Recently, for complex reasons of guilt and intense anxiety, we decided that a
long-ago library theft had been gathering dust for too long and so it was time
to take down Thucydides and get the skinny on the Peloponnesian war. In his
introduction, to our surprise, he talked a bit about athletics in ancient
Greece, and how they got past the barbarian habit of clothes and started
wrassling naked and the like.Â Progress is a beautiful thing.
It got us to thinking, though, about Bill Russell's point, that along with
art, war, and religion, every society has athletics, and in every society there
is an honorable place for athletics. It's not as true now in many ways, since
Gorgeous George and Muhammad Ali pointed the way out to the Me Generation.Â
What was cute then has degenerated into abominations like Dennis Rodman and the
like.Â Nonethless, we still put a value on athletics and competition,
despite what being major big business has done to them and despite the fact that
we despise a lot of athletes who are, as people, schmucks.Â And the sense
of idolatry has made big problems for athletes as their view of the world is
sometimes charmingly, sometimes dangerously, naive.Â It's charming in a way
to see a kid who is convinced that the world is his and that it will conform to
his expectations.. Ridiculous, foolish, but not troublesome.Â However, the
sense that the normal rules don't apply lead athletes to behave in ways which
are unbearably arrogant to the rest of usÂ - and they probably, in all
sincerity, don't realize it's even an issue to others.
Such was likely the case with the UCLA footballers who felt free to take
handicapped parking spaces as their own. Here are the descendants of Thucydides'
grapplers, treated, in many respects, like Gods - and not surprisingly they
began to behave like Gods as well.Â Among the most physically accomplished
people on their campus, the footballers had no problem in confiscating the
parking places closest to where they needed to be - weren't they different than
the rest?Â Â Weren't they entitled?
And of course the answer comes back: "No. You are not different. You are
Which they ignored until caught, then they apologized to "the
Well that's great, but the community is made up of real people, and kids
whose bodies are twisted and malformed were forced to get their equipment out of
their cars and slug it across the parking lot.Â Â Â One guy did
apologize to "the community" on video, but that's at best displays a
willingness to address a faceless mass and a lack of willingness to go up to a
kid in a wheelchair and just say I was wrong and I'm terribly sorry."Â
And to be fair, they might have done that. But they did it under duress.
There's no reason why athletes have to be jerks. You have so much going for
you it's not funny.
Of course it's not limited to players. George Welsh showed the same blinding
naivete when he allowed as how it would be good of the conference to expand
because UVa is running a deficit.Â And when UNC builds a massive gym that
has never made money, and compounds that by building lavish football facilities
- well, while it's charming in a sad way that George Welsh just assumes things
will work out, it's not realistic.
Anyway, the worst part about the UCLA ticket mess was the hokey, lawyerly
written apology to the "community."Â Â Â Â We don't
expect athletes to be perfect. Frankly, given the way their asses are kissed,
we're shocked when a Grant Hill or Eric Montross comes along.Â Â Â
But it'd be nice if one guy would just separate himself and deal with this as a
moral failing and truly, honestly seek some forgiveness and redemption.Â
Given the forces which make modern athletes, though,Â we're not holding our
breath.Â And let's be clear: despite our love for Duke and our respect for
the institution and all, it's not like all Duke athletes are mother superiors by
day and on field angels at night.Â We'd like to think so. But just coming
to Duke doesn't deprogram the mentality.Â We have our share of nonsense to
deal with as well.