In the wake of Tiger Woods' indiscretions, the airing of his apology, Mark McGwire's recent coming clean about his steroid use, as well as a host of other poor character behavior, I can't help but reflect on how this past decade has inevitably changed the view of many regarding the values taught through competitive sports participation.
And why wouldn't they be questioned? These past ten years have been fraught with unprecedented scandals hitting us from every side. Just a little investigation reveals a plethora of incidents of unscrupulous behavior, the kind of behavior that consistently finds its way into news headlines, drawing us in as we shake our heads in disgust or disbelief.
Let's see, there was the whole BALCO case, Major League Baseball's steroid scandal, and Jose Conseco's book Juiced which all but promotes this common performance enhancement drug use.
How about NBA star Kobe Bryant's "did he" or "didn't he" sexual assault charge, quarterback Michael Vick's dog fighting fiasco, and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick's "cheating" through his taping of opponents' play--calling signals.
Then there's Michael Phelps's DUI and bong incidents, Danny Almonte--the 14-year-old Little Leaguer who mowed down opponents (with 70 mph fastballs) in the 12-year-old Little League World Series earlier this decade, and Floyd Landis's doping and subsequent stripping of his winning medal at the 2006 Tour de France.
And it is important to point out that behavior "unbecoming an athlete" occurs much too often through athletic code violations at both the high school and college level. Need I mention the Northwestern Girls Soccer team suspended for hazing rituals in 2006?
I could go on. These are just bits and pieces; by no means is this list meant to be comprehensive.
You really would be hard pressed to find a sport that has not been rocked by some type of unethical, even illegal, scandal demonstrating poor character choices by athletes, some of them the most elite and celebrated competitors within their respective venues.
Not even the Olympics are exempt from such disgrace and dishonor, with many, maybe even most, falling under scrutiny for possible cheating through performance-enhancing drug use. In today's elite sports world, whenever an athlete reaches a pinnacle of performance, breaks a record, or demonstrates extraordinary feats, our first thought has now become "is he or she using PEDs...???" or "isn't he or she using them...???"
We are invariably focused on whether what we just witnessed was real or fake, a display of athletic greatness, or something not to be trusted. The list of fallen athletes at this level--the ones who have helped put those terrible thoughts in our heads--is quite long. Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery are two Olympic track athletes whose names immediately come to mind.
You know, it was not always this way. When a group of college-age hockey players beat Russia, arguably the best hockey team on the planet (amateur or pro), in the semis of the 1980 Winter Olympics, then went on to defeat Finland for the gold medal in the next round, my first thought had nothing to do with steroids. In fact, it was not a thought at all as every single American felt an immeasurable sense of pride as this story unfolded before us.
It is sad to realize how much everything has changed. It was a gradual process that had its beginnings long before the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey win.
So many of us involved in sports, whether as athletes, coaches or parents, truly and undeniably support and believe that very valuable qualities - core principles - can come out of competitive sports play.
Yet when we step back to look at our sports environment today, on a more global scale, that is not what we see. It becomes painfully clear that we are losing the innocence of athletic--no, human--endeavor, a world where honesty, character and integrity support accomplishment rather than become empty words lost in the relentless push to "win" at all costs.
What is needed is a shift in the thought process of the athlete themselves, preferably at younger, more impressionable ages where it can become an ingrained part of the way they make choices, how they think, and what they value. I'm speaking of a decision-making process that comes out of a belief system based on all the fine qualities we want to see in all competitors, at all levels.
Yes, I am referring to some type of code or standard of ethical conduct that will bring pride and a deeper meaning to the term "athlete" and what it should really represent. Thus, here is The Code of A True Champion.
THE CODE OF A TRUE CHAMPION
1 Consistently, and without reservation, strive to reach my full potential.
2 Be committed and disciplined in my approach.
3 Take personal responsibility, and any action necessary, to achieve team and individual goals.
4 Demonstrate a deep desire to succeed, applying passion and heart to any and every task at hand.
5 Show an impeccable and relentless work ethic that only true dedication provides.
6 Set priorities, and make the required sacrifices, that enhance the chances for athletic success.
7 Persevere through adversity with a positive attitude and concentration that strives toward excellence and mastery.
8 Establish a mindset that highly encourages the belief and confidence that one can accomplish anything, if they are so willing.
9 Apply a training and competitive focus that creates the opportunity to transform the impossible into the possible.
... All set on a foundation of strong character and integrity that beseeches one
to do the right thing just because it is the right thing to do.
And so, you may ask, "Why follow a code of such high standard?"
Because I believe I can make a difference.
And because I believe it,
Then it is something I should do.
Because it is something I should do,
Then it is something I will do.
So I toil and sweat both through the good days and the bad:
Chipping away at any weakness that following the code may reveal within,
Creating inspiration from athletic experiences of days gone by,
From future experiences that have yet to occur,
And from those who may someday attempt to walk the same path -
Never giving up,
Never giving in,
And never swaying - but for a moment - from the Code of a True Champion.
Again, "Why?" one might ask.
Simply - Because I can!!!
Kirk Mango 2008