by WSS intern, Hannah Merrill
It is a common headline–another athlete suspended for a drug violation, or a coach fired for his involvement in a sexual scandal. But you probably missed the news that Michelle Kwan, one of the most accomplished athletes in American history and a sports ambassador for the U.S. State Department, had been inducted into the Figure Skating Hall of Fame. Scandals make better copy than hard work and graceful achievement.
Many athletes have gotten caught doing things they should not be doing–Michael Phelps smoking marijuana, Barry Bonds taking steroids…the list goes on and on. Figure skaters, too: Oksana Baiul, an Olympic champion, who developed alcohol problems. Tonya Harding was infamously involved in injuring her rival, Nancy Kerrigan, before the 1994 Winter Olympics, ending her career as an amateur figure skater. She was later arrested for fourth-degree domestic violence and then became a boxer. From figure skater to boxer? But I digress.
Too many athletes have no balance in their lives or perspective about the place of sports in the scheme of things. There can be too much pressure on an athlete who feels that his/her entire life is centered on one thing. That’s when some may turn to performance-enhancing drugs so that they can train harder and longer and thus improve their chances for success or prolong their careers. But this often leads to their downfall. Rafael Palmeiro, a baseball star, tested positive for steroids, ruining his chance at ever being inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Other athletes get caught up in a lifestyle detrimental to their performance. For example, Tiger Woods seemed to think he could get caught up with other women, including prostitutes, and get away with it. It cost him a marriage, support, endorsements, and success. It is a matter of character.
Michelle Kwan, who won every medal one could possibly dream of except Olympic gold, has such character. Her life was not all about sports, fame, and partying. She cared about school, and her family, and since her retirement from skating she has gone on to be a sports ambassador. She had plenty of pressure in her career, as, for example, when she went to Nationals to win her record-tying ninth title. But she realized that there was so much more to her life than that one title—which is what made her so admirable. She was a great role model for kids; she sent the right message—that kids should get involved in sports. It’s not all about winning or losing, but simply having fun.
These are the stories that should be on the news, not the ones about athletes disappointing us with their arrests and suspensions. They are not the athletes to support—it’s the ones with good character and values who we want to be proud of.