Torino Celebrity Hunt

When I was in college, snugly tucked into my dorm room bed, I'd listen for my friend Kathy Smith's familiar tread down the hall. Rain or shine, Kathy would head out into the pre-dawn darkness, dive into the pool, and swim her lonely round of endless laps. (Kathy qualified for the Olympics, but sadly the U.S. boycotted the games in Moscow.)

There's something heroic about a single-minded pursuit of excellence, isn't there? But the discipline and courage of competing isn't enough to earn admiration in a culture that's hungry for celebrities. Only medal-winning athletes are rewarded with gold and glitz, and the pressure on these young people to get to the podium is intense.

Bode Miller, an alpine skier on the U.S. Olympic team, resists the culture's attempt to morph him into a celebrity:

Fame is almost a poison. I couldn't care less, in fact I lived better when I was a nobody ... Sport is born clean and it would stay that way if it was the athletes who ran it for the pleasure of taking part, but then the fans and the media intervene and finish up by corrupting it with the pressure that they exercise. Anyone who isn't strong is left in a corner, noone asks for their autograph, they are abandoned in the cold shadows. Those who win, however, become icons.
As we watch the Olympics, let's talk with our kids about what's worthy of admiration -- winning a medal, scoring a lucrative endorsement deal that makes your face familiar to most Americans, or maintaining the daily discipline of practice when friends are sleeping or playing. What does Miller mean when he describes fame as poison? What's the difference between a hero and a celebrity?

No comments: