Friday, February 6, 2009

I Just Don't Get It Sometimes

Last time I checked, the world wasn't coming to an end. I figured that if it was a big thing like that, CNN and Fox News would have wire to wire coverage on it, with amazing graphics and numerous talking heads speculating about what will happen during the last moments of life, followed by field reporters trying to describe what they see in dizzying hyperboles of witticisms. But since I couldn't find anything about it, and I ended up getting distracted by Ninja Warrior anyway, it must not be that important.

But seriously, people have their undies in a huge bunch about Michael Phelps and his profession for love of a bong. The dude has abs of steel and eats like 4 million calories a day but isn't a blimp, but his first love appears to be a bong. Ok, apparently he had been partying it up with friends and other acquaintances for a few days, when the infamous picture was clicked and now travels about the Internet. So, really, a 23 year old guy parties it up with friends and decides to light up, and it's big news. Oh, yeah, forgot about the Olympic Medals and the golden boy image. I'm sure the marketing guys are ready to jump off some tall buildings after this photo went out, and the advertisers that linked themselves to the Olympic golden boy are dropping like flies, saying they are not renewing contracts to save money. Sure, and apparently his marketability is now somewhere between Steve Wilkos and Vince, the Shamwow guy. Wait, you mean even Carrot Top has a better score now? Ouch.

The reactions have been interesting to say the least, from a take on Fox Sports that is insightful and funny, to a local take from Steve Duin of the Oregonian, to a take from a dad who is proud that his daughter has chosen a new hero to worship after all of this. And I think all of the articles have some valid points, because when you are in the public eye, you have to be aware of what you do at all times. The public eye follows you around, and posts what you do, what you say, or where you are at on the Internet at any given point, and it's hard to stay in control of your image, especially since people love to knock famous people down a peg a bit now and then. Personally, after his hosting stint on SNL, I wished I had found something on him, because he was absolutely horrible. But hey, he was the flavor of the moment, so I can let it slide a bit.

But my opinion is that the last time I checked, the Olympic Oath didn't say anything about never doing things that a lot of us have done in our past and getting caught, or not blowing off some steam with friends at a party, or making dumb adolescent mistakes because when you are in your late teens and early 20's, a lot of people think they are invincible and can't get caught or can do whatever. Funny thing is that the world has a way of smacking them back in line with responsibility or if you are famous, the tabloids. I get that we want our heroes to be sparkling with no hint of issue, teeth gleaming white, living the American dream, and showing the rest of the world that the USA kicks ass. The thing is, that doesn't exist anymore, and the more we let people cling to that tired idea, the more things like Phelps will blow up in our face.

Everyone has baggage, things they regret, things you would do differently, and we are all human, even the hero types. And I don't find anything wrong with a 23 year old partying with his friends, especially after the schedule that guy has had over the past few years. That might lead to a mistake or two, but the thing to do here is realize the mistake, apologize and mean it, work on fixing the issue, and then resume your life as best you can. Honestly, I would love to have someone experience personal issues and then rise to achieve something truly special, because it would show kids that not only can you make mistakes (and trust me, you will. It will happen), but you can rise above them and still achieve greatness.

Look, I'm not going to condone someone doing things against the law or harming others, and that's why Phelps will need to do some restitution for his pot smoking antics. But turning his situation into a debate about heroism misses the point here that role models for kids are everywhere, and while it's important for those in the public eye to do what they can to show a good example, it's even more important to do that when they've messed up. Or you can foolishly believe that the world still has perfect heroes that never do anything wrong, are infallible, and athletically and morally superior to us all, and shelter kids from the reality that heroes are human and they will mess up.

But what do I know? I mean the school districts here are so trying to protect kids from the real world, they've instituted a fan code for all OSAA high school games immediately, which include no noisemakers, no signs bigger than a sheet of paper, no shouting "Air Ball" or other derogatory comments, although foam fingers are still okay. Thank god, because I know the foam finger industry is worried about losing their market share in Oregon, and so losing this valuable market would put some people out of work.

I know there's a history of issues at some sporting events, including a state basketball tournament game in 2007 that the fan behavior went from good natured name calling and chanting and turned into a verbal joust with racial epitaphs being hurled about. I'm not going to excuse anyone who turns a fan experience into violence towards other fans, or hurling absolutely unreasonable insults at others, but I won't deride anyone feeling they need to defend themselves either. We're all there to watch the game, and sometimes the emotion gets the best of people and things happen that shouldn't or things get said that probably shouldn't. That's why security is at most events, to keep things from really turning ugly. But while I don't want to completely rely on security, I can say in my experience of being a fan, I've learned a few things.

Originality counts, a lot. Anyone can yell a curse word, or tell somebody they suck. But find something interesting but not widely known, and hurl that, and hey, it shows some smarts. Sometimes the best insult is what doesn't get used, because there are athletes that feed off fan venom, so you can insult them better by being quiet. Making noise is great, and if some of the language gets dicey, it happens. I'm not going to say I've never uttered curse words in games, but I try and be careful as best as possible. But if I'm in section 107 and with my crazies, most people realize it may not be a tea and crumpet circle, so you're going to hear and see things that might not be for the faint of heart. I've even read ESPN's list on heckling, and it's actually pretty good.

But my issue here is that the school districts are trying so hard to protect kids from things, it makes the world almost unreasonable to live in. I get that nobody signs up in sports to get pummeled by 100 points in a game, or to have somebody from an opposing school refer to you as a dick simply because of the colors you are wearing, but it happens. And to sit back and naively think that we can solve the problem with calls of sportsmanship and manipulating rules to control the rules and environment is just stupid. That's a great lesson to be teaching kids, if you don't like the rules or the the game, just wait for someone to change it if it's not fair, and if you get an apology because the other team is better, you should feel good about them saying "we're sorry we made you feel bad because we're gooder than you". And they wonder why so many kids hit the business world after school, and it hits back hard because it's not always fair, it's sometimes not very nice, and the world doesn't owe them shit, even if you work hard and play by all the rules. But by all means, if you make sure the score in a game isn't too insulting and make sure everyone gets a trophy, by all means, you've done a great job of educating them about life.

I get that schools have it tough, I'm married to an educator and my mother in law works in a school out here. They talk about the classroom challenges, the crazy directives from the districts, the absolute insanity that happens in classes as they try to do more with less while making sure that no child is really left behind, while having a general public that thinks most teachers are under worked and supremely overpaid. I honestly felt that way until I really understood the challenges that teachers deal with, and realize that it's a wonderful but potentially thankless job. When I was a corporate trainer, I always had the threat of taking a person's job away if they didn't pay attention in class, but you can't do that to a fourth grader. And trust me, if they could, I would have expected that to be implemented by our last president.

So by all means put sports in this environment and sanitize the experience where all schools are the Wildcats, nobody keeps score cause we are playing for fun, and we all get a trophy and juice box at the end cause everyone is a winner. Sports is supposed to be fun, but it teaches you lessons of hard work, discipline, working as a team, and working towards a goal. I get that most sports now have a price tag and it's frustrating for some kids to pay money and sit on the bench, but honestly, I learned as much in practice as I ever did in games. It's about accomplishing a goal, and being respectful to your teammates, the officials and your opponents, while realizing that your opponents and their fans will give you shit for being the other team and officials will miss calls or make calls that you don't agree with. It's reality, and the way things work, and the sooner we teach kids that lesson, the better off they are in dealing with the challenges in the future.

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