Category: Johnny Gunn

London 2012: Why an American Swimming Coach Needs to Shut Up and Why the Olympics is Ridiculous to Begin With

I try to avoid watching the Olympics, given that it encourages the continued exploitation of young kids in sports that nobody really cares about, but for whatever reason, I caught myself watching the other night. And I was quickly reminded why I am at times embarrassed to be American when I’m overseas. I hadn’t really felt this way since Bush left office four years ago, but American swimming coach John Leonard’s comments brought back some ugly flashbacks.

Leonard, who has a history of idiotic, sexist comments, wanted “to be careful about calling it doping,” though essentially accused Chinese gold medalist Ye Shiwen of exactly that. This pissed me off on two levels: firstly, that it’s surely okay that Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte win EVERY swimming event, shattering world records in the process, and of course would never raise any suspicion of doping. I guess this is because NBC shows us day and night the touching stories of how hard they have worked for this for four years (spare me, please). Apparently, despite building our entire railroad network in helping the US attain its industrial power status in the 19th century, we cannot believe that someone from China could possibly have the same work ethic of some rich, white kids who grew up in suburban swimming pools. Secondly, for Leonard to even say “we want to be very careful about calling it doping” while clearly implying exactly that is just cowardly. If you’re going to say something and try to smear this girl’s hard accomplishment, then at the very least put your neck out there and just say it—don’t dance around your point.

It’s a typical arrogant American attitude in full display, which I go to great lengths to try to downplay when I’m overseas. We’re not all that way, I try to explain, but idiots like Leonard make this very difficult to sustain.

That being said, I’m not really in favor of how the Chinese handle their athletics program either, which is exactly why I’m pretty much anti-Olympics. Let’s be honest—nobody really cares about swimming, from a spectator standpoint. Sure, people watch at the Olympics, but that is solely because of the bigger stage of what the overall competition is. People plan vacations around it, and not to watch a 200m freestyle relay. Soccer, basketball, American football, baseball, hockey, auto racing, and to some extent golf and tennis—these are the sports that have a continued following and can sustain themselves as professional businesses based on fan interest, ticket sales and television demand. Equestrian, swimming, or synchronized diving? I think not.

Yet despite this, I continue to hear stories from the Olympics like the one of China’s gold medal diver Wu Minxia, who had news of her grandparents’ deaths hidden from her for over a year so as not to interfere with her concentration for London. This poor girl was training daily from age 6, and taken from her home and family at 16 to be enrolled in a government aquatic academy. Even her father, who presumably (we hope) had to agree for this to happen, said his family “accepted a long time ago that she doesn’t belong entirely to us,” and that he doesn’t “even dare to think about things like enjoying family happiness.”

For what, may I ask? Is it really worth it for this girl? This is a perfect example of why the Olympics are really for the benefit of everyone but these athletes. In Wu’s case, she has become a gold medalist, which (we hope) will lead to opportunities that she can personally benefit from in the future. But for every Wu, there are hundreds and thousands of other athletes who do not register the same success after going through the same process. Can you imagine what the psychological impact must be on them for being expected to produce the same results and “failing” on the world stage? They are treated like machines that exist solely to bring gold medals back to a country, and if they fail at that, then what good are they, really?

Sure, for some who are clearly participating in the Olympics on their own terms, like the USA men’s basketball stars or Paraguayan track athlete Leryn Franco (who is not even in London to compete, but to boost her modeling career), it is just a fun event with which to further elevate their global celebrity. But the vast majority of these athletes are not rich, visible celebrities. Their hard work and, in cases like Wu Minxia, personal sacrifices, are solely for the benefit of the Olympic television sponsors, the rich IOC, and the corrupt politicians from various countries who can leave their 20-year-old mistresses aside for a  moment to revel in the fact that they are developing a “successful” athletic program.

If the Olympics truly were an amateur event which benefited the athletes who partake, I would be all for it. But unfortunately it’s anything but, and the existence of institutions that take “amateur” athletes from their homes and families and hide news of family tragedies from them in the name of “focused preparation” make this fact painfully evident.

-JG

3 Reasons Why We Need to Put the Penn State-Sandusky Issue to Rest (and Let JoePa Rest in Peace)

I can’t seem to go anywhere these days (not even Borneo, Malaysia apparently) without seeing some news coming out of tiny State College, Pennsylvania. This is, of course, in regards to the child sex case of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, and more recently whether his boss, the legendary, late head coach Joe Paterno was guilty in covering up for his buddy. There are three reasons why I’m simply sick of hearing about this. Sandusky’s crimes were indeed troubling, but it is time to both give this a rest, and let Paterno rest in peace as well. Here’s why:

