ZOMBIE ZONE SYNDROME

This might take a while.

Cubie Seegobin called me early this morning ( Sunday – February, 17 ). Cubie is the manager/agent for Johan Blake, Glen Mills, Blake’s coach, and most of the young sprinters in that training group except Usain Bolt. He was on his way from L.A. where he lives to, Kingston, Jamaica where he works. Coming and going he has a stopover in Miami and usually takes that time to call me so we can talk track. It is always good because we have known each other since he was a student at Adelphi University working with Ron Basil. This was in the 70s . From there he  went on to be an executive with PUMA shoes and later into athletic management. I respect him because he has an M.B.A. and is very honest and prompt in his business dealings. But even more of a source of respect is his strict adherence to his own code of ethics. He once took on the most powerful meet director in the sport, Andreas Brugger from the very prestigious and powerful Zurich  Meet, over the appearance fee for Renaldo Nehemiah and won. This past summer he publicly  called out another prominent meet director, Ian Stewart of the U.K., over what he thought was an insulting appearance fee for Blake. A few months later Stewart was out of that job. Anyway, we were talking about stuff and I told him I had started a blog piece on the Oscar Pistorius thing, but my computer dropped the piece in the middle of the effort and I got very angry and intimidated and signed off. He goaded  me into starting it all over again.

Brooks, man, you are not known for quitting !

You jive ( expletive ). You just pushed the right button.

Look,…. I got to run and board my flight to Kingston.

Yeah !

February 14, was Valentine’s Day. At 3:00 pm that day, David Oliver and I were walking and talking our way to the track at ESPN’S Wide World Of Sports Complex to train.

Brooks, did you hear about your boy ?

What boy ?

Oscar Pistorius.

Yeah,…I heard, I can not believe it.

Man,…you always tell us that we ALL have a screw loose.

Yeah, you’re right. But Jesus, killing that woman ! On a scale of 10 she was at least a 15. Women like that are scarce as hell.  He must really be crazy !

Just goes to prove your point.

Yeah, maybe.

Friday, February 15, Paul Krugman, the internationally renowned and respected economist and columnist for the NEW YORK TIMES wrote the following in critique of the response Senator Marco Rubio made to President Obama’s State Of  The Union address. “For  Mr. Rubio is a rising star, to such an extent that TIME magazine put him on the its cover, calling him “the Republican(party) Savior”. What we learned Tuesday, however, was that zombie economic ideas have eaten his brain. In case you are wondering, a zombie idea is a proposition that has been thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence and should be dead – but won’t stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both.”.

In 1968 John Carlos and Tommie Smith, and to a lesser extent, Peter Norman, took the scab of innocence off the Olympics and to some extent athletics at large.  They made a very brave( they had every reason to fear assassination – President Kennedy,  Dr. King , Robert Kennedy and Malcolm X  were all killed within that decade for supporting much of the same values that Carlos and Smith were demonstrating for and against ) dramatic and vivid statement . The killing of innocent Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics of 1972 made it perfectly clear that there was no going back to the “good old days” of sports for sports sake. It became clear that there was something kind of sick and sordid with the hypocrisy we  sought to cloak and hide the dark insides of elite athletics.

The day after the killings in Munich, many of us wandered around the Olympic village trying to sort out what had happened and the meaning of it all. Quite a few of us ended up in the stands at the practice track inside the village and we clustered together hoping that somehow by coming together we could arrive at some sort of sense and answer to what had just happened the night before. The shock was of it all was very thick and at first smothered much of the tenor and temper of the random and rambling among those there. After a while the tone of the talk took on a turn that was surprising and revealing all at the same time.

Do you think they are going to cancel the Olympics ?

Are you kidding ? Do you think  Samaranch ( head of the International Olympic Committee ) is going to cancel his big show ? No way man !

Dam it man,…..all those people are DEAD. DEAD, DEAD, DEAD !

Don’t be stupid ! Samaranch was a Nazi sympathizer during the Spanish Civil War. Do you really think he gives a dam about a few Jews getting killed ? There is just too much at stake here between him and the organizers. Take my word,….. the ( expletive ) Olympics will continue !

Then there was a voice I recognized because it was one of the 10 athletes I coached who were there in Munich. I was brimming with pompous pride, to the point of overflow,  because I had worked with so many athletes who were in Munich. I was personally conflicted, but favored that the right thing to do was to cancel the “games” in respect and deference to people who lost their lives. The recognizable voice floated above the conversation and said.

I am very sorry for anyone who got hurt( I noticed the substituted word, “hurt” instead of killed ) in all this stuff. But I worked my ass of for the last four years . I want my chance to compete. I did not come all the way over here, just to turn around and go back home. I do not care what they do. But I want my chance to run !

I was roiling and boiling inside because this was one of the real kind and generous people of our training group. She was the first to offer help and guidance to the young kids in our group. If there was ever an unattractive task to get done, she would volunteer to do it. She often showed great compassion and empathy, and a helping hand for those struggling to get better.  Yet here she was making the case that what REALLY mattered was her opportunity race no matter what happened to those other people. I was so upset that I got up and left the group. Here was a person I thought I was helping to develop lofty goals and values. Here was a person who outwardly manifested all the high values and sensibilities I thought I had. As proud as I was of having athletes in Munich, I was more pleased with the idea that I stood for the “right” thing and somehow I was inculcating them with the same value sets. When she caught up with me she asked.

Are you going to coach me ?

Yeah, I’ll coach you.

I know what I said upset you. I’m sorry. I just want to get what I worked so hard for. You know no one has worked as hard in our group as I have to get here.

Yeah, I’ll coach you !

Good, I won’t let you down.

Yeah.

That was the day I loss my conceptual and idealogical virginity and virtue  as far as what elite athletes and coaches are made of. People who are willing to go to extreme ends to achieve extreme objectives  have to have extreme needs they need to compensate and overcompensate for. This has been a constant fact of life as I have empirically observed elite athletes and elite athletics.

When I made this point earlier in the conversation to Cubie, he said.

Yeah,…I know. But I keep hoping that I will find that one exception.

Yeah, like the quest for the holy grail.

Yeah, something like that. I really got to go and get this plane.

I had encountered Oscar Pistorius at the training track within the village at the World Championships in Daegu, Korea in 2011. I watched him train and work on baton exchanges with his relay team. I feel that at some point “disabled” athletes with prosthesis will exceed the exploits of so-call “able” athletes in certain types of events because the science involved in tuning and developing the force return through the prosthesis is more exact than the science of doing the same with flesh and muscle. So I observed his every move and came away with the feeling that if a guy like him did it, I would not regret or rue it as much because he seemed like a real team centered guy and it was obvious that he worked hard enough to earn it.

I have always had a preference and  prejudice for the underdog. And like Dr. Krugman points out, I was engaging in the ZOMBIE ZONE SYNDROME when it came to Pistorius  because despite, ” analysis and evidence” refuting what I was thinking, I allowed myself to get caught up in personal prejudices and bias and buying into zombie ideals. I have no trouble at all being critical of Ray Lewis and his cheap antics and pious rants before, during, and after the Super Bowl. This was a guy who had blood on his clothing from a double murder. He was found guilty of “obstruction of justice” and fined $250,000.00 in connection with the same murders. So it was not much of a stretch to find fault with him as a person and athlete.  But at the bottom of all the layers of  it all, he and Pistorius may share more in common than we ( I ) are ready to admit and accept.

Thanks.

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 -0755

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