Hey Michael Phelps, Let’s Party!

Everyone does it.  Well, I didn’t.

I never thought I would be able to say that I could do anything that Michael Phelps could not, but today I realize that I can do something that he can never do.  I can say that I have never done drugs.  He, obviously, cannot.

I have made some mistakes I my life.  I remember drinking a few times when I was in high school.  I remember driving recklessly on some occasions, and regrettably I remember doing both on a couple of occasions.  I remember bullying one kid a little, and I regret that also, but for the most part I was a good kid.

I had lots of friends, and tons of acquaintances.  As a result, during my junior and senior years I was invited to several parties.  At these, there would always be alcohol, and occasionally the stakes were higher.

I remember one night several of my friends did something pretty stupid.  There were five of us.  We had just purchased food at the local Taco Bell, and we were about to get into the car to leave when a car full of hot girls pulled up and started to talk to us.  No lie.  It was like a scene out of Porky’s or something.  They were leaning and yelling out of the windows of the car, “Hey, do you guys want to go to a party?”  As God is my witness, it happened just like that.  Of course, if we had taken just a moment to analyze the situation, we would have noticed that: 1) no of us were the studs of our high school (though we were not horribly disfigured), 2) these girls were really nice looking, 3) and they looked a little older than us.  No, we did not consider any of this, because we were 16 year old boys full of hormones.

So, we hopped in the car and followed them.  We drove to an apartment out by Lewisville Lake, and followed them into it.  Several things were instantly apparent.  First, this was no sorority bash.  All of the girls had boyfriends there, and the boyfriends did look older than us.  Second, we were not prepared for a party in any way.  We had no alcohol of any kind, and the partiers were not offering any.  And third, these people were doing a lot more than drinking.  There were several couples engaging in what was sure to become sex at some point, and the smell of pot was in the air.  I was confused at first, not knowing what to do, then a girl offered me a pill.  It was ecstasy.  I was not prepared, but since I had decided long before that I did not want to ever do drugs, I was able to fall back on my default answer, “No thanks.”  A friend and I sat with our backs near the door for a while watching what was going on and feeling uncomfortable.  Finally I suggested that we leave which we did.  Honestly, these kinds of stupid decisions are how people end up in 55 gallon barrels at the bottom of a lake.  We had no idea where these girls were taking us or what would happen when we got there.

On another occasion, I went to a party with some friends at a house where a member of the quasi-successful local area band ESFM (the Electric Sheep Farming Method- no lie) had the house to himself (no parents) for the weekend.  This time I was in a place where I knew all of the people, and they liked me.  I had brought some alcohol, and was drunk before long.

There were about two dozen people at the party, and after a while, I noticed that they were all taking turns stepping out into the backyard.  They were smoking pot, and after a few minutes, one of my friends asked me if I wanted some.  This was my big opportunity, and it was the situation where most kids fall.  I was with friends, and they were having a good time.  All I had to do was say, ‘yes,’ but I was faced with my own reasons that I had determined long before that day.  I knew that some things could limit you and your future possibilities in life, and pot was one of those things.  Since I did not know exactly what I wanted to be in life, I reasoned that I shouldn’t do anything that would limit my possibilities.  So, I said, “No, that’s OK.”

I was expecting a scene out of Reefer Madness or some after school special to unfold in which they all surrounded me and ritualistically ostracized me from the group while baiting me into taking the drugs at the same time.  It did not happen.  In fact, they were extremely nice about it.  Honestly, at the time I believed that they were actually going outside to smoke for my benefit.  In retrospect, it seems more likely that they did not want pot smell to permeate the house for the parents of the guy who lived there to smell when they returned.  I stayed at the party and enjoyed myself with my friend late into the evening.

These little victories were important in a teen ager’s battle not to partake in what everyone else was doing, and they made me feel good about myself, and stronger if I should have had to face the same thing again.  I thought that I was the only one, but I still have a friend that I met about a year later who also says that he never did drugs, and I’m sure that he had opportunities (being in a band well into his late twenties).

This brings me to the Michael Phelps situation.  It’s a real shame.  Here we had a young man that could have been the poster-boy for clean, positive, American achievement, and he lost it all when he put his mouth on a bong like everyone else at the party was doing.  It can’t be undone, and the pictures can’t be unseen.  In so many ways, Michael Phelps proved how different and stronger he was that the average human being.  His discipline can probably be only matched by a few people in the world.  However, he knew what the consequences of smoking pot were for him.  His handlers had warned him over and over, but he chose to do so anyway.  He chose to be just like everyone else, average.  And now, his incredible Olympic legacy will forever be tainted by a picture of him with dumb-face toking on a bong.  Sad.

