Beyond apology, setting an example
He probably regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth.
When pressed in a "60 Minutes" interview about how his infamous social life affected his racing performance, skiing champion Bode Miller unabashedly replied, "there’s been times when I’ve been in really tough shape at the top of the course Talk about a hard challenge right there. I mean, if you ever tried to ski when you’re wasted, it’s not easy … It’s like driving drunk only there’s no rules about it in ski racing."
The interview was not live, but CBS apparently knew they had a pre-Olympic bombshell. They used the U.S. alpine idol’s indiscretion to hype the segment and when it aired Sunday, Jan. 8, the phone lines at the U.S. Ski Team headquarters here in Park City lit up.
Understandably, among the callers were some very angry ski team sponsors. The buzz coming from ski resort locker rooms where young ski racers have been trying to emulate the man who helped put America back on the Olympic podium wasn’t pretty either.
But when U.S. Ski and Snowboard Association President and CEO Bill Marolt boarded a jet to Switzerland to have a little chat, Miller must have known he was in deep trouble.
The USSA isn’t releasing a transcript of their encounter but the organization did issue an "Official Statement" in which Marolt accepted Miller’s apology for the comments and voiced his support for both Miller and the team at the Torino Olympic Games next month.
Here is what we hope the two had to say to each other.
Like the tough headmaster of a gifted but self-destructive student, we hope Marolt was able to convey the depth of his, and the USSA’s, disappointment, along with a measure of respect and support.
Certainly Miller’s significant contributions to the team’s success outweigh a careless remark to a persistent reporter. But last Sunday’s comments should also be taken as a warning, a signal that Miller, and perhaps some of his teammates as well, need more help dealing with the pressures of international competition, of being rock stars one moment and also-rans the next.
We hope the well-deserved reprimand was at least as much about being a role model for young athletes as it was about alienating donors.
Above all, we hope Marolt and the team’s coaches turn the incident into an opportunity for the athletes headed to Torino to be honest about the pressures they face and how they are coping successfully and unsuccessfully.
As for Miller, we hope his apology to Marolt, and subsequently to his family and friends, was sincere and that he understands as long as he is racing for the United States, he represents our hopes and ideals both on the slopes and off.
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