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Athletic maturity

02/18/06 12:00AM By Brian Porto
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(HOST) Recently, newspapers and newsmagazines have been full of stories about the opinions and the lifestyle of World Cup ski champion Bode Miller. These stories have convinced commentator Brian Porto that, even at age 28, Miller still has a lot of growing up to do.

(PORTO) I learned something about growing up when I taught undergraduates, many of whom arrived at college quite immature, but graduated as responsible adults. Their maturation during the four years between matriculation and graduation manifested itself in two ways. First, they grew to appreciate the benefits that life had bestowed on them and became less concerned about the injustices, both real and imagined, to which they had been subjected. Second, they became increasingly aware of the need to face the consequences of choices that they themselves had made.

Judged by this standard, Bode Miller is experiencing growing pains. Instead of cherishing and nurturing his enormous athletic talent, he has undermined it by admittedly skiing in competition while hung over. Instead of welcoming the fans whose interest in skiing has enabled him to become a multi-millionaire in his late twenties, he complains about their tiresome "high-fives" and demands for autographs.

In Miller's defense, there is indeed much to criticize about the culture and the administration of modern sports, including ski racing. After all, he is not the first athlete to complain about the aggressiveness and the sense of entitlement often exhibited by fans nowadays. Nor is he alone in chastising the Olympics for excessive nationalism and commercialism. And, profanity and intemperateness aside, his critique of skiing's drug regulations, which permit the use of creatine, a muscle-building supplement that other sports have banned, while prohibiting the cold remedy Sudafed, surely has merit.

Still, much of Bode Miller's griping is immature because, by joining the U.S. Ski Team, he effectively consented to the intrusions, distractions, and regulations that he so resents. They are the price of fame and fortune as a marquee athlete, a price that Miller seems unwilling to pay, even as he cashes his sponsors' checks. Perhaps Miller's ambivalence about fame and fortune helps to explain his disappointing performances this year on the World Cup Tour and in the Olympics. In the latter he finished fifth in the downhill and was disqualified from the combined downhill and slalom event after straddling a gate with his skis.

John McBride, the speed coach for the U.S. Ski Team, says, "I think [Bode] is confused about what he wants." Apparently so, but the choice seems clear to me. Try to be the best skier you can possibly be and choose your battles with the bureaucrats carefully or retire to a reduced income and a smaller soapbox. Either choice would be the act of a grownup.

This is Brian Porto of Windsor.

Brian Porto is an attorney and a free lance writer.
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