THE AUDACITY OF DOPE …..Mr President,.. Please excuse the small plagarism from on your book title

Yesterday, January 20, a little after 12:30 PM my time, John Smith called me.
” Hey man, what are you doing ? “
” I am crying like m——-f——- baby.”.
“Yeah, man I can really dig that. I feel you.  It is really something seeing Obama up there like that. “.
John and I go back to 1967 when he was a skinny kid from California who won the Junior Olympics 400 in Washington, D.C. at Roosevelt High School at 5th and Tuckerman N.W.. As a small fry local track and field coach, I was selected to present him with his award. Other than winning the race handily, what made him stand out was the fact that he had a shaved, bald head when just about every other black male at the meet had an Afro. My thoughts were, ” Here is a dude that wants to stand above the crowd both on and off the track.”. Some forty plus years later that assessment is still applicable and accurate.
But this effort is not about a more than four decade friendship. I’ll get to that unique association at a later and more appropiate date. What this is about is an attempt at demonstrating the fact that sport/athletics, like music, and all art forms reflect the values and super-values of the society and culture within which they take place. It is my contention that at some long away time in the future, cultural/social anthropologists, can get real and in-depth insights into our current societal norms and values by delving into what we stressed, valued and maintained in sports and athletics. It is my contention that a society will only allow and support those things that are consistent with the basic values and super-values of that society. Those things that the society objects to as being inconsistent with what it wants to project and/or protect are repressed and eliminated. This is especially clear and present in activities that are not essential for survival, but are “value added” and “extras” . Art and sport fall into that category.
Both art and sport have been with us for a very long time. Cave art in Europe and elsewhere attest to the fact that art existed, even flourished in pre-historical times. Pre-historical Mayan ruins depict and substantiate that these early humans partook in serious games and sport. Both speak volumes about what these cultures found important and what they considered important to their existence and what they wanted to project and protect for all to see.
“Wait a minute !!!!”, you say, “What does all of this have to do with President Barrack Obama, Hope and Dope, and Track and Field being a mirror of our society ? “.
Hold on!
Here goes.
In his inspiring and insightful book, ” THE AUDACITY OF HOPE”, “P”resident ( when I was growing up we were told to always use a capital “P” when spelling President of the United States. That is very “old school” and passe now, however, I never used “P” with president Bush )   Obama observes, “……….if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all your flaws–the blind spots, the recurring habits….that may be genetic or may be environmental, but that will almost certain worsen with time….In me, one of those flaws had proven to be chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me. It’s a flaw that is endemic to modern life, I think-endemic, too, in the American character – one that is nowhere more evident than in the field of politics. “. In my assessment of things it essentially comes down to substituting “Track and Field” for “politics ” in that last sentence. What he is describing here is an itch that rarely seems to be sufficiently scratched or sated. As I have grown within the sport all these many years, I understand what he means when he states, “….. if you are paying attention, each successive year will make you more intimately acquainted with all your flaws.”.
My time in the sport has allowed me to observe first hand, and vicariously, what he is talking about when he speaks of this severe and sometimes self-destructive “restlessness”, even in the face of prima facie success and blessings. He questions whether it is genetic or environmental, or stated another way, nature or nurture. I have seen this restless itch work out in many high profile instances. Take for example, the most prominent and successful American track and field athletes in recent history ( Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, and Dan O’brien ) all had the same coaches for their entire elite career. I saw Jackie Joyner-Kersee foul three times at the NCAA Championships in the long jump. I saw her foul in the same event at the 1984 Olympic Games twice, and in having to settle for a “safe” jump, cost herself the gold medal. I saw Michael Johnson suffer a stress fracture in 1988 when he could/should have made the U.S. Olympic team. He was sick and a non-finalist in 1992. Dan O’Brien was a certainty in the decathlon until he no-heighted in the pole vault at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Trials. My point here is that all of these people stayed with their coaches through good and bad times. They make a very strong and compelling case for, if you have a coach with whom you have enjoyed an advanced level of elite success, then monogamy seems to pay off.
President Obama’s point is the drive to move on, despite “the blessings that are right here in front of (you)” perhaps is endemic in the American psyche and is a natural and/or nurtured trait. For too many in our sport this intense itchy restlessness can not be held at bay like Jackie, Michael, Carl and Dan did. Rather we too often see a promiscuous propensity of athletes to switch coaches, even after having enjoyed significant elite success. I can name them, but so can you and save me from having to needlessly and gratuitously  embarrass coaches and athletes so involved in this sometimes tragic form of musical chairs. The point here is, … what we see happening in track and field  is what a very wise and prominent person sees in real life, thus
track and field/sport mirrors the prevailing values and super-values of the culture in which it exists.
