Saturday, August 27, 2016
A Perfect 10 and an Absolute Zero
As published in The County Times (countytimes.somd.com)
By Ronald N. Guy Jr.
My daughter’s convinced that watching sports is a waste of time. She lectures me about it and often uses it to rebut my suggestion that she’s neglecting her homework assignments while absorbed in her electronic devices and social life – an apparently far more noble pursuit than following competitive athletics. In her mind, what’s good for dad is good for daughter, despite the gross imbalance of leisure time afforded by her middle-school life and my adult-with-multiple-kids life.
But she’s 13, so there’s no winning the argument. Frankly, I don’t need to; I just need to win the moment. To do so, I recite a refrain my dad used on me: Do as I say, not as I do. Once I layer on the threat of confiscating her precious electronics – the ones her parents procured and pay to keep connected to the outside world – for a frightening length of time (you know, like an hour), she reluctantly, if not silently, complies. Deep down she knows I’m right. I think. I hope.
When she gets older, I’ll explain why I watch sports. It’s still about the obvious: passionately rooting my teams to victory. But at age 43, it’s not entirely about the results. Sports are therapy now. They are an old friend and a retreat to a comfortable place. I watch seeking tangible examples of human excellence, elite performances under intense pressure, individuals overcoming adversity and teams reaching heights beyond what their collective talent would predict. Despite being affixed to the couch with a remote, not a pick axe, in my hand, I am a desperate miner searching for golden nuggets of inspirational fuel for my journey and for moments when life fails to deal me aces and faces.
Sports consistently fill my tank. The Rio Games alone offered up Simone Biles, Katie Ledecky, Simone Manuel, Paul George and Kristin Armstrong (a fellow 43-year-old in slightly better shape than this writer) to rekindle the fire in our guts. Sports are, however, nothing if not a cross section of society, so with the good comes the bad. Watch enough sports, or even a little, and you will encounter unimaginable egos, rampant narcissism, cheaters and perpetrators of a myriad of crimes.
Oh, and don’t forget liars.
Remember when Ryan Lochte, a 13-time medal winner, was just the second most decorated male swimmer in Olympic history? Wasn’t it great seeing the 32-year-old veteran winning gold with rival and long-time teammate Michael Phelps one last time?
It was a storybook ending until Lochte went boorish frat boy, got hammered and destroyed property at a Rio gas station. Then, for some reason known only to that ego-laden, self-serving space between his ears, Lochte concocted a fictitious account of the event that put his teammates at risk, dimmed the well-earned spotlight of other Olympians, embarrassed his country and laid waste to his reputation.
Lochte claimed he and three teammates had been robbed at gunpoint by a man dressed as a police officer. In reality, he and his boys damaged property and urinated on the premises because, you know, they thought they could. The truth, as it usually does in the information age, eventually surfaced which prompted Lochte to play the drunk/immature card and latently apologize for the “over-exaggerated” account of the night’s events.
Lochte didn’t “over-exaggerate”. He lied. And this from a guy who was born on the exact day – 3 August 1984 – that Mary Lou Retton stuck her “Perfect 10” vault to win the women’s all-around gymnastics gold at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. Who could have guessed the day that produced American perfection would produce an absolute zero 32 years later?
But I want to thank Lochte. Seriously. At some point I’ll be having a conversation with my kids and I’ll need evidence to illustrate the importance of respectfully diffusing a bad situation, being forthright and truthful and recognizing that a person’s reputation, while forged by countless acts, can be undone by a single error.
Lochte will be perfect for those moments. Maybe he’ll even help my daughter understand why I watch sports and realize it’s hardly a waste of time.