LIES, LIES, DAMNED LIES, AND LIES THAT GOD DAMS

Miles Davis is working out on SKETCHES OF SPAIN in the background and some sort of readers’ GPS might be needed to follow what is to follow. Miles does that for me. His music of the 50s and 60s was so pregnant with depth and meaning, both seen and heard, as well as unseen and unheard, that after sixty years there are still discoveries of nuggets, nuances and notions that were missed in previous listenings. Part of that is that that each time I listen to him I am coming from a different point on the pensive compass, and thus hear and see what he is doing in a somewhat different light. My literary friends used to tell me that they had the same experience with Shakespeare.  Cool     It is something like what I read today in a NEW YORK TIMES article that makes the point that often we see things based upon what we bring to the activity. The article cites Herbert Simon’s theory of bounded rationality. That is our “….. rationale is limited by circumstances – how much information is perceived – and one’s own mind.”. Further the same article cites David Luban’s theory of “….contrived ignorance, how one chooses to ignore wrongdoing in order to feel less responsible. Of course, all of this led me back to the ESPN 30/30 documentary about drugs and the 100 meter dash at the 1988 Olympics which produced a new world record of 9.79 by Ben Johnson. Just about every discussion I have had with people who have a serious, and/or, even a casual interest in the sport, the question of how could so many people in that race who are perceived to have also been drug users, be so deep into denial that  even a quarter of a century later, they are still telling the same old, stale lies. Dick Pound, with his pompous denials is surely suffering from what Luban calls, ” contrived ignorance, how one chooses to ignore wrongdoing in order to feel less responsible” and guilty.

Athletes, and others, rationalized and justified drug taking,…. then and now, because “everyone else is doing it”. Of the 26 people who came forward in the depositions against Lance Armstrong, all the athletes confessed to taking drugs because they felt coerced to do it because that is what they needed to do to be competitive. This was/is the same proposition posited by track and field athletes. In the early 80’s Desai Washington was clearly the best Canadian male sprinter and Angela Taylor was the same on the women’s side. Once Ben starting to run faster than Desai, and enjoying all the recognition and rewards that Desai might felt were his rightful due, he felt he had no choice but to start using. Charlie Francis made it clear to Desai that if he had any chance of reclaiming his primacy in Canada, and a place in international sprintdom, he too must take drugs. According to Desai, he attempted to resist, but after 1985 felt he had to return to the Francis drug fold. It should be noted that at the same time all of this was going on with the men sprinters, there was a similar dilemma going on on the female side between the ” two Angelas ” ,……Angela Taylor ( Issajenko ) and Angela Bailey. Both Angelas were talented sprinters, with international aspirations. While Angela Taylor fell under Charlie’s spell, Angela Bailey refused to use and she and her coach lived with the frustration and angst that she was being beaten and denied by someone who was cheating. The point being, not everyone falls and succumbs to , ” I got to do it because everyone else is doing it”, thus that excuse then is greatly reduced and diminished to a basic lack of inner strength and character, rather than something that no honest and prudent person can resist.

The TIMES article uses Herbert’s Simon’s theory of “bounded rationality” – “…how one’s decision-making rationale is limited by circumstances- how much information is perceived – and one’s own mind.”. The point being that we are bounded and influenced by things that limit us in certain ways. The article in the TIMES is dealing with the fact that so many people at Penn State refused to act properly and prudently in the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse of young boys case. Rather, they allowed themselves to be limited and bounded by “higher” values and concerns they placed over the sickening crime being perpetrated in their area of indirect and direct responsibility. The article also points out how people who had the responsibility to act, fell under David Luban’s theory of “contrived ignorance” , or “how one chooses to ignore wrongdoing in order to feel less responsible”,…. and guilty.  As pointed out above, many athletes, coaches and others want to escape the full responsibility for their actions,….or inaction. It is pretty easy to identify the people in the 9.79 documentary who act then, and now, much the same as the two theories describe. Well not exactly, because there is a very important and decisive caveat in the Simon theory. The theory reads, bounded rationality is “……how one’s decision-making rationale is limited by circumstances – how  much information is perceived – and one’s own mind.”. It is the ” – AND ONE’S OWN MIND”  aspect that puts “doing the right thing”, the Angela Bailey, Calvin Smith thing, right back squarely into the hands and character of the individual. We can not escape because we “know” everyone else is doing it. We can not escape responsibility nor culpability by simply   subscribing  to “contrived ignorance”.

What we see played out above is Lies and Damned Lies. But the kicker and ultimate irony lies in the Lies That God Dams. Those lies are that we as athletes, coaches and others claim we  know what the limitations and “bounds” are for human performance. We enter into a “contrived ignorance” that we affirm and reaffirm every day as to  just how fast a runner can run, how far a thrower can throw, and how far a jumper can jump. We do this so we can justify not being as productive and effective as possible. We do this to avoid having to accept the fact that we do not do as good a job as we should. This is the ultimate form of arrogance and ignorance that we see played out every day. It is an insult to the potential that our Maker has given us. And for that insult often times comes a certain form of damnation. For example, Desai Washington took drugs because he felt he had to do that in order to run sub-9.80 for 100 meters. The fact of the matter is we have clean athletes today, who are not as gifted as he was then, who have run faster than 9.80. It is a very strong possibility that he could have been the Olympic champion and wold record holder had he been able to then exploit and develop his talent clean to the fullest extent possible, because there are people clean now who can run those times. As he and other dopers realize that they did not have to cheat in order to achieve their goals and dreams, what must it feel like ? What kind of hollowness must follow and haunt them ? With each passing year it will become clearer and clearer that times cheaters thought could only be drug achieved are being routinely equaled and exceeded. While the cheaters wallow in what might have been, I feel that God is smiling .

Brooks T. Johnson

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