Today’s New York Times is running an article titled China Presses Injured Athletes in Quest for Gold. The article starts by discussing diver Hu Jia, who suffered from a detached retina several years ago, putting him at risk for permanent injury. This paragraph about sums up the message behind the article:
Pressured by the national athletic system and tempted by the commercial riches awaiting star performers in the 2008 Games, China’s athletes are pushing themselves to their limits and beyond, causing some to risk their health in pursuit of nationalist glory.
Seems to me the reader is supposed to feel pity for the Chinese athletes (and some outrage towards the Chinese sports authority), for risking their health for a goal as dubious as “nationalist glory”.
Five years ago, NBA player Alonzo Mourning was diagnosed with a serious kidney disorder, with doctors telling him he risked cardiac arrest every time he stepped on the floor. And yet, he risked his life to continue playing… in fact, even after an eventual kidney transplant, he still returned time and time again. The New York Times ran an article with this title at the time: Mourning’s Dedication Won Him Admiration. The Times didn’t seem too concerned, apparently, that Mourning’s agents and employers were pressuring him into risking death, all just in order to sell basketball shoes and entertain basketball fans.
I can’t dispute the facts that the New York Times have laid out in today’s article… I suspect many Chinese athletes do indeed face pressure to win, just as athletes around the world face pressure. But for those Chinese athletes who are fighting through injury to win gold in front of their countrymen this summer, I just want to say: you don’t deserve pity. Your dedication is winning our admiration.