Don’t Forget, These Athletes Are Human Beings

Guest commentary by Pamela Roberts

This morning, I woke up to the news of Chinese super swimmer Sun Yang being banned indefinitely from his college because he had an accident while driving without a license. And, just as it was approaching my bedtime here in Germany, I heard about Ryan Lochte being injured in an encounter with a fan, also causing him to sit out for an indefinite amount of time.

Sure, both are different occurrences and Lochte is less to blame for his own misfortune than Sun, but it all comes down to the fact that these swimmers rarely are treated like normal human beings.

Let’s start with Sun. He’s a 21-year-old college student. Something we’ve all been or have encountered before. At that age, you want to let loose a little. You want to see what life is all about.

You do stupid things in the process…and you may get caught doing them.

In most cases you will get a slap on the wrist or some mild punishment, depending on the crime. Sun borrowed a car that got rear-ended by a bus and it was discovered that he was driving without a license.

He did not steal the car, he was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol and no one was harmed. Yet, Sun was punished with a jail sentence and an indefinite competition ban by his college.

I am not commenting on the jail sentence because I have no knowledge of Chinese law, but I do find the competition ban a little too harsh for a crime that most would file away as stupidity of a college student.

In an article on Swimming World released earlier today it said that Zhejiang college vice president Zhang Yadong said: “The punishment is severe but we are doing this for his own good. We hope he can always be the hero of Chinese sports instead of a sinner.”

Personally, I find that a little out of line.

Sun is an extraordinary athlete. What he accomplished at the 2012 Olympics and the 2013 World Championships left many in awe. And I am sure he hasn’t forgotten how to achieve any of it just because he was driving without a license. But it seems that he is expected to live up to his superhuman achievements at every hour of every day.

But he is, after all, only a 21-year-old human being. Nothing super about that.

And I think at some point along the way, a few people forgot about that. Having the ability to crush the competition in the pool does not make you a different human being than any other outside of it.

Now onto Ryan Lochte. Different occurrence, different outcome, same point (at least to me). Some people forget he is a human being.

In case you have been under a rock, Lochte was injured on Sunday when a female fan quite literally jumped him.

How severe the injury is hasn’t been clarified yet but Dave Wagner of NBC Charlotte has tweeted a few quotes by SwimMAC Coach David Marsh, saying that “It’s unclear if he’ll have surgery” and “It looks like he has a pretty substantial rehab time here in Charlotte ahead of him.”

Lochte will most likely have to miss the USA Swimming Winter Nationals and Duel in the Pool in Scotland. All because of the actions of a crazed fan who let the excitement get the upper hand.

Let me say one thing right off the bat. I get the excitement. I honestly and totally do. Before anything else, I am a swim fan. What I don’t get is when the excitement overrules better judgment and simple rules of social behavior.

Lochte’s face may appear on TV, in magazines and all over the Internet, but being ‘famous’ does not make him public property. He is still a fairly regular guy, never mind his not-so-regular job. And, I think that is the key part some people need to remember.

Lochte is an athlete, but he is also a regular guy. A normal human being, maybe not quite like you and me, but almost. Seeing his races on TV does not entitle anyone to do things to him that we wouldn’t want a complete stranger doing to us.

How would you feel if, all of a sudden, someone you have never even met comes barreling towards you at warp speed? What would you do, how would you react? Because, in a nutshell, that is what happened to Lochte. Someone literally came running at him. He somehow tried to catch the fan, it didn’t work, and now he’s left with an injury. A complete freak accident that could have gone any other way, but it didn’t.

Lochte is a generous guy. We often hear how he spent hours signing autographs and posing for photos. When he attended a sponsor event in Georgia in late August, he actually did end up spending several extra hours to sign stuff and pose for photos with fans. So there wasn’t an actual need to run at him, walking would have done the trick just as well.

As a personal addition, I do feel sorry for the poor girl who is now part of the entire story too. I am certain she didn’t mean for any of that to happen and she probably feels bad enough as it is. So I do hope that, should we ever find out who she is, we don’t forget the rules of social behavior either.

After all, she is only human too, right?

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