Friday, March 7, 2008

Love of the Game

If I thought the honchos at the UCI and ASO were intimately familiar with American football, I would make them all watch Brett Favre's retirement press conference. There is so much they could learn from the man - complete lack of guile, unadorned honesty, a rich and full heart, thoughtfulness, appreciation, disinterest in the sound of his own voice, honor, duty, and, above all, love of the game.

Favre's emotions overflowed many times. He cried, he talked about how tough it is to do his job, he said he can't give anymore. Not because he is melodramatic or self-important or has no life outside of football. On the contrary, his perspective is healthier than most. We have watched him go through so much - playing with injuries, losing so many close loved ones, his wife's battle with cancer, his own battle with addiction. No, his deep emotion comes from a very real and humble love of his sport. The greats in any sport have it - it's far beyond a job or a meal ticket, it's what they were put on this earth to do. And they appreciate that privilege every day. They give everything, they set high goals and work relentlessly to achieve them, sacrificing much along the way. They relish in the details and moments that make their sport special. It's simple yet deeply rich, and one of the more beautiful things in sport. Favre is not perfect, that's what makes him so genuine, but he is football at its best.

We all know the peloton is not perfect either, but those honchos I speak of would do well to think of cycling at its best. Riders enduring unimaginable conditions, dropping out only if they can no longer grip the bars. George Hincapie riding hard for a hundred miles with a broken wrist, because he didn't want to let his team down. Thomas Voeckler rounding that turn on a mountain finish in 2004, holding on to yellow for one more day. Brent Lancaster not letting his first chance in Le Tour slip away - riding on a stomach empty from throwing up all night, and later in the same stage, twisting in the air so he wouldn't land on his bad collarbone. Stage 16 of last year's Giro: riding through a snowstorm, Pavel Brutt's fingers were frozen to the handlebar. Another rider from a different team, whom Brutt apparently didn't even know personally, not only noticed Brutt wasn't eating, but when Brutt explained why, the other rider took Brutt's sandwich from his back pocket and fed it to him. Soon after, the whole peloton stopped in a tunnel to put on some more clothes. As I've said before, this is what loving cycling looks like.

They just want to ride their bikes. This is what they love, what they train for, what they dreamt of as children. They are tough as nails and welcome any challenge. Pain, risk, cold, heat, hail or high water - these things don't scare cyclists. What scares them is not being able to ride. So shame on you, honchos, for putting fear into the fearless. For letting your stubborn power plays threaten what is so near and dear to cyclists' hearts. For toying with their World and Olympic dreams, let alone their Spring Classic dreams. They will bear any burden to stay on the bike and in the race. You need to do the same, whatever it takes to coordinate, compromise, and get over yourselves - and let the riders ride.

I get emotional about these things (pssst…I love cycling a bit myself). I realize we're not talking the Middle East peace crisis. (And really, shouldn't that fact make it a little easier to solve?) But sport is one of those grand distractions that makes the rest bearable. It is thrilling, and beautiful, and inspirational. Back in January, I spent my birthday sick as a dog on the couch. But there was Brett Favre, in a blizzard, scrambling and tossing and leading his team to an exquisite victory. I couldn't have been happier, and I will remember that birthday always with great joy. So thanks, Brett, for loving the game with all your heart. Would that others could be so inclined.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Loved your post, Julie! "I realize we're not talking the Middle East peace crisis. (And really, shouldn't that fact make it a little easier to solve?)".......EXACTLY. I'm still hoping that the organizations can get their act together and compromise on a plan before the entire season goes the way of Paris-Nice. A cyclist's career is far from lengthy and some of these guys are being robbed of important years and opportunities. We're also definitely going to lose fans of the sport if the beauty of it continues to be overshadowed by political infighting. A travesty....