I believe it was Kierkegaard who said “once you label me, you negate me”. I only know that because of that great scene in Wayne’s World, but there’s a whole lotta truth to it.
I’m about to talk expansively and with misguided conviction about the whole Ian Thorpe thing, in case you can’t see where I’m going here.
So what’s the solution?
Many say that a utopian society would be, indeed, one without labels.
But labels are useful, in many respects. Like when you’re shopping, for example, a label may inform you as to whom the designer is, or whether the item is on sale or not.
But in sport, labels should not be important. That is, unless we’re talking about funny, intangible labels, like Adam Goodes is soft, or that Paul Gallen is a thug.
Of course, there are other labels that are important, too. But generally speaking, race, sexuality and religion have no place in sport.
Sport is asexual. And not in a suss Cliff Richards way, but genuinely asexual. It is also agnostic, with an albino complexion.
In sport, what matters is the result and the way in which said result was achieved (cue AFL club song about fighting the good fight, etc). Sport, as this website has maintained ad nauseum since its inception, is about good vs evil, black vs white (not racially, of course), heroes vs villains, and a bunch of other stuff too.
To quote Newton’s law of physics, every (sporting) action must have an equal and opposite reaction. LeBron James’ Decision 2.0 was a great example of all of the above.
In reality, society is not sport, just as sport is not a reflection of society. Sport is business. Professional athletes are products, and we are consumers.
But the sad reality here of course is that sport is business – and business must pander to society if it is to be profitable. And herein lies the difficulty that Thorpe alleges he faced in coming out.
By revealing his homosexuality, Thorpe says he would have risked losing valuable sponsorship deals – because society was, in his eyes, not ready for their champion to be gay.
This bizarre love triangle: sport = business = society, makes no sense, obviously.
Why do we watch sport, or gravitate towards certain teams or athletes? It makes no sense, of course. It’s based on gut feel – and that’s how it should be.
Choosing to watch and support Ian Thorpe is like choosing to shop at Zara. Sure, both require a sophisticated European palate, but in reality, neither makes sense if you think about it on a societal level.
You don’t want to know that Zara employs sweatshop factory workers in the Philippines to make their shit.* And you don’t want – or need, more accurately – to know that Ian Thorpe prefers the idea of banging men to women.
Put the labels aside for a moment and here are the facts: Ian Thorpe is a great swimmer. And Zara make great clothes (I’m led to believe).
Personally, I think that by labeling himself, Ian Thorpe has negated himself. But the sad thing is that for the past 15 years, society wanted to put a label on him. And in the end, he has been forced to do so.
Athletes are products, sure, but they should come without labels. Because once we label them, we negate them. And ourselves, too.**
By Dave Edwards
*This is a throwaway line and not at all based on truth
** Sorry if this article seems disjointed; I’ve had four beers