SwimWatch: We Love The First Amendment

“Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

In this game, the better you get, the thicker your skin becomes to swimming pool gossip and press comment. I know my experiences are nothing compared to the Clintons, the Bushes or the Hiltons. But even our small team has had its moments.

About a year ago, one of our swimmers missed a meet. A week later I was asked if it was true she was pregnant. I said, “Don’t be stupid,” but don’t think I was believed. All that was about a year ago, which either means it was false or the swimmer is seriously over-due.

Another swimmer I coached was plagued with a bad shoulder until she began a Lydiard conditioning program. Now she has no shoulder problems. Instead of giving credit to the difference between good and bad training, I recently heard her success was due to a new plastic shoulder joint she has had surgically implanted. Where do they get this stuff from?

A swimmer I coached to national titles and records obviously got more media coverage than other swimmers. The mother of one of the neglected announced to her Club’s Annual General Meeting that she understood my sixteen year old swimmer got publicity by sleeping with a local 57 year old press reporter. A lawyer’s letter was needed to put that right.

Toni Jeffs loved lifting heavy weights as part of her training. She was well muscled and strong. She was also very particular about what supplements she took and what food she ate. In spite of this we still heard the occasional rumor that “there had to be something else”. Jealousy is amazingly destructive.

Just after the Barcelona Olympic Games I was sitting in the Koru Lounge at New Zealand’s Auckland Airport. A guy in his mid 30s approached me and asked if I was the swimming coach from the Olympic Games. I said yes. He said he wanted me to know that he and his wife and children had got up in the middle of the night to watch the swimming and I had let them down. Boy that makes you feel good!

These are examples of stuff that’s just plain wrong. There is another category I don’t mind at all; the category called fair comment. Just before the Barcelona Olympic Games our team obtained generous sponsorship from one of New Zealand’s most successful strip clubs, Liks. The press loved it and even photographed one of our best swimmers being massaged by Liks attentive strippers. We would have had our finger nails pulled out one at a time by the Swimming NZ authorities if Liks owner, Brian Le Gros had not remembered he had paid Swimming NZ for an advertisement in their National Championships meet program. They took his money before we did. We just got more.

Press comment at the time was world wide; main sports story in USA Today, live television interviews from Australia; all that sort of thing. But, certainly the most incisive comment came from New Zealand’s best sports reporter, Joseph Romanos. In the New Zealand Listener he wrote a harsh criticism of the media frenzy and our willing participation. He said it was no way to prepare for the Olympic Games. We were, he said, outright irresponsible. And you know the bugger of it all. He was right and it hurt.

There is a point, however, when criticism is fair and deserved. The real bugger of these kind of situations is that when people are right, their words hurt far more. Cliché has it that it is the truth that hurts, and cliché is right. My actions, and the actions of my swimmers have been criticized at timed in the past where we’ve done wrong and I do not mind that at all. Joseph Romanos, The New Zealand Listener‘s best sports writer, never shied away from telling me when I had messed up, and I appreciate that. Even though is words were circulated around a large portion of the New Zealand population and often immortalized on the internet, I sometimes deserved the headache his weekly column brought me.

There is a lesson in all this though. If you are involved in sport and you do something, then people who comment on sport can write about it. The First Amendment says so. If you don’t want to be written about, don’t do things that warrent comment. Don’t do anything! If you don’t want those affected by your actions to write about them, then behave. If you take part in schemes that disrupt others, hurt others or are sneaky and underhanded, then eventually you will be called out. And you, like me, will have deserved it.