Friday, August 15, 2008
Memo to James Blake: Gonzalez did the right thing
By Scoop Jackson Page 2
What should Fernando Gonzalez have done?
It's a pendulum point in the biggest match of his career -- not just a potential change in momentum but the point that could be the difference in getting to a match point in an Olympic semifinal -- and he's been told to come clean on a call the people hired to make had missed.
James Blake was unable to convert three match points in the third set and lost to Fernando Gonzalez on Friday.
His opponent, James Blake, is looking at him -- not the chair umpire -- for the correct answer; an honest answer.
Blake said that tennis (especially when played at the Olympics) is "supposed to be a gentleman's sport" and that at that specific time -- the first point of the 18th game in the third set of a three-set match in which the winner plays for the gold -- was the "time to call it yourself."
"Fernando," he said about a return that went long but glanced off Gonzalez's racket, "looked me square in the eye and didn't call it."
Didn't even call it. Another player? As if.
In theory and naiveté, we'd all like to believe that someone would do the right thing. We'd love to believe all the athletes we hold so dear in our hearts would, when that time came, concede their will to win and competitiveness to integrity and honor.
That would only make the athletes dumb and us dumber.
No disrespect to Blake, but what athlete in his right (or left) hemisphere would give away a point that critical? It's the most unspoken double standard in sports: Athletes complain about calls that don't go their way but are mute when bad calls go in their favor. At the Olympics, the stage is bigger than at any other point in an athlete's career. The chances of getting back to that same stage -- in four years -- are much less likely than in the annual events that take place in each particular sport.
In the case of Blake and Gonzalez, what are the chances of Gonzalez (with an ATP ranking of 15th) ever getting back to being one win from a gold medal? And what are the chances of him, if he does get there again, having to go through the world's seventh-ranked player instead of the No. 1, 2 or 3 player?
This was his chance of a lifetime, and the umpire and linesmen/-women blew it. Gonzalez just did what athletes do: Play. Say nothing. Wait for that lucky moment when something controversial falls your way.
Not help your opponent win.
Did Park Si-Hun tell the judges at the 1988 Olympics that they "scored the fight wrong, Roy Jones Jr. really beat me"? Did Tom Brady tell the refs, "Uh, the ball really wasn't tucked. It was a fumble"? Should either athlete's honor or integrity be questioned because of what he didn't do?
Blake's rant after the match doesn't hold weight or impose guilt on anyone. His comments that "I've spoken all week about how much I've enjoyed the Olympic experience, how much I love the spirit of it. That's a disappointing way to exit the tournament, when you not only lose the match but you lose a little faith in your fellow competitor" are a redirect to the fact that Gonzalez's decision to not help him overshadows the real issue: How'd I lose a match in which, before the controversy, I was up 40-0 at 6-5 in the final set and lost three match points?
Sports, must we all be reminded, is not a business in which people fess up. You get in where you fit in and get by whenever you can. The only time when sports is fair is too often right before players and teams begin to play.
At the Olympics, it's just life magnified. Because in life we all get away with things. Things that we have control over, things where we can decide which way the advantage falls. It happens every day. What many of us -- Blake included -- need to realize is that it almost goes against human nature at those huge moments in life or career for anyone to self-incriminate defeat or loss. Business is too competitive, money too scarce, fame too fleeting.
So what should Gonzalez have done? The right thing or the right thing? He did the right thing.
What Blake really needs to believe and put trust in, instead of honor and integrity, is karma.
Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com.