your mind.

I hope that some of the men that have won honors through doping will have the ovaries that Marion had to come clean. I know her confession was induced, but at the end of the day she displayed some grace. Perhaps some of those baseballers, bike riders will grow the ovaries to do the same.

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