I watched a press conference this morning in which “journalists” interviewed Yulia Efimova and Lilly King about their now high-profile Olympic spat.
Except it’s not a spat.
It’s just storytelling, good, old-fashioned storytelling.
But it’s a false narrative, something the Russians excelled at when maniacal tyrents wanted to keep the populace fearfully paralyzed or reactionary enough to turn against their own.
And something that demagogues still use to manipulate our deepest fears and our irrational desires.
Yulia Efimova is not a bad guy.
She’s no more bad guy than Lilly King is a good guy.
By pitting the two against each other in gross characterizations like good guy/bad guy, the media gets to play out an age-old plot that masters like Shakespeare used to manipulate the elite of their day.
We’re suckers for this kind of narrative. We’ve been buying it for centuries now.
It’s easy to fall victim to this kind of thinking.
When I saw Sun Yang’s face in the pool for the first time and heard the announcers talk about his taunting behavior and his drug use, I immediately disliked the man.
I fell easily into the storylines, and it made watching the races more hightened, more elevated. The references from broadcasters only exacerbated the narrative.
But athletes like Yang and Efimova have stories too. They are complex as are all humans. Efimova trains at UCLA and visits Russia just about once a year, but she’s been caught up in a large-scale doping issue that has very little to do with her personally.
And yet she’s a drug cheat.
The more I think about Yang, I wonder if he’s just a lonely, world-class athlete who doesn’t fit in anywhere. Is this why he lashes out?
American superman, Michael Phelps, has two DUIs, but we get a false narrative there too. It’s the price of fame, the rise and fall and rise of a hero.
There are many drug cheats on the American Olympic team. On all the Olympic teams for that matter.
Because doping regulations change constantly. One month you’re taking a legal supliment, and the next month it’s banned. And athletes get tested, and they get banned for a year or 16 months or 18 months or 24 months.
Then they come back and join their team, and they are drug cheats.
That’s tough story to tell, so we have good guys and bad guys, and in primetime, these good guys and bad guys drive the narrative that puts us to sleep every night for two weeks like the fairy tales our parents used to read to us.
In a world sadly lacking in critical thinking, one of the things that gets lost in this two-week world-wide love fest is the fact that athletic talents aside, the people who compete for gold and glory are no different than us. They make mistakes, they have good days and bad days. They fail more than they succeed.
And no matter what they are cast as in this global play that occurs every four years, they are not good guys or bad guys. They are the best and worst of all of us under a microscope.
So when you’re looking at them through the lens of NBC, and I say this to myself, just remember that good guy/bad guy is a false narrative that doesn’t really exist.