Monday, August 15, 2016

A few words on sanctimony

So now it's not just Lilly King.

Now it's also Jenny Simpson, American and 1,500-meter track finalist, who has decided to take on the mantle of self-appointed arbiter of ethics at the Rio Olympics. She won her semifinal last night, then launched into an attack on world-record holder and gold medal favorite Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia, implying guilt by association because Dibaba's coach was arrested two months ago on suspicion of having performance-enhancing drugs.

“I think that you know a tree by the fruit that it bears,” Simpson said. “And if a tree bears sour fruit, then the fruit around it are likely infected."

Here's what I think about that, or at least have come to think about it: There's a very, very fine line between speaking truth to power and hypocritical sanctimony.

King walked right up to that line when she condemned Russian rival Yulia Efimova, a two-time drug cheat, saying Efimova shouldn't have been in the Games. She saved herself only by not being chauvinistic about it, saying anyone -- even an American like, say, sprinter Justin Gatlin, who also once was suspended for PED violations -- who went down the PED road should never be allowed to compete in the Olympics again.

It was a draconian stance applauded by many -- including the guy driving this sentence, at least in the sense she was ecumenical about it.  I have since concluded that Lilly King is 19 years old, with the diminished perspective of a 19 year old. The notion that this is a nation built on the kind of second chances she seemed to scorn may not have occurred to her.

If it had, she wouldn't have condemned by implication U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin, who again won the silver in the men's 100 meters behind Usain Bolt last night, and who served his own suspension almost a decade ago. In the years since, he's slowly worked his way back to an exalted place on the world stage, and by all accounts has done it clean. It's a journey for which we would be poorer if the world were run by people with Lilly King's sensibilities.

Or, for that matter, Jenny Simpson's. It's one thing to criticize an athlete who's been found guilty and served his or her time; it's entirely another to trash an athlete who's yet to be convicted (or even accused) of any wrongdoing. To do so just makes you look small and weak and the prototypical Ugly American. And even if the Game Show Host has made Ugly Americanism fashionable this election season with his tell-it-like-it-isn't rantings, it does you no credit.

So no points here for Jenny Simpson. Unless she's got some proof, the advisable course is simple: Shut up and run.

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