If we are talