According to the photo on the right (credit Mike Siegel of The Seattle Times for that gem, by the way), Apolo Ohno gave an anti-drinking speech at my former middle school on Friday afternoon. Guess I got to the party about twelve years too early.
Anyways, that got me thinking about all the anti-drug and anti-drinking messages athletes are asked to present to vulnerable teens, tweens, pre-pubescents, adolescents, whatever you want to call them. I mean, it’s pretty weird to think about. Put yourself in their shoes. What the hell would you say to a group of 12-year-olds who wanted your advice on how to avoid alcohol?
I remember one of those speeches from back when I was in seventh or eighth grade. Former Husky basketball players Donald Watts and Todd MacCulloch came and preached the gospel to us. And I believed it. I loved Husky basketball, and I just figured that those guys knew what they were talking about. Plus they were physical specimens (well, Watts was, at least) and couldn’t possibly be doing drugs or alcohol at the time. Or so I thought.
Fast forward a decade and I’m out with friends at Finn MacCool’s on the Ave in the U. District one night and, lo and behold, who should walk in the building but one Donald Watts.
My first thought is, Dang, that’s Donald Watts.
My second thought is, What the hell happened to Donald Watts?
About three years after that moment (today, to be exact), I piece two-and-two together and remember that a) Watts once gave me an anti-drinking speech as a kid, and b) ironically, I saw him ten years later drinking.
Now clearly, Watts’ speech proved fruitless. Neither one of us had managed to resist the fire water, although I imagine that neither one of us really cared (I know I didn’t). Plus, I’d wager that neither he, nor I, was what you would call an alcoholic.
But still, it’s worth questioning the power of these speeches when, in reality, they’re just lies.
I imagine that less than 48 hours after Watts delivered his “Say No To Drugs And Alcohol” speech to me and my fellow Chinook Middle Schoolers, he probably had an alcoholic beverage in his hand. He probably consumed that beverage, and likely thought nothing of the fact that he had more or less lied to a group of children not two days earlier. Not that I’m decrying any of this. I would have done the very same thing.
Maybe we should just give it to the kids straight, instead of messing with their minds. Get into that overcrowded gym and tell it like it is.
Look here, kids. Alcohol isn’t as bad as people would like you to believe. Yeah, you don’t want to drink too much of it, but drinking some won’t hurt you.
In fact, there’s really nothing better than kicking it with your friends, getting a little buzz going, telling ridiculous stories that are only sort of true, and watching a ballgame. So long as you don’t get behind the wheel or start hitting people, you should be fine.
And yet if you said that, ESPN would be all over your ass the next day. Even though it’s true. Even though you wouldn’t be breaking the bond of trust between yourself and a group of children.
Instead, the respective P.R. staffs surrounding all these athletes would rather have their poster boy concoct an exaggerated tragedy in his mind, then recount it to the eager ears of our future generation, in spite of the fact that somewhere down the line they’ll realize (like I did) that they were told untruths.
Helllllooooo, Chinook Middle School! I am so-and-so, the famous athlete, and I am here today to talk to you about drugs.
You may not know this, but back when I was your age, I had a friend who experimented with marijuana. Show of hands, how many of you know what marijuana is? Okay. So a few of you.
Well let me tell you about my friend, Billy. When he was 13, he started smoking pot — which, for those of you who don’t know, is another word for marijuana — and before long, he was addicted. Every day, Billy wanted to smoke pot. But here I was, a future Olympic/college/professional athlete knowing that pot was bad, and I shouldn’t smoke it. I tried to talk sense into Billy, but he wouldn’t listen, and so we stopped being friends.
Some of you may be wondering where Billy is now. The fact is, he happens to be the CEO of a multi-national corporation, but that’s neither here nor there. The reality of the situation was we stopped being friends, and it was because of marijuana.
Billy put his desire to smoke before our friendship, and I have to imagine that all of you in this room would like to be my friend…(pause for wild cheering, wide grin from the celebrity speaker, and one of those “heh-heh” I-can’t-believe-they’re-really-buying-this laughs)…and I would like to be your friend, too.
But in order for us to be friends, I have to ask that you can’t be like Billy. You cannot smoke. You cannot do drugs. You cannot drink. If you do all that…(pause for emphasis)…we can be friends. Whaddaya say, Chinook?!
(More wild cheering, screaming from the girls who are just trying to outscream each other because they’re 12 and still really annoying, mock boos from the cool kids, smug round of applause from the rich parent or parents who were able to book this guy through a friend-of-a-friend, laughter from the group of young teachers who are already planning on going out to the bar after school gets out.)
See, this is where we’re at as a nation. You think they do this crap in Canada? I doubt it.
But here in America, we have to convince ourselves that we’re a morally righteous bunch and lie to kids. Is this Bill O’Reilly’s fault? I don’t know. But it could be. Also Pat Robertson.
The fact is, all we’re doing is proving ourselves to be lying liars and hypocrites to a group of young people who will one day grow up and figure it out. This cannot be good. And ultimately, when we’re all locked up in nursing homes or something, it will come back to haunt us. I just have this feeling.
That’s all. If you thought I was going somewhere with this, you were mostly wrong. I wasn’t. Just sayin’.