A Parting Shot at the Olympics

I want to start off this rant by saying that for the past two weeks I have watched a lot of the Olympics.  I can be a little obsessive about things like this, and with the greatness of the invention of DVR, I was able to record and playback an significant portion of all the televised events, liberally fast forwarding through the fluff and replays to see all of the important (and some unimportant) events.  I also want to say that, for the most part I enjoyed what I saw.  The Olympic games carry with them a mystique that is hard to screw up in the first place, and the added element of patriotism that I felt, and good sportsmanship that was exhibited by almost all of the athletes (I do exempt the numb-skull from Cuba who kicked the referee in the face from this statement) made watching the events that much more enjoyable.  I will also credit the host country, China, for putting on a great spectacle and providing great venues for the events.  The presentation (excluding NBC’s coverage) was unrivaled and deserves to be lauded. 

That being said, I was angered at the smug attitude exhibited by International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge in a three-part interview with Bob Costas over the weekend.  The biggest theme that came out of the interview was that the Olympics were not ever going to criticize China for any reason.  The truth is that China rolled-up the Brinks truck in a way that the Olympics has never seen before.  And, make no mistake about it, the IOC is about making money.  They are not about to bite the hand that just served them the colossal feast that was the Beijing games, and the definitely do not want to cut off this gravy-train.

In the piece, Bob half-heartedly attempted to interview Rogge about several controversial aspects of the games. He asked him about the controversy swirling around the Chinese girl’s gymnastics team, and whether they were cheating by sending underage girls to the competition.  He completely dodged the question by putting the onus on the gymnastic federation.  Let’s be honest, the IOC was not interested in offending the Chinese by strongly pursuing any such allegations.  Besides, the IOC has much more blatant problems to deal with in these games such as the travesty that was the boxing venue.

I said at the beginning of this controversy, that if these girls were under 16 that the rules needed to be changed.  The argument that 13 year olds cannot compete at the Olympic level falls apart when several of them win their respective competitions at the biggest of venues in the sport.  As it is, the Olympics only come around once every four years, and a gymnast’s opportunity to compete is greatly diminished if he or she is unlucky enough to be born in the wrong year.  Costas pointed out that there was a 14 year old British diver at the Olympics this year.  Rogge hid behind the rules of the respective federations on this answer, and added a paternalistic (possibly chauvinistic) statement about protecting the athletes.  This rang especially hollow with China, and its Olympic tradition of taking 3 year olds away from their parents to be trained for the Olympics as a backdrop to the conversation.  As I said, the rule should be, if you are able to compete, you should be allowed to compete, but until the rules are changed, the IOC should enforce them for everyone.

Later, in a discussion of the dropping of baseball and softball as Olympic events, Rogge used the steroid controversy (baseball), and being unfairly associated with the steroid controversy (softball) as reasons for the dismissal of these sports from the games from the games.  I will give Costas a little credit here.  He ignored Rogge’s disingenuous answers and went straight at the truth.  First he alluded to the fact that baseball does not send major leaguers to the games due to the conflict in schedule.  Rogge admitted that the Olympics desired to have the best athletes on the field.  Translation: the IOC would make more money if Jeeter and A-Rod were there.  So, if they can’t have those guys, then they’ll take their Olympic games and go home.  This is odd because baseball, being second only in popularity to soccer in the world, can field competitive teams from any number of Central American, South America, North American and Asian countries even if they do not get major leaguers.  Also, a compromise might easily be worked out by rotating the games from the Northern to Southern hemispheres.  This way every other Olympics could be attended by major leaguers who would be attending the games in the Southern hemisphere in baseball’s offseason.

The reason that Costas forced out of Rogge for the removal of softball was dominance by the USA women.  Of course, the irony of this was the fact that the USA women lost in the gold medal game to Japan.  Rogge, in a classic bit of smugness, suggested that the loss had a silver-lining by proving that other teams could compete with the USA.  Golly, thanks, Jacques.  That makes us feel so much better.  So, all we have to do is lose to in order have our sports accepted in the Olympics.  I wonder if Chinese dominance of ping pong, or Russian dominance of rhythmic gymnastics (not a sport, but that is a discussion for another time) or Hungarian dominance of water polo is going to relegate these sports to the Olympic ash-heap.  I doubt it.  This is simply another in a long line of IOC digs at the USA, its biggest generator of capital.

