Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympians and Empathy

I noticed something last night - something perhaps I don't like - something about myself for which I am both perturbed and somewhat stubbornly unwavering. 

Watching the Winter Olympics with some friends, I mentioned (with some residual anger), that I can't root for a certain athlete. Not until 'she gets it'. 'Getting it' means showing contrition for a stupid move that was seen by all the globe in the highest of competitions. A friendly return volley was instantly received that was something to the effect of, "that was 4 years ago, she was a just a kid and made a mistake."  Who among us hasn't made a stupid decision that came back to bite us hard right in the tucus?  Perhaps, I have been hasty in my opinion. Am I judgemental? Am I hateful and leaking compassion?

I've been taught and have tried hard to be, in general, a very empathic person. I attempt to understand the other person, without judgment, first. The limits of my empathy do seem to end when the perceived or realized suffering is from one's own intent and doing. I have been given pause to rethink this limit to my empathy however, citing the universal constant that is 'human error'. Case in point - The Fall of Lindsey Jacobellis. 

In 2006, I watched as many did with utter disbelief that this young woman, who apparently decided to tweak out a trick on the next to last jump of what would have been a Olympic gold-medal snow-cross run, bit it hard in the snow of Turin, Italy. As an athlete, I was angry. As an athlete that had no chance of ever thinking that I had any ability to be the quality of an Olympian, I was positively pissed.  As an American, I was utterly aghast at this egregious and arrogant display of disregard for the fellow competitor and of the competition.

Her immediate and sheer disappointment for crossing the line in second I felt was the most honest of reactions to knowing she had 'blown it' and in a BIG way. In the days, weeks, and months following, she attempted to mitigate the loss by stating she 'always uses a grab to stabilize', 'was just celebrating' or 'just messed up, oh well, I still got silver'. I seethe at such wriggling behavior. Karma exacted a swift and (quite memorably) equivalent toll for her move. In multiple interviews given, even to this day, she seemingly does not understand or is unwilling to admit, that what she did was wrong in many ways. It is on this basis that I refuse to reconsider my empathy or lack of support for her. I can forgive a mistake, what I cannot condone is the unwillingness to be contrite about it.

For this I stand steadfastly against the attitude that prevails all too often in sports today - that "personal expression" (bullshit term for excessive celebration in the face of one's competitors) is some sort of personal right and fully acceptable in today's society. Personal expression is one thing when a person or group is testing and ultimately exceeding the self-imposed hopes or expectations. Those are the true victories in life.

The methodical showboating / taunting while in direct competition with others serves ONLY to show blatant disregard and lack of respect for the opposition, the competition, and is an embarrassment to those who support the athlete / team. It neither expresses personal joy nor adds quality to the competition.

Sport, I believe, is one of the most visible remaining vestiges of what goodness can be found in this human race. A place to showcase what can be great and right and good about people. Jacobellis, and those like her who are unwilling to admit what they do is insipid and wrong, continues to represent a growing, embarrassing, and pathetic trend found in an athletic world for which I choose to not be empathic - one that devalues a true sense of sport and fairplay. I will celebrate those who from a sense of equality promote fairplay, and for which human commonalities and appreciation may be reached, not parted.

PS: I would be happy to change my opinion of these types, provided they show some empathy of their own by discontinuing and discouraging the showboating behavior described above and by apologizing to those they may have offended. Then is when my empathy for them may begin.


MennoDaddy said...

Ah, but isn't the Cult of the Redemptive Athlete an integral part of American sporting culture?

Or maybe not. After all, it's not like Charles Barkley ever reformed, and he's still one of the most beloved retired NBA players.

DZ said...

I hope not. I guess I'm just sick of all the athletes who have an over-inflated sense of value in relation to most anyone else including (and especially) fellow competitors. From the performance enhancers to the showboaters, theirs is a world of self-delusion and grandeur. I simply am sick of it. Do right as best you can the first time and redemption is unnecessary. Man, am I a crotchety old man or what? Don't answer that.