This post is about sports. And kids. And Lance Armstrong.
By now, you've probably heard the news that Lance is likely to have his 7 Tour de France wins taken away. For many, it's just the latest in a series of doping, corruption, cheating, and all-around bad behavior scandals that we've come to expect from athletes. In my lifetime, I can say I've definitely seen (especially) pro athletes lose quite a few rungs on the ladder of hero status. It used to be kids idolized Joe Montana, Ozzie Smith, Cal Ripken Jr...yes, I'm showing my age.
So how to talk to my own kids about sports when I find it hard to even watch my beloved childhood sport, baseball? When sports seems to have lost its luster? The tickets are expensive, the ads numerous, the players spoiled--or worse--and it's hard to gain any appreciation for the metaphors about life which sport provides us when the competition seems to be almost an afterthought.
My love for sport has, surprisingly, been renewed lately. In unlikely places. And I think where we look and what we're looking for is important. In many ways, the Olympics we just saw in London was a shining example of what we should be looking for...NBC's horrible coverage aside. It's the events which only come around every four years--or maybe once a year--that better hold the mirror. Forget swimming and gymnastics or even track and field...those are the golden children of the Olympics. No, I'm talking about rowing and volleyball. Sports that will never achieve widespread audiences. Sports without big paychecks, few sponsors, and little coverage.
Not that I'd encourage my children to only do little-known, unpopular sports. That's not quite what I mean. What I'm getting at is more about the way we should stop admiring all the wrong qualities and all the wrong people in the world of sports. Stop looking at paychecks...or maybe even accomplishments...and start looking at character.
Maybe I'm asking for a judgment no fan could possibly give. Even if we're just talking about effort and heart. Who am I to somehow forgive Lance Armstrong--assuming he doped--more than a Barry Bonds? Somewhere in there is something about what it took. Barry Larkin, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop and one of my childhood heroes, is in the Hall of Fame this season. And, somehow, he stands up to my adult eye for BS. Not only is he one of the greatest shortstops to ever play the game, but he played his entire career with one team--rare these days--and he played the game with both enthusiasm and...for lack of a better word...honesty. Courage?
I hope both my kids play sports. They don't have to. Maybe it won't be who they are...but I think the lessons you learn from competing are important. And, hopefully, it will inform their decisions about who they admire.
Because too often these days we only hear about the glory, the money, and the success. Whatever happened to the agony of defeat? I'm a well-known hater of games that don't keep score. Not even because "in life there is a score." I was also a notoriously bad loser as a little kid. Losing is important though. We need to hear more about it. We need to hear more stories of people who pick up broken pieces of putting all their hopes and dreams on the table only to fail. Miserably. As Kelly likes to say though, "rub some dirt on it and get up."
It's cliche and tired, but it really is not whether you win or lose but how you play the game. Who are your heroes?