Sunday, August 21, 2016

NOT an Excuse.

At some point during my early teenage years, my parents arrived home with a new Ford Explorer. I loved that car the very instant I saw it in the driveway. Maybe because it was green, I don't know. All I know is, I thought it was perfect. I am sure I had seen one before, but I simply had no opinion on the car, whatsoever. But now? Now it was my favorite! The very next day, I rode in it with my mother to run errands. At our first stop, what did we park aside? Another Ford Explorer. I couldn't believe my eyes. What were the odds!? Slowly, as we drove around that day, I started to see them everywhere. They were literally EVERYWHERE. This almost disappointed me, here I was, thinking we had something, new and special and amazing, but, really, it was everywhere. I just hadn't noticed it. In one instant. One experience. One moment. I had sensationalized the most insignificant, common vehicle to every grace our roads (at that time), all because my parents simply brought it home to our driveway.

This. This is what the media is doing every single day. They are choosing to draw our attention to certain things, phrase them in certain ways, all to sensationalize something that is likely extremely trivial and mundane. Because, who wants to see and hear about the boring, everyday Explorer?

I am marginally disappointed with the Olympics media coverage, but gargantuanly disappointed with the "lay persons" response to it.  Most of these announcers and reporters are tried and true. They are good people, with good hearts. I challenge any one of us to get on air and speak constantly and interestingly while remaining 100% PC. It's not possible. You will slip. You will phrase something incorrectly. You WILL offend someone. We can all find slip ups, things to be offended about, Explorer's...if that's where we've turned our attention. I absolutely don't want to downplay real issues that exist in our society, but I also find it extremely exhausting that we are trying to find Rosa Parks at every single bus stop. The way history tells it, she actively pursued civil rights. This was her passion. She chose to be involved in multiple organizations and movements. She searched for the right moment and seized the opportunity to change a societal norm, in a fantastic and necessary way.  These are athletes. And sports announcers. Not societal revolutionaries.

As you may (or may not) have noticed, it is actually less frequent than you'd expect for the team captain of each sport to be the most decorated athlete. It is hard to concentrate, train day in and day out, be guided by your passion and drive in a sport, while also being a motivational speaker and exemplary human. As an elite athlete myself, I remember constantly being reminded by our coaches not to wear our warm ups or any team apparel when going out to the bars (which was also adamantly discouraged from doing, and that any belligerent behavior, no matter our apparel is not condoned nor tolerated in any capacity.) We were reminded regularly that, though we may not want the attention, we will get it. That it's our responsibility to represent the most upstanding and morally correct human behavior at all times. My high school coach held me back from Senior Nationals one Summer, because, though I did not have one single sip of alcohol, I was guilty by association. I followed my friends, I didn't speak up, I did not behave at the level appropriate for an "athlete of my caliber" as they say. I'm not sure I have ever been so heart broken, one of the toughest lessons I have ever learned, and I'm not sure I ever completely agreed with the severity of that punishment. But I had to suck it up and learn that, as Uncle Ben so famously taught us, "with great power comes great responsibility". And, just as Peter Parker made a few mistakes before he knew what to do with himself. And, at moments, was angry with the "gift" he'd been given and the responsibility that landed on his shoulders. He too, had to learn to deal with his mistakes. Wouldn't you rather do this privately, and not under the scrutiny of all the world?

Ryan Lochte, being a 12-time Olympic medalist, SHOULD be more responsible, and make better choices, and be aware of what he is saying on National television. We ALL know that, I know that he has been taught this, time and again. He's not a child, he SHOULD have known better. But, as many people do, he made a mistake. There are so many comments out there with disgruntled people, about how Lochte's behavior overshadowed* other Olympic gold medalists time to shine. This didn't need to happen. We all could have let the Rio law enforcement and the Olympic committee handle it. We could have just let Gabby Douglas choose to salute the flag however she wished. We could have enjoyed amazing athletes, men, women, black, white, brown and watched them perform feats never to be seen again without suddenly turning our focus to sexist and racist comments. Somehow. Social media made one of my favorite things in the world to experience and watch, into a torturous, "he said, she said" gossip, speculation fest. I simply want to enjoy what's left of the Olympics. I would love to recount the amazing moments, and try to quit rehashing the questionable ones. I would love to identify the great things that people said and did, not the slip ups. The poor choices. The regrettable moments of a bunch of superstars who know they are in the lime-light (didn't ask for it) but still struggle to stay on that rigid moral path, that apparently ALL the rest of America has no problem following.

(OK, maybe sometimes we like a little bit of the lime-light: I was the IU record-holder of most NCAA All-American Honors at one point (with 13). Record hold in the 100 fly briefly, as well. Ahh. The good ol' days.)

By the way, if you ask the athletes, there is no such thing media "overshadowing". With a few exceptions, these people are simply trying to be the best within themselves. The Olympic dream is not to be on TV, but to be THE BEST at something. Competitors of this caliber are not proving things to you, they are proving things to themselves. They are reaping the rewards of decades of self-control as well as intensely hard focus and training.  As the first American female to win gold in wrestling, Helen Maroulis, says: “I didn’t come here to win a gold medal for the media attention, I didn’t come here to win a gold medal in order to find something within myself or some peace within myself. I found that self-worth before I stepped on the mat. I think that’s why I won the gold medal."

So please. For just one moment forget you had ever been presented with that Explorer. Relax. Marvel. Enjoy watching the phenomenal capabilities of the human body, and try to let the less than perfect moments that exist in all of nature take a back seat.