Finally, Costas brought up China’s reputation for human rights abuses.  In particular he mentioned Joey Cheek, Tibet, and two 80 year old Chinese women who were sent for re-education for the sin of simply applying for a legal permit to hold a protest.  Rogge said that the IOC defended Cheek (fat lot of good that did), but on the matter of Tibet and the two women, Rogge went on the offensive.  He stated (and I paraphrase) that if the governments of the world had no power to expect China to reform, then how could the IOC be expected to force China to reform.  This high-handed comment ignored the point of the criticism which has been leveled at the IOC all along. 

The point of this criticism is that the IOC should not award games to countries that have human rights issues, abusive training regimens for their athletes and tend to bend the rules on a corporate level as it comes to the games.  Of course, the IOC has no power to dictate policy to any country.  It does, however, have the right to express its outrage or even concern for a country’s policies by simply not awarding them an Olympic games in the first place.  The sad truth is that the point of this interview was to show where the IOC stands now, and it is clear that when you come to the IOC with enough money, they will bend over backward to make sure that you give it to them.  Look for China to have a games every 20 years from now on.

Somebody Should Have Said No!: Spanish Olympic Basketball Team Commits Major Faux Pas

Yesterday, it was reported that the Spanish Olympic basketball team had run a full-page ad in Marca, the country’s leading sports newspaper featuring a picture with the whole team using their fingers to push their eyes up in a slant.  Of course, this action was appropriately followed by some (although not nearly enough) international outrage.  Spanish officials claimed ignorance, pleaded that they meant no offense.  In fact, the Guardian says that “no one from the federation felt the ad was inappropriate, and that no offense was intended.”

Once again, I find myself faced with a story where a little voice in the back of my head is screaming, “Somebody should have said, ‘No.!’”  For people who attempt to follow the news, every day seems to be a repetition of stories in which people make stupid decisions with no regard for the ramifications of what they are doing.  I accept this.  Unfortunately a large number of people are so egocentric that they go through life as if they are staring in their own movies (or episodes of the Jerry Springer Show).  For these people, conflict invites response, and any opportunity must be acted upon either positively or negatively.  If there is a TV camera around, they are compelled to make asses of themselves because the camera, for them, only represents an opportunity to add another event to their lives, which they will attempt to do regardless of the lives of the people who are simply trying to give a viewing audience a little entertainment or the children that might be watching.  This is unfortunately just an inevitable reality.

While, as I said, I have accepted this as life, I have a harder time when there are more people involved.  I do believe that most people are really trying to live and let live for the most part in this world, and that it is these people who reign-in a lot of questionable behavior before it get out of hand.  It stands to reason, that when something is obviously wrong, the more people that are involved, the better the chance that someone will realize the problem, and say, “No.”

This was obviously not the case with the Spanish Olympic basketball team.  The more you think about it, the more problematic it is.  At the shoot, you had the whole team, the team trainers, the photographers, and whatever Spanish Olympic officials that were responsible for the team.  Already this is a lot of people, but we are asked to believe that no one in attendance even questioned to fact that they were being asked to do the Asian equivalent of putting on black-face.

Even if that were true, it appears that the picture was actually taken in China (there is a dragon embedded in the floor as a graphic in the foreground of the photo.  If this were the case, one would think that at a games that is touted as having as much security as this one has, that there would have been Olympic officials present at the shoot.  Then, there is the magazine itself.  How many people were involved in the approval process and actually placing the picture into the magazine?  I find it hard to believe that no one that was involved in this process had any idea of the implicit offensiveness that was in this photo.

Even if all of the participants involved actually were ignorant of the picture’s offensiveness, there are people employed throughout this process whose job it is to catch things like this.  Any major nation is going to have handlers and public relations people who are responsible for making sure that individual members of the team do not embarrass themselves or their country.  Any newspaper is going to employ editors who are responsible for making sure that stories and ads are not offensive.  But, beyond any of this, the Olympic officials tightly control the information and images that are being put out to the world right now.  A good example of this is the dearth of information that is supplied to ESPN.  They basically give them two seconds clips of video and still shots in an attempt to force people into watching the plethora of NBC channels involved in its production.  It is these people, the PR handlers, the editors and the Olympic PR people who I find to be most at fault in this.  It is their job to know these things, and to prevent them from happening.  You learn this right after you learn the ‘seven word you can’t say in television.’  The Olympics carries with it national issues that almost rise to (and sometime do rise to) the level of diplomacy (see Bush and Putin during the opening ceremonies). 

As I stated earlier, I’m surprised this has not been a bigger story than it is.  I guess we are just lucky that no American team did this.  I cannot even imagine the press coverage this would have gotten in that case.