My high school wasn’t too big into athletics. If you’d head down the hallway toward the gymnasium, you’d notice this endless series of black-and-white photos of championship teams in all manner of sports – all of which stopped dead after 1967. (There’s a parallel there. Can’t think of what it is. It’ll come to me.) The reason for this was that our rival high school opened up in 1968 (an expansion school, you could say – OK, I’ll stop) and we never won anything again.
In the mid/late-1980s, when I went there, there was one real bright light – girls’ (as we called it then, maybe we still do) basketball. We had a star performer. She was absolutely brilliant, accounted for most of the offense and she could have kicked the bejeebers out of the entire boys’ team. With her out there, we had something to talk about. She was as well-known an athlete as we had the entire time I was there and the team became a real rallying point for the school (kind of like women’s soccer with Christine Sinclair).
This isn’t about her.
One of the guards on that team was a person I knew well enough to say hello to, but not much beyond that. She was one of those unsung types who mainly played a dogged defensive game and even in high school she had a knee that was held together with spit and baling wire.
When that team finally reached its apex, they were seniors. Our star was garnering the kind of attention that would gain her admission to places where they actually care about basketball. The rest of them were playing their tails off to be the first team from our high school to reach the provincials (Americans – think state finals) in eons. They carved through district teams like they hadn’t even shown up.
There was a ton of build-up when it came time to play the deciding game that would have gotten our school into provincials – people had actually been coming out to these games in greater and greater numbers and for this one, we packed a good-sized facility (this sort of thing simply did not happen where we were). Everybody was pumped.
As luck would have it, the team finally ran into an opponent that just had too many weapons. They didn’t have anyone who could play with our star, but from two through five they were better than we were and once our star got into foul trouble, the end was as obvious as it was inevitable.
There was a point in the game where the star was off the floor and the opposition was just running our team ragged. In situations like this, nobody looks good and the guard I knew coughed up the ball a couple of times. While the effort was there, the opposition was just running circles around them. It was getting ugly.
What infuriated me, though, was the reaction of her friends. I admit that I thought these guys were a bunch of jerks at the best of times, but even so I was stunned by their actions. The worse the game got, the more they turned on her – their friend – “Get a load of _______! HA HA HA! She SUCKS!!! Get her off the floor!!! HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!! Can you believe she thought she could play basketball?”
These people (who were the sort who carried themselves like jocks but never bothered actually doing anything athletic) were the ones who were supposed to be there to have her back, but the second they could act all superior by throwing her to the wolves, off she went. They didn’t get the win they wanted, so they pitched her right under the bus. I never forgot that and I hope she never found out. I didn’t tell her. I probably should have because she deserved better.
The reason I mention it now is that it brings to mind the sort of garbage I’ve seen floating about in the Olympic coverage. Coming out of Vancouver, where Canada won a lot of medals, expectations were pretty high. I don’t know whether people really expected the same kind of results out of the summer games. We’ve had breakthrough athletes in various sports, but have never been a “run-the-table” kind of country.
I was shocked, though, by the number of people who were paid to be there who spent their time on Twitter dumping on the athletes and their fans for the crimes of “only” winning bronze and yet still being happy about it. “Oh, look, it’s a bronze – we call that ‘gold’ in Canada.” “Nice third-place finish – bet the winner already showered and dried by the time this guy got out of the pool.” “Congratulations, Canada! You’ve got as many golds as Uganda!”
And these are the guys from our side.
Look, I realize that it’s incredibly taxing to take a paid trip to one of the world’s great cities in order to see one of the world’s great spectacles. Beyond that, it must be incredibly inconvenient to have to keep the rest of us up to date with all of it when you’d rather be trying to catch a glimpse of Kate Middleton or maybe Mr. Bean. Please remember, though, you’re talking about people who have devoted years of their lives to being one of the world’s best at a sport (third in the world is one hell of an accomplishment) and who represent the country with a lot of pride and class.
You might want to show a little bit of it yourselves rather than acting like a bunch of snot-nosed high-schoolers who’ve decided they’re just too cool for school.
What makes it doubly pathetic is that they’re doing this while honouring the late Toronto Star reporter Randy Starkman, the longtime voice of amateur sports in this country. He lived and breathed this sort of thing and to pay homage to him while throwing the people he loved under the bus is appalling. It’s not all of the reporting, but it’s enough, and we deserve better. As do the athletes.