“But what does that have to do with dope ?” you demand.
There are many cases to make my case and connect this all together, but let me take the one that interests me the most,…. Marion Jones. If we take President Obama position, that like many competitive and upwardly mobile people she suffers from ” chronic restlessness “. On the other hand, Carl Lewis in a recent article sees Marion as a pariah that no one should show a scintilla of empathy or sympathy for or about. He says if you do that you are somehow endorsing drugs and giving a drug user status they do not deserve. Our new CEO publicly and pompously kicked Marion to the curb when she legitimately applied for a presidential pardon.( It turns out that two border patrol officers that actually shot and killed a suspected drug smuggler and,… lied about it, applied and were duly pardoned by president Bush.  Our new CEO threw her under the bus despite the fact that under the by-laws of USA Track and Field that legitimize and establish his very job, require him to,”….reasonably reflect the views… of athletes in policy decisions of USATF.”. When I polled the U.S. Olympic athletes in Beijing about his public denouncement of Marion the response was:
1. What does he know about anything having to do with the sport ?
2. I do not condone what she did. I hate what she did. But she still has
rights.
3. All he has done
is to provide the media with another opportunity to ask
us questions on a controversial and distractive subject right before we are
about to start the Olympic competition.
I wander a bit, the real point of the immediate above is to establish the fact that intelligent and wise people do not condone the flaws that manifest themselves in their life, but they can understand how and why the flaws are there and emerge at the most tragic and least desirable times. It is analagous on a micro-micro scale to what Chris Rock said about O.J. Simpson killing his wife. ” I do not condone what he did. But,….I can understand it !”. It is understanding the root causes that will allow us to get to the best solutions to solve the problems that “chronic restlessness” create for us. A knee jerk, lock step, self-serving and self-righteous condemnation only serves to absolve the pronouncer and gets us no closer to real progress.
Marion Jones, as a 17 year old teenager made the U. S. Olympic team in 1992. A little over a year later, as the starting freshman point guard, she led the University of North Carolina women’s basketball team to the NCAA National Championships.   Further, I have never seen a camera that did not fall madly in love with her. I have never heard a sound byte from her that did not convincingly embrace my ears. Craig Masback, former USATF CEO, once told me that she was on the cover of 16 publications within a year after the 2000 Olympics. My point here is simply this, Marion had more than enough athletic talent to win gold medals at the Olympic Games without drugs. But more important, she has the personal charisma and attractiveness to transcend her sport star status and become a celebrity. As a celebrity, she has the capacity to make a very good living for the rest of her life and a forum to reach out to scratch that itchy restlessness. She did not need drugs or five medals to attain that loft status.
” Then why did she do drugs and put all this at risk ?”, you ask.
There is a very simple answer, based upon some very complex and complicated phenomena, and it goes like this, ” In me, one of those flaws had proven to be chronic restlessness; an inability to appreciate, no matter how well things were going, those blessings that were right there in front of me.. It’s a flaw that is endemic to modern life, I think….endemic too, in the American character and nowhere more evident than in the field of ( track and field ).”. When we expect people to accomplish extreme and outer-limits feats, then we need to understand that only people with extreme and outer-limits needs and abilities can achieve these lofty objectives. What is more revealing and, most thought provoking, is the fact that when it comes to a choice between extreme talent and extreme needs,……”needs” exceed “talent” as a necessity and requirement.  It is the same whether you are talking, art, music, politics or sport. So in some far off future, cultural/social anthropologists can better understand Marion Jones if they uncover what the President of the United States has to say about himself, because both sports and politics, like art and music, express and manifest the basic values and super values of the culture in which they take place.
Both Marion and President Obama are the sum total of their talents that are given ( nature)  and environmentally enhanced ( nurtured ). Both rose to great heights because there was an itch and restlessness that ordinary success could not satisfy,…. and people with ordinary outlooks can not understand. People with special needs can achieve special things, but it takes a special perspective in order to understand them. The Audacity of Dope is that it forces us to look long at hard at root causes and address:
1. What in the society makes it available ?
2. What is it in the provider and user that makes it necessary ?
3. How can we separate the user from exposure to the drug ?
4. Where will we get the will to deal with # 3 ?
Brooks T. Johnson
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