Topic: Sports & Entertainment

Bode Miller
(February 2006)

The Turin Olympics was full of daily suspense for the Ethics Scoreboard, which anxiously sought a final answer to the burning question: "In which Scoreboard category does American skier Bode Miller belong?"

It seems incredible now, but for a brief, shining moment, Bode actually looked like a Scoreboard "Ethics Hero." After he failed to medal in his first event, Miller infuriated many observers by refusing to show disappointment. He did his best, and skied hard, Bode said; he gave 100%, and that made him proud. Could this be a true Olympic sportsman, celebrating honorable competition rather than only victory?

Well, not exactly. Later, after Bode failed to place in his second event, he added a whiney counterpoint to the theme he had begun so promisingly. "Sport was born clean and would remain so if it was about just competing for the fun of it," Miller told a local reporter. "But the media and the public corrupt it because of the pressure they create." Poor Bode! He just wanted to have fun, and the mean old public, who he gladly accepted millions to hawk Nike shoes to before the Olympics began, actually expects him to show he's more than just attitude and hot air. "Any athlete who isn't doing well is left in the corner, nobody asks for their autograph and they're left out in the cold. However, those who win things are regarded as symbols," he sniffed. Luckily for Bode's wallet, some gullible companies were willing to pay him to be a symbol before he won anything.

Miller tried a different approach after he whiffed in his third event…at least he hadn't played it safe! He announced that he was proud that he wasn't one of those slug-like competitors "who skies 70, 80 percent and gets on the podium." The technical term for these words is "sour grapes." Such statements are also known in the vernacular as "stupid." A statement that the winners didn't try as hard while leaving you in the snow drifts as you did while going down in flames is indistinguishable from saying "I stunk," except that it lacks that statement's bracing honesty, and insults your competitors rather than placing responsibility where it belongs. Once so close to being an Ethics Hero, Bode Miller was looking like a Scoreboard "Ethics Dunce."

By the time he flopped for the fifth time, however, Bode had decided what he wanted to convey to the public, and clarified his proper status on the Scoreboard. After he straddled a gate, ending his run almost before it had begun, he pumped his hands in the air, protruded his tongue, and performed a faux victory dance. Bode Miller didn't care, get it? He was too cool to worry about things like medals. "Man, I rocked!" he told the Associated Press. "It's been an awesome two weeks. I got to party and socialize at an Olympic level."


Of course Bode Miller cares. Everyone knows that. Nobody wants to build up expectations and disappoint his fans, his friends, his teammates and his fellow Americans. He lost accolades, he lost endorsements and Wheaties Box portraits, clothing lines and television appearances. He lost millions of dollars, and he lost the respect of just about everyone following the Olympics. Does anyone believe that Miller doesn't care about any of this? Certainly Miller himself doesn't.

Pretending that one doesn't care is the most juvenile and pathetic of all defenses against failure, and because we've all adopted that sad strategy at one time or another in our lives (usually before the age of 18), we can spot it immediately. Stung when your parents grounded you for a month after you failed to raise your grades? You wouldn't give them the satisfaction of knowing the punishment hurt, so you said you didn't care. Crushed when the girl you longed for dumped you to go to the dance with a rival? You said you didn't care; you were going to dump her anyway. Devastated when you didn't get into your first choice of a college? "Hey, who cares?"

If you didn't care, then it didn't hurt. At least that was the theory, a flawed one, because all the strategy accomplished was to put your dishonesty and emotional cowardice on display, and you still knew that it did hurt. You tried your best, you failed, and then you didn't have the guts to deal with your own disappointment or to admit to yourself and others that you simply couldn't succeed when you desperately wanted to. Bode Miller, who is significantly older than 18, could have stood up before the cameras and microphones and admitted that he was disappointed with his Olympic performance, complimented the victors, and left Turin without medals but with some dignity and respect. Instead, he chose to hide behind a silly and childish lie most of us banished from our repertoire years ago. He deceived nobody. He cares, but from this point on, very few sporting fans should care about Bode Miller.

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