Sports and religion are two fields of human activity where absurd statements seem to pass unchallenged a lot. Actually there are a few prominent people who challenge statements made on behalf of religion: Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens are prime examples, quite different from each other too. But when it comes to sports I don't know of any prominent critics, so I'll just have to try my own hand.
The present posting is inspired by this article wherein Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton says he accepts the risks of racing. Commenting on the recent deaths of Dan Wheldon and Marco Simoncelli in racing accidents, he admits this is on the minds of the fraternity as the Grand Prix starts in Delhi and then comes out with the following gem:
"But you have got to do what you do because you love it. It is a sacrifice and a risk that we all take. No one wants to be in those situations but, for me, if I was to pass away, I cannot imagine a better way, personally. I have always said if I was going to go, then in a racing car would be the way to do it. It is what I love."
This statement may not appear absurd to people and it certainly doesn't appear to have invoked a chorus of condemnation. But imagine the same thing said by a modern-day version of Timothy Leary who liked experimenting with mind-altering drugs: "If I was going to go, then high on LSD would be the way to do it. It is what I love". What an outcry there would be!
In fact you don't have to imagine it - music legends Michael Jackson and Amy Winehouse died prematurely because of their excessive dependence on drugs (and alcohol in the latter case) and in the popular view their deaths are far from glorified.But if Mr Hamilton's comment is appropriate then we must reconsider. Presumably MJ and AW were doing what they loved. There is plenty of evidence that the success of their art was correlated with their wild abuse of chemicals. Without heroin there would have been no Amy Winehouse album "Back to Black", recently judged the biggest selling album in the UK in the 21st century. I've listened to it a lot and it's a truly brilliant work: depressing and deranged but original, powerful and intelligent. Comparison with a Van Gogh painting would not be out of place.
It's obviously not my point that musicians or other artists are right to fry their brains and die at 27 like Amy or 50 like MJ. But why is it OK, even noble somehow, to get in a machine and spin round a racetrack like a maniac and occasionally collide, spin out of control and die? Wheldon was 33 and Simoncelli a mere 24. Compare their short lives to that of drug guru Timothy Leary who not only experimented with drugs during the heady 1960's but urged others to take them. He was imprisoned and even called "the most dangerous man in America" (by the most dangerous man in America at the time, Richard Nixon). Yet he lived until the ripe age of 76 and even inspired a nice song, "Legend of a Mind", by the Moody Blues. It makes you wonder.