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Danica Patrick Grabs The Pole And The Sports Spotlight

By on February 17, 2013
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Danica Patrick’s historic achievement becoming the first woman to grab the pole at the Daytona 500 comes at a welcome time.

We watch and follow sports as a relief from the realities of life. Yes, sports is big business and athletes can be paid millions upon millions of dollars a season to lace up their skates, soccer shoes, football cleats, running shoes, boots and various other forms of footwear, some of which can generate income – Air Jordan, for example.

We watch sports because it isn’t about life and death. It is about fun and games. Yes, there are consequences of these sports that remind us every once in a while that the athletes are humans, not machines. When they suffer injuries, some  of them career-ending or others that are so horrific we cringe at what we see, we are awakened from this fantasy. But unless there is a loss of life through something resulting from the injury it can be viewed as not particularly serious. We expect these athletes will recover because they are physically built of muscle and sinew.

But when sports and mortality collide, it as if we are given a jolt of reality. When a double-leg amputee is arrested for allegedly murdering his girlfriend in cold blood, we are shocked and saddened. A life so young has been ended by someone so celebrated for human achievement despite a physical handicap. Oscar Pistorius allowed us to celebrate in his achievement, showing us all that disability isn’t necessarily a liability. He proved that as long as the mind is willing there are no limits to what we can achieve.

Sadly, all that Pistorius did has been vanquished by an act which could very well lead to a lifetime incarcerated. We don’t know the full details of what happened, but the Pistorius brand has been tarnished, perhaps forever. It will be up to a high-priced legal team to extricate Pistorius from the awful thing for which he has been charged.

It is far worse  than anything Lance Armstrong did because for all he did to destroy lives, the cyclist did not end any lives although he did ruin some. He has the choice now of beginning the long road to redemption by fulling fessing up to his drug use and not in some glorified and celebrated interview. He must co-operate with the authorities he previously stonewalled because it may help to lessen the financial and emotional burden that he faces for thinking he was above everyone.

Lance Armstrong made us understand, if we didn’t already, that when we idolize sports heroes we allow ourselves to be set up for a great fall. Idolizing somebody because of what they can do as an athlete is a false form of hero worship. We should be celebrating the achievements of others who do so much but aren’t given the adulation. There are countless athletes who should be admired for simply competing, regardless of their success or lack of it. The person who finishes last in an event in the Olympics is a winner for  having reached that level of competition.

Danica Patrick has enjoyed fame because she is a womancompeting  in a sport dominated by men. The fact she has had some success and is beautiful have made her one of the most-recognized athletes in the world. People watch the Super Bowl knowing she will be part of the halftime commercials. She is paid millions of dollars to flaunt her looks.

Well, now she has done something no woman has done before in one of the most historic car races in the world. She will attract attention that the Daytona 500 couldn’t buy with mere promotion and advertising. She will take people along for the ride when she begins the race. And if she is so fortunate to win, this will be one of the landmark achievements in sport. The fact she will be on the starting grid and beginning with the pole position is achievement. If her car fails to perform because of mechanical problems or she is compromised in some way, at least she made it to the start of the race doing something others of her ilk — men or women — couldn’t.

We can allow ourselves to be caught up in the moment of what she has done because for the past few days we have been grounded by a man who used a gun to snuff away somebody’s life. That’s not sports, that’s reality.

Damn it.

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