QUEST FOR CERTAINTY – Why Elite Athletes Cheat ?

William and Henry James were a brother intellect team, one an author, one a philosopher. It has been said by critics that the author sould have been a philospher, and the philosopher should been an author. It is not the purpose here to critique either one, but rather to use the title of one of their books ( I am not sure which one ) called the QUEST FOR CERTAINTY  to hopeflly make a point. Actually this is a another response on an old theme. Much like jazz, we see the same basic chord patterns being the basis for new riffs and improvisation on the same theme and melody. Once the basic chord changes are known, then there is almost an infinite potential for how an individual can play off them. For example, one of the basic and fundamental mindsets for athletes and performers who “do their thing” at the very edge of human performance and accomplishment,……..and beyond,  is the inherent commitment to ” do whatever it takes” to “succeed”. This usually comes from a compulsive/obsessive drive and need to overcompensate, and eventually, supercompanstate for a real or perceived deficiency . Once the athlete has entered into this bargain, contract and arithmetic, namely seeking sufficient accomplishment and status on one side to balance off the sense of inadequency and inferiority that rests within the performer and is employed on the other side as the engine to drive the athlete to ever higher heights of “success”. Like many other such behavior patterns and mind/body altering activities, sooner or later the amount of “help” needed to provide the same sense of satisfaction and well-being increases. We see these “over the top” and “off the charts” episodes by athletes that boggle our minds and insults our sense of sensibilities, especially when we feel “let down” by the athletes..
Fred Hubbard was a tall, wiry black man. He moved with the kind of grace, dignity and authority that authors often assign to the heroes in their books, but seldom exist elsewhere. Fred was literally and physically black at a time when blacks placed great value on “white” characteristics. So it was really something of an accomplishment and rarity that he held such high status in the brown bourgeoise group that comprised my poker group back in Chicago in the early 1960s.  The thing that is relevant about Fredd Hubbard for this effort is his labeling one of the regulars, ” Locks-Or-Better “. “Locks” was a term applied to a hand that unquestionably was a winner by normal, well adjusted standards. To even seek assurance beyond that and look for “better” simply meant that the player had an unreasonable need to feel secure in what he was risking. Nothing would even begin to be accepted unless it was absolutely a certainty.
This is where the James brothers, Fred Hubbard, and “Locks-Or-Better” coalesce to provide us with a better understanding of the all too regular headlines we read about elite athletes engaging in “cheating” in many and myriad forms, and “bad” behavior also manifested in myriad and many forms. Just about every competitive effort, in its purest form, involves a trade off.. Are the results I can likely attain worth the risk involved in striving for the results ? For some people, the activity itself is its own best result and reward and that usually is the take of well adjusted and “normal” people. However, people who operate at the outer and extreme limits of performances are any thing but “normal” and well adjusted. The fact that some outer limit performers can function within society and mask their extreme needs does not for a minute mean these needs are not there. Because of the extreme values and needs placed on these extreme feats, a lot of pressure can be released and diminished if the performer is “certain” of the results. So many elite performers have an insatiable need for Absolute Certainty and/or “locks-or-better” before they can undertake the effort and work necessary to perform at the level they desire and feel they need to scratch the extreme itch they possess. Thus we have the QUEST FOR CERTAINTY that leads to ever increasing needs to get an advantage to better assure the outcome they so desperately want and need.
What really stuns and disturbs so many of us is the fact that we think, and know, that certain of these athletes could/would be successful, even at the extreme levels, without the “cheating”. Marion Jones made the U.S. Olympic Team in 1992 as a high school junior ( 17 years old ).  Within two years in her first year of college, she was the starting pointguard on her college basketball team that won the NCAA National Championships. Her superior and innate athletic ability is all too obvious to anyone who looks at her gifts with even a scintilla of objectivity. So why did she cheat ? Because despite all of her gifts and talent, there still was that nagging sense of uncertainty that successfully cried out to be addressed. In many ways it was the sense of uncertainty and inferiority that motivated and forced her to go to the extremes necessary to make up the arithmetic necessary for her to feel balanced and whole. Paradoxically it was that same sense of uncertainty and inferiority that allowed her to look for avenues and methods to diminish the sense of uncertainty and “cheat”. In objective retrospection it is obvious that Marion did not have to “cheat”. It was equally obvious before she took shortcuts that she had mega talent and did not have go that way. But we are not Marion and we do not have to deal with the demons she had to deal with. In my interaction with her I found her to be a very warm and unselfish person, who never took on the attitude and attributes of a diva. One example of what I mean took place at the World Cup Finals in 2002 in Madrid, Spain. On the day we designated as relay practice for the women’s 4 x 100 she showed up on time and worked with those present to get the passes down. As a result she was excused to then focus on her own preparation for her individual events. The day after this relay session Chryste Gaines arrived in camp and she and Inger Miller decided that we needed to run the relay in the order it was run when they set the American record. This was a reasonable request and idea. However, Marion had been excused from further relay work in order to get herself personally prepared for her individual events. Chryste went over to the other side of the track where Marion was in the middle of her personal preparation and asked her to join the team for more relay practice. Without any resistance, Marion graciously picked up her stuff and came over to work with new partners on the relay exchange. For me, body language speaks volumes and validity. What I saw that day was a woman who was willing to forego divadom, and its perks, in order to work with others.
As the Tiger Woods sex issues were being playing out in public, I often wondered why he had such and extreme need for affirmation, acceptance and control. At the end of the day, what the elite performer is seeking is control. They feel vulnerable in certain areas and have to have certain areas where they feel in control and safe in order to counter and calm the areas where they feel vulnerable and undervalued and insecure. The journey to control has to pass through a greater sense of certainty, so whatever it takes to create that sense of certainty and security, however fleeting, the performer becomes dependent upon, even as they are trying to exercise their independence and attain control. The initial dependence in the elite performer gets even greater because the amount of certainty and control needed to scratch their psycholigical itch becomes increasingly larger.  One observation I would make about Tiger Woods is the fact that none of the pictures I saw of his sex therapy partners were of black women. That takes us way back to Fred Hubbard and another topic.
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