Aug 11, 2016
On the loss of Olympic faith…
I was driving north up the New York thruway yesterday, glad to be a million miles from Rio, wishing I could be more excited by the many inspiring performances down there, when an old Kris Kristofferson song came on called “To Beat the Devil.” How apt, thought I, immersed as I’ve been with some particular devilish battles of late. Turned it up, let him lay it on me.
The truth remains that no one wants to know…
Truer words. The devil in the song was an old man sitting at the bar, looking to crush the dreams of the dead broke kid beside him holding his guitar. No need for further details. The beauty of the good tunes is their ability to set your mind spinning wherever it needs to go.
My mind went to the NBA, to the NHL, to the NFL, to FIFA, and to every other major sport that consumes so much of our time and passions. And of course thoughts went to doping, the devil that lurks inside each and every one of them.
As I understand it, neither the NBA nor the NHL bother to test players at all during the playoffs. You know, when you have groups of obsessively competitive multimillionaires competing in insanely draining series, where recovery is paramount. As far as I can tell, the NFL just doesn’t give a shit, and nor do its fans. And to be fair – to be a fan of American football (as I am), means suspending your moral compass for your own vicarious enjoyment. These guys are killing each other; they’re all likely going to die at an earlier age than you or I because of what they do for a living. In that context, one can see how the cleanliness of your favorite aging linebacker or quarterback seems a little less urgent.
As for FIFA, and the rest of the planet’s ‘football’, has anyone ever heard a word uttered about doping during the World Cup? I haven’t. To listen to my closest friends who follow the sport like a religion, it’s just not something that’s much discussed. But I mean, who needs an extra edge when your entire nation is living or dying based on the stamina you have left out on the pitch in the 90th minute of a Cup final?
The lukewarm, going-through-the-motions, pseudo-outrage surrounding doping can be found behind the scenes in every professional sport. Major League Baseball had to become an outright joke before it was forced to sit up and do something public about it. The MLB can be praised now for taking it seriously – all it took was being publicly shamed by Congress. It now at least can be watched with a degree of faith.
But do you really care? I mean, of course you’ll say you do. Because it’s the right thing to say and to feel. But did it make you like baseball any more than you did when you watched a Mr. Potato Head Barry Bonds crush 73 home runs? What he was doing in those days disgusted me, but then I could never change the channel any time he came to bat. He was the ultimate shameless villain you had to watch.
Which of course brings us to the sad state of the Olympics. As much as the IOC goes through the motions and claims to care, the truth remains that no one wants to know.
I do. I don’t know why I care so much. Maybe because I spent a younger lifetime competing cleanly myself. Maybe because I’ve watched those close to me be ruined by the inherent unfairness of it all. Maybe because it really does seem like a battle between good and evil.
Other sports can turn their backs and go through the motions, and your outrage can’t extend everywhere, into some infinite space of injustice. But it matters most where it hits home. At some point you need to try to beat the devil. Because, as the last line of that Kristofferson tune goes: I don’t believe that no one wants to know.