Yes, I'm well aware I'm encroaching into controversial areas with this, and that many people believe celebrities should be allowed to do whatever they want, because it's their private lives, blah blah blah. Yeah -- no. I've seen too many people make the wrong choice because it's the same choice their idol made. I've seen all too often the death and destruction caused by alcohol and, for that matter, tobacco. Thank God most of us live in countries where we're allowed to disagree, but go elsewhere and argue it out amongst yourselves.
I wasn’t planning another column about the Olympics – well, not until 2012 – but a reader wanted me to address the issue of sportsmanship and role models. I didn’t think I could make it funny, to which he replied that I could at least make it sarcastic.
Sportsmanship is more difficult for athletes than most people realize. They’re of a naturally competitive nature, and while I wouldn’t say athletes will do anything to win, I have heard rumors that some of those skiers were carrying rifles around – just in case.
As usual, decent people outnumber bad people, but bad people get all the press. Remember years ago, when an American figure skater was attacked by a stick wielding maniac who turned out to be connected to another American figure skater? Many of you instantly knew I was talking about Harding and Kerrigan.
Funny thing, though: There were dozens of skaters at those Olympics, and only one tried to gain an advantage by kneecapping the opponent. How many of those other skaters can you name?
That’s what I thought.
Yeah, it’s a competitive business. Athletes get frustrated. Sometimes, in the really physical team sports, they get in each other’s faces and engage in shoving matches, late hits, and fowls. But enough about curling. In the more sedate sports, such as hockey, there’s hardly any physical violence at all.
Sportsmanship is one thing, but it’s connected to the other. I have a feeling that athletes, like many other celebrities, despise being role models.
Wouldn’t you hate knowing that someone was examining your every move, parsing your every comment, praying you do something so they can trumpet it across the various airwaves and/or, um, interwaves? *coughPalincough* Wouldn’t it bother you to know that if you got caught doing something wrong, it might make your younger admirers think doing that thing is okay? *coughClintoncough*
Well, maybe not, considering some of our more recent examples.
I know what you’re thinking: Tiger Woods!
What’s that? You were thinking, “Gee, Mark, you’re a role model, but we saw you doing home maintenance on that ladder without proper headgear or an EMS standby”?
Um, back to Tiger Woods. Although we look upon his history of sleeping with every woman in sight with deep disapproval (and some with no small amount of jealousy), he’s not quite what I had in mind. Why? Because he wasn’t doing it (the technical term is adultery) in plain view, with no regard for what anyone thought. On the contrary, he did his level best to hide it, although he should have remembered the Bill Clinton Rule of Messing Around: The more famous you get, the more likely someone is to expose you after you’ve exposed yourself.
Famous people do deserve a private life. While there may be a special place in hell for people who become role models and then proceed to become the wrong role model, for Tiger Woods there’s only a special place in heck.
But suppose you win a medal in the Olympics, and then allow yourself to be photographed wearing it low around your waist and getting people of the opposite sex to kiss it, in such a way that it looks like they’re … um … well, see above about Bill Clinton.
Yeah, that happened. It was one of several examples of foolish behavior by people who needed to consider who might be watching from home. At least one of the athletes was heard to say that the Olympics are no big deal, that it’s just another competition, but they’re wrong. It’s the Olympics.
How often, over the course of the next few years, are you going to see a prime time sports show featuring the luge? Or speed skating? Or ice dancing? It is a big deal, and people are watching.
“But Mark, these are just young people, and they can’t be expected to think about such things; they just want to have fun.”
That’s true, and who can blame them? They worked their butts off for that one moment of Olympic glory. These are the very best athletes in the world, specimens of physical perfection, any one of whom could come to my home and kick my butt with one finger (well – toe), which almost makes me want to not say the rest of this.
They chose a specific area of expertise, and the good and bad things that came with it: The hard work, the long hours, the injuries, the discipline. The fans, who could count as both good and bad parts.
So when Apolo Ohno tries to blacken the collective eyes of the good people of Canada because he couldn’t accept that a mistake was his own, rather than an official’s, he needs to be called on it.
When Egeni Plushenko tries to turn his silver medal into platinum because someone else couldn’t possibly be better than him, he needs to be taken down a few pegs.
When screaming fans try to distract curling players – yes, even curling – maybe they should get beaten down by a gang of angry golfers with nine irons.
Finally, and I’m sorry, but a group of women’s hockey players celebrating their gold medal with beer and cigars on ice – them on ice, not the beer – in front of the cameras is inexcusable. Drinking at all under those circumstances is wrong, let alone the fact that some of them were under the legal drinking age in British Columbia. Do I even need to say more about the tobacco use? Girls all over the world are looking at these incredible athletes, not only the best team in the world but women who have succeeded in a “man’s sport”, and seeing – that drinking and smoking are a fine reward.
There are way too many people who already think it’s impossible to have fun without alcohol.
Like anyone who chooses a skill that could bring them fame, they do have a responsibility to the people who cheer and support them. Yes, Alec Baldwin’s sadistic rage against his own kid is made worse by him being a star. Yes, President Clinton’s indiscretions are made worse by them happening in the White House. Yes, Tiger Woods does earn the scorn that some have heaped upon him. We need to teach our kids – you know, the young people who we’re supposed to be passing values on to? – that wrong is always wrong, and that being a star doesn’t turn wrong into right.
Clearly all these people are great athletes (except Baldwin), and don’t usually indulge in such behavior, or they never would have gotten this far. Some, maybe most, will read this and say I need to lighten up. Well, maybe that’s exactly what’s wrong with this world. Maybe we’re lightening up too much … and in so doing, we’re failing the next generation.
Please don’t beat me up, Canada.