Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Selfish Figure Skater

By Joseph Kellard

Joannie Rochette is the Canadian figure skater who (I’m told) performed outstandingly in the Olympics last Tuesday, considering that two days before her mother, Therese -- whom she describes as her biggest fan, best friend and “the most critical person you could ever meet” -- died of a massive heart attack.

Occasionally, sports fans like me will hear a proud assertion of selfishness that is notable, and Rochette provided this when asked why she simply didn’t pack her bags and head home after he mother’s death. Rochette, who went on to skate in the women’s final and earned a bronze medal, said about her decision:

“‘I just went out there and did what my mother would have wanted me to do,’ a teary-eyed Rochette said after the woman’s final on Thursday, the first time she had spoken publicly since her mother died here [Vancouver] on Sunday. ‘I did this first of all for myself because my mother taught me to think of myself first. She always wanted me to be a strong person.’”

She thought of herself first!? How refreshingly selfish! Granted, an athlete in individualist sports such as figure skating, tennis or golf, as opposed to team sports like football, baseball or hockey, is more apt to get away with selfish statements -- especially when grieving. In team sports, however, athletes are routinely told “there’s no ‘I’ in team,” they’re praised for being a “selfless” teammates, and if they show signs of individualist behavior -- sometimes even if their actions help their team toward their common goal of winning -- they’re criticized for being “selfish.”

But winning is or should be any athlete’s primary goal, whether in individual or team sports, and his fans, whether they realize it or not, root for him to be as selfish as he can be in the pursuit of that goal. In sports, there’s no redistribution of points from the “haves” to the “have not.” As Michael Jordan replied when one of his coaches essentially accused him of selfishness because he singlehandedly took over and won a game: “There’s ‘I’ in win.”

I’m happy to hear that Rochette was strong enough to overcome her grief just enough to think of herself first, skate and win bronze. Three cheers for selfishness!


Andrew Coen said...

There is no right or wrong way to handle that unbelievably difficult situation but am glad she decided to still compete as that is I'm sure what her mother would have wanted, esp. after all the hard work she put into making the Olympic team. I was very happy she earned a medal and I'm sure her mother is smiling down upon her.

Lady Baker said...

It was a lovely skate and I am glad she took the time to think. She will have this accomplishment for life because she invested in being rationally self-interested.

Joseph Kellard said...

Andrew and Lady, thank you for your comments.

Joseph Kellard said...

Andrew and Lady, thank you for your comments.

John King said...

She also said that one of her goals last year was to read "The Fountainhead", adding "It was a great book, philosophically".

Joseph Kellard said...

John, Where did hear or read that? Can you send me the link to the video or article in which she says this. I would love to report on it.

Joseph Kellard said...

I checked and it turns out that Joannie Rochette is a fan of “The Fountainhead.” The Boston Herald quotes Rochette as saying: “It was a great book, philosophically.”