For Love and Money

It’s such a shame NBC and the IOC have decided to hold the finals of the Beijing Olympic swimming events in the morning. It’s bad for athletic performance. It has no sporting merit at all. But the real shame is the impression it gives the rest of the world of the United States.
For four years the world has watched in horror as two American school yard bullies have thrown their weight around in Iraq. They were never brave enough to fight anywhere themselves but seemed happy enough to play chess with 3000 US and 200,000 Iraqi lives.

And now the bosses of NBC have decided the same arrogance should characterize their dealing with international swimming. At least that’s the way it looks. NBC wants morning finals; to hell with ethics, sport, performance or the rest of the world. Unfortunately, the boss of US Swimming has become a cheerleader for the arrogant ones. He’s claiming morning finals are an ideal opportunity to showcase the sport.

Two or three years ago I was in France with some American swimmers. As our bus pulled up outside our lovely, small French hotel, the owner rushed out and holding his arms out wide said to the athletes descending from the bus, “Bonjour!” One of the girls looked at him and said with disgust, “Doesn’t anyone here speak fucking American?” In their own way the White House tenants, NBC and the boss of US Swimming are just as guilty of impossible condescension.

But the real sadness of their behavior is that it isn’t the truth. Most of the US just isn’t like them. The majority are a humble, sincere, kind and generous people. Take a few examples from the masters who swim in our team. There’s Branden who as a sixteen year old high school junior swam 1.36 for 200 yards freestyle. He was a bit of a hippy sort of guy then and thirty years later, hasn’t changed a bit. He has every reason to be a bit superior. He was once a world class athlete and got a free ride through school because of it. But today he humbly swims in one of our age group lanes, helping out the young guys he can still beat; a thoroughly good bloke.

Then there’s Jonathan who has a brain as sharp as a butcher’s knife. He swam in college, graduated as a lawyer and ran a chain of stores somewhere in New Jersey. He has every reason to be elitist; by most measures he is superior. But he’s not. He’s the Secretary of our Club; he’s forever available to help our Club and our swimmers through all sorts of scraps. He understands a fair deal and sees to it that our team understands it as well.

And there’s Darcy. She too swam in college about thirty years ago; at Miami actually, when David Wilkie, the Olympic breaststroke champion, was breaking every female heart on their team. She’s tall, good looking, sharp and successful. And she’s not too bad at swimming either. In fact she’s the US Master’s Open Water Swim Champion. If you’re the best in this country, you’re bloody good. Good enough to be a bit “up yourself”. Not Darcy; she’s the one who brings cookies to practice, does PR for the Club’s Board and swims in the age group intermediate lane. I guess she’s figured out that real class can be good and humble.

These are good people. They have none of the White House egotism, NBC self-importance or US Swimming pride. You know what I’d like to see. Let’s get Branden to run the White House, Jonathan’s got US Swimming and Darcy can run NBC. You know what? Iraq would be done and dusted in six months, and swimming’s finals would be back to the evening by tomorrow night.

Decent people would do the decent thing.