The Holy Huddle: Ye Shiwen and the Kangaroo Court of Public Opinion

Each week in The Holy Huddle, various CaPC writers take a look at the goings on of the sports world from a distinctly Christian perspective. 

My wife and I love the Olympics. I love the opening ceremonies; I love the parade of nations; I love the drama and even the NBC–manufactured melodrama. As a person who is a mediocre athlete at best, I have tremendous admiration for the hard work and dedication these athletes display to get to the Olympian level. I truly love it. The Olympics, to me, are an ideal, and I am a bit of idealist. I dream of the day when all the nations of the earth will gather under a banner of peace and when every sword will be turned into a plowshare and every spear into a pruning hook. The Olympics give me a glimpse of that.

Which is precisely why I was literally shouting down NBC’s coverage of Ye Shiwen’s victory in the 400 meter women’s individual medley. Almost immediately after her victory, NBC brought up the specter of cheating. They interviewed swimming coach John Leonard who said, “We’ve never seen any swim that has been that far outside the range of previous swims that has not been proven, later on, to have been tainted in some way by doping.” This allegation of doping was almost immediate, and I have to admit that it rather infuriated me. The accusations seem to tear apart the beauty of the games and all it takes to get there.

I understand the concern. I have always been a bit of a baseball fan. I remember Mark McGwire battling with Sammy Sosa for the Home Run record. I remember how I felt when I found out that both had been cheating. I am painfully aware of the list of cheaters in baseball. I also love men’s cycling, and I have watched Lance Armstrong be accused of doping year after year, and I have seen Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador stripped of their Tour victories for doping. People cheat. I get that, and I know that it is fairly epidemic. So why was I so upset at the accusations against Ye Shiwen? After all, Chinese officials have admitting to doping in the 1980s and 1990s, so why not today?

My outrage has nothing to do with being naive. It has to do with justice and the ideal of sports. We have been bombarded with cheaters in the past twenty or thirty years, and because of this mass of sin, we have gotten to a point where every accomplishment comes under suspicion. How did Bradley Wiggins dominate the Tour de France this year? Why, he must be doping! How did Ye Shiwen shave 5 seconds off her time and actually swim the last 50 meters faster than the men’s winner in the event? Why, she must be doping! Just like everyone else who has disappointed us in the past, she must be a cheater.

Only, she may not be, and even if she is, I refuse to live in that cynical world. It isn’t just, and it isn’t Christian love. When 1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “believes all things,” it surely means that we ought to give people the benefit of the doubt. I’m not advocating a kind of love that does not test for the truth, but rather a kind of love that gives people the space to excel out from under a cloud of suspicion.

The thing is, it is not my duty to determine whether or not Ye is doping. The Olympic committee tests the swimmers, and Ye was tested, and she passed. But is that enough? The moment I found out that she passed, I began to hear people shift from, “She doped,” to “She figured out how to beat the doping test.” If we live like that, how can an athlete ever rise above the rest? Will every victory bring out the specter of cheating? Ye and athletes like her are put into a no-win situation, if they lose, they lose, but if they win they will continually be suspected of cheating.

Imagine if you worked every day of your life to win a gold medal. You strictly watched your diet, you got up at dawn and jumped in a cold pool and swam all day until you were exhausted. You sacrificed your social life, money, and free time with the singular goal of being the best in the world. And you steadfastly refused to cheat. You did it right, and you excelled, and you beat everybody. You left them sucking the vapor trail of your awesomeness, even the cheaters. And then imagine before you even got toweled off to hit the medal podium people were already saying that you are a cheater. It is unjust. It is outrageous. We ought to know better.

Like I said, I am an idealist. As far as I am concerned, there are currently no cheaters in the Olympics. Let the committee test them, and if I am wrong and one is caught, then let them face the jury. But if they are clean, or if they have not even had the chance to be tested, let’s hold off on the rumor-mongering. It is the only thing I know of that can tarnish gold.

About Brad Williams

Brad is the pastor of a Baptist church in a small town in Alabama. Brad has a lovely wife, two children, two dogs, a cat, a turtle, and five bee hives. Besides the incredible fact that he managed to persuade his wife to marry him, he is proud that he served six years in the Army National Guard, managed to graduate college with an English Lit. degree, graduate seminary, and finish the original Bard's Tale as a youngster by making maps on graph paper.

  • Matt

    Now you have a glimpse of how it feels to be an Auburn graduate during the Cam Newton saga. After a 13 month investigation that proved nothing was found, the media still refers to the saga as if the university was found guilty, not to mention fans of opposing schools. It’s a sad indictment on man. We cannot simply congratulate when someone accomplishes something, we try to create doubt in their authenticity in order to lower them, thus making ourselves feel better. In defense of humanity (somewhat), you make a great point that we’ve seen so much true cheating lately that we immediately become suspicious.

  • http://www.alienman.blogspot.com Brad Williams

    I don’t think that this is the exact same thing. When Cam Newton started being awesome people did not automatically assume that he was being paid. There was a report from Miss. State that there was misconduct, and there WAS misconduct. It is simply that Auburn was never involved in the fiasco. But there was plenty of actual evidence to chum the waters on that one, and some of that Cam has to own for himself. (The laptop incident didn’t help him.)

  • Geoffrey R.

    Brad,

    Great post. I thought exactly the same thing about the coverage when she won. Here is the question I have (and it’s an open one): Would the reaction have been the same from NBC if she had been American? The coverage of certain events in the Olympics, especially in primetime NBC, has seemed distinctively America-centric. Now, I want America to do well in the games, and I am cheering for my country, but I am also wanting to see athletes from around the world compete in a spirit of honor and unity to the best of their abilities. If Chinese athletes are doing so, they deserve to win and to be recognized for it. And we should be charitable toward them until concrete evidence emerges otherwise.

    Geoffrey R.

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

    Here’s the links to a couple of stories that give some picture of how the Chinese government selects and trains its athletes:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181374/Ye-Shiwen–forging-Mandarin-mermaid-How-Chinese-children-brutalised-future-Olympians.html

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2181374/Ye-Shiwen–forging-Mandarin-mermaid-How-Chinese-children-brutalised-future-Olympians.html

    I don’t know whether Ye doped or not and I don’t care — that system is evil and should not be allowed to field athletes in the competition

  • http://friarsfires.blogspot.com Brett

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