Whatever the Olympic spirit is meant to represent, it does not appear to be washing clean all the bad feelings that were simmering under, or above, the surface in some sporting places. Living in an era where those with access to the Internet can freely and ‘loudly’ have a ‘voice’, i.e., be heard, or be seen, or state their views (substantiated or not), and generally swing the lead at the head of anyone they choose, we should not be surprised that the littlest things can become the stuff of ‘wars’ in the social media world.
Washington Post columnist, Sally Jenkins, brought to my attention yesterday the spat between current USA women’s soccer team goalkeeper, Hope Solo (pronounced ‘so low’, I presume), who took to task on Twitter former celebrated USA soccer player, Brandy Chastain (see link). The views on all sides (Jenkins, Solo and Chastain) are interesting, and I agree in part with each of them. Neither player has the reputation of someone likely to back down from a challenge, and goalkeepers, especially, are often ready to dive headlong into trouble, so I find the possibility of this going on for some time to be high.
Elite athletes (like ‘stars’ in many fields) often did not get to their heights by being timid and ready to kowtow or curry favour. A good dose of selfishness is often needed to get up the rungs of any sporting ladder. Common sense or social gracefulness are not necessary to sporting success. A good cheery attitude to criticism may well be on display but it may well disguise a seething cauldron of enmity. Sometimes that fire, like the sting of failure, is what an athlete needs to get to higher level. Do John McEnroe and Andy Roddick really need to get down and dirty with officials, other than to gee themselves up when playing poorly and to be off-putting to their opponent? Did Victoria Azarenka need to swear at the chair umpire yesterday and tell her that “You always mess up!” over a call? Do they mean the meanness or is it part of some wider strategy? Whatever the answer, we know that love in sports can be as elusive as dead-heats for first place.
Being teammates do not friends make, for sure. Take another little volcano erupting in the soccer world in England, with what has been dubbed the ‘choc ice’ war. (Some in the US may know the term ‘Oreo’ for the same characteristics highlighted by the term ‘choc ice’.) One black player (Rio Ferdinand) is taking it to another black player (Ashley Cole) for being a witness for a white player (John Terry) in a racial abuse case. Ironically, all three have been teammates in the England side. But, Terry and Cole play together for Chelsea. As Ferdinand should know, from his own remarks, club loyalties (let alone one’s own views) often trump loyalty to the national team. Anyway, the Football Association have charged Ferdinand for improper conduct, and who knows what punishment they may mete out to him for yet another reckless tackle. Some people seem to just attract trouble. That said, I cannot wait for the next match between Manchester United and Chelsea.
I always get nervous when people talk about star athletes needing to be role models. All I expect from a star athlete is to perform much better than the rest. I do not think he or she is necessarily endowed with any social grace that would make that person fit to model any role other than shown in the sport. If (and it’s a big if), there is some aptitude or attitude that others could mimic to make them seem or be better, then maybe (and, it’s another big one) we would do well to look at that.
I’m not in the business of following stories in the “I can hate you more…” trend in social media spaces like Twitter and Facebook. However, I wonder, if like the thief who’s surprised to be caught by a surveillance camera, the athletes who tweet and surprised that their words are flying around like the plucked feathers of chicken.
I like the reply given last night by US swimmer, Michael Phelps, to a set of trashy barbs thrown his way by team-mate, Tyler Clary. “I’ll let my swimming do the talking.” Now, there’s a model for a role that would be worth following.