Thursday, 2 October 2014

All the Heroes and Legends I Knew as a Child Have Fallen to Idols of Clay




My RSS newsfeed here from Le Figaro has its usual suspects - the French public debt has crossed the two trillion Euro threshold.  Nicholas Sarkozy is angling to get back into the Palais de l'Elysee.  Hongkong young people hissed their leadership at the celebration of the 65th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.  

One item that caught my eye (no pun intended) was the little detail about the recent arrest of American Olympic champion Michael Phelps for DUI.  The screaming headline proclaimed 
"Michael Phelps avait les yeux «injectés de sang»
The text of the story went on to describe how Phelps had bloodshot eyes, slurred speech,  His BAC was reported to be 0.14% - the limit in Maryland, where Phelps was stopped, is 0.08%.  

Further down, Phelps responded in a statement, delivered in parts via Twitter (motto: You cannot spell Twitter without T-W-I-T)
Je comprends la gravité de mes actions et en assume l'entière responsabilité. Je sais que ces mots ne veulent peut-être pas dire grand-chose en ce moment, mais je suis profondément désolé pour tous les gens que j'ai déçus
[I understand the severity of my actions and  take full responsibility. I know these words may not mean much right now but I am deeply sorry to everyone I have let down.]
Bob Bowman and the FINA announced their disappointment and issued a terse statement about how they expect athletes to comport themselves responsibly both in and out of the pool.

Phelps has been in trouble with the law before, first having been arrested in 2004 for DUI and for later being caught in a photo with a marijuana pipe.  

I do no personally condone drink-driving, and Phelps should face the full legal consequences for what he has done.  I'm a bit more sanguine about being caught on film (presumably) smoking pot, as I believe that the drug laws are a futile invasion of personal liberties.  

I would say to Phelps, though, that he hasn't really let anyone down, except perhaps himself.  I understand that athletes are heroes, and we expect them to be role models of a sort.  But if we are being honest, Michael Phelps is a tremendously gifted athlete, perhaps the greatest swimmer who ever lived.  He has worked extremely hard - perhaps inhumanly hard.  He has focused on doing one thing with concentration and determination that are frankly difficult for the average person to understand.  I respect his abilities in the pool, and am amazed by his ability to be so singularly focused on one goal.

But I do not see why our admiration for his abilities ought to be carried over into an expectation that he is something more.  Athletes are not gods and they are not superman, beyond their very circumscribed arenas.  That they are blessed with physical gifts should not be mistaken as some sort of moral rectitude.  Phelps is a human being after all, and human beings fall.  

If we put idols up on the shelf, we should not be surprised if they have feet of clay.  And if Michael Phelps wants to apologise to someone he has let down, then he should look in the mirror.



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