August 2008 Ethics Dunces
Olympic Wrestler Ara Abrahamian and His DefendersWarped ethics appear to be epidemic in America, and the depressing signs are everywhere. In the Olympics, Swedish Greco-Roman wrestler Ara Abrahamian went bananas after an official’s disputed call helped him lose a match to eventual gold medalist Andrea Minguzzi of Italy. He had to be restrained from attacking officials after the match, and then, after accepting his bronze medal on the victors’ stand, ripped the medal from around his neck and angrily dropped it on the mat as he walked away. The IOC stripped him of the medal Saturday for violating the Olympic spirit of fair play and sportsmanship, embarrassing his Chinese hosts and being disrespectful of his fellow athletes. He was kicked out of the Games, and rightly so. There was no excuse for his conduct, and a similar display would get any professional athlete suspended from his sport, any student kicked out of school, any employee fired from his job, any guest shown the door in your home.
But L.A. Times sportswriter Bill Plaschke, who was once was named National Sports Columnist of the Year by the Associated Press and who is often one of the panelists on the show Around the Horn on ESPN, couldn’t understand that. On his blog for the Times, Plaschke indignantly declared that Abrahamian had been denied his “rights” by the Olympic Committee:
“In the sort of free societies that the IOC claims it supports, medal winners should be able to do whatever they want with their medal. They should be able to sell it, frame it, play Frisbee with it. Who cares?...The IOC has no right to strip Abrahamian of his medal. He could have eaten it on the stand and they still shouldn't have stripped him of it. This is the sort of thing that would happen only in China, where the IOC is currently making billions at the expense of human rights....Oh, wait, now we understand.”
Unbelievable. And yet about half of those who offered comments on the L.A. Times website agreed with him! (I know, this is L.A., but still.) There is no “right” to act like a jackass in public, on international TV, at an athletic event celebrating (however imperfectly) the virtues of pure sport and competition, and avoid the consequences. Abrahamian could indeed have eaten his medal once he got home, in the privacy of his dining room. But what he did was not simply, as Plaschke seems to think, a private act between him and his property. It was a public insult, designed to show disrespect for the Games and his sport. That is called disrespectful, inconsiderate, boorish, wrongful conduct, and he deserved to lose his medal and any privileges to remain at the game. Many Americans, like Plaschke, really believe that having the freedom to misbehave means that behaving badly is a “right,” and shouldn’t have negative consequences. My question: how did these ethics dunces get so confused? Who gave them such an intuitively absurd, societally destructive, ethically backward idea?
And why does the L.A. Times let someone who believes such nonsense have an official blog on its website?