  1. Neither man was either as great, or is as evil, as we make them out to be.

What do I mean by this? First of all, I’m not in any way, shape or form condoning Sandusky’s crimes. He obviously did some sick things that severely impacted the lives of some of his victims. However, we are a bandwagon society. If Sandusky, who had a children’s foundation, worked with hundreds of kids throughout his years at Penn State, and abused a handful of them (which again, I am NOT excusing), I’m pretty sure there will be plenty of others who were not victimized that will come forth with dollar signs in their eyes. And wouldn’t you? This is how our society is, and always has, worked. Like the ambulance-chaser legal ads we see on late night television, or the flyers we receive in the mail that tell us we may be eligible for compensation because we rented a car in California in April of 2007, when we see an opportunity to profit, we pounce. And while Sandusky did victimize some children and does not deserve to be let off the hook for even one, I’m sure the extent of his crimes has been overstated as other kids who participated in his programs are being influenced by ‘advisers’ to try to cash in. (If I receive those notices about renting a car 5 years ago, imagine how many lawyers have contacted every kid who was ever in any way linked with Sandusky’s program!).

We put these men on a pedestal because they could coach football, nothing more and nothing less. And because we regarded them so highly before, it’s our nature to kick dirt on them now that they have fallen.

  1. Paterno is dead, and Sandusky will face the wrath of the law.

I can’t emphasize this point enough. Paterno is dead—anything that comes out now to further defame him is like kicking a man when he’s down. He cannot defend himself. Anything more negative that comes out about him is only going to make the remaining years of his widow’s life miserable, and what did she do to deserve that? Further, while idiots like former FBI chief Louis Freeh, who surely cashed in hundreds of thousands of dollars of public money for his “investigation” into the case (like Penn State administrators couldn’t have accessed the same email history without the massive fee) continue to defame anyone associated with the case further, has anyone for one minute put themselves in the actual shoes of Joe Paterno? Keep in mind, this man first met Sandusky in 1963—more than 30 years before any allegations of child sex abuse came out. Who is to say that when he first heard any speculation, he didn’t approach Sandusky and confront him about it? If you had a 40-some year relationship with someone, and they told you that something simply wasn’t true, wouldn’t you probably give them the benefit of the doubt as well?  Again, I’m not defending Sandusky, or even Paterno if he did in fact go to any lengths to cover up the issue. What I’m suggesting is that he more than likely did ask Sandusky about the allegations and simply didn’t believe they were true, based on a trust that 40-plus years of knowing someone and working with someone probably brings.

As for Sandusky, he has already been defamed, will forever be known as a child rapist, and will die behind bars. What more does anyone want?

The latest talk is about imposing a full-year ban on Penn State football, but all that serves to do is punish 19-year olds who are currently living their dreams of playing Penn State football, and the thousands of fans who see PSU games as the highlight of their autumn, for the past actions of people who are now dead or in prison.  And with NCAA (which is among the most hypocritical institutions going) rules that make things very difficult on players who wish to transfer to other universities, such a ban would be a very short sighted, bandwagon approach that displaces punishment onto innocent people.

  1. We (the media and fans) are the idiots for continually elevating entertainers into greater cultural and moral idols.

So you want to remove JoePa’s statue from the Penn State campus, do you? Well, may I ask why that statue is really there in the first place? Let’s get it straight: while Paterno was indeed a great football coach, he coached scholarship athletes who would have simply accepted scholarships to play football at Pittsburgh, or Ohio State, or Syracuse if Paterno wasn’t around. If you really want to elevate sports figures or coaches into saints, then I’d suggest starting with youth coaches for troubled kids, or high school coaches in inner cities, who are actually taking young, impressionable children off the streets and instilling within them discipline and responsibility. By the time people like Paterno (and even more so professional coaches) get to these players, they are already nearly grown men. Their most impressionable years have passed. Surely Paterno positively impacted the lives of some of his players, but in far less proportion to other people these young men dealt with prior to attending Penn State.  As I said earlier, Paterno coached football—he didn’t walk on water, heal lepers and turn criminals into saints.

This reminds me of the public shock and scandal after Tiger Woods’ sex addiction came into the public eye. We, the media and public, along with his hundreds of sponsors, were furious. How could Tiger commit infidelity as a husband…for he’s the greatest golfer in the world!??! Does anyone else realize how ridiculous this sounds? We don’t make statues of, and sponsors don’t pay millions of dollars for endorsements with, Joe Average who is the community youth director at church, or the guy who runs the homeless shelter down the street. If we want to idolize people for moral and humane reasons, then these are the folks we should look at. But we idolized Tiger Woods because he was really, really good at hitting a little, white ball into a tiny cup with a metal stick. That’s it. We idolized Michael Jordan for being really, really good at making a bouncy, orange ball go through a net. So how could he possibly cheat on his wife??? We are simply fools for trying to project a larger image onto people for being incredibly talented at a particular craft. Unfortunately, there is absolutely not, and has never existed, any correlation between talent in a particular craft and moral fidelity. And when you think about it, it’s kind of silly that we make it so.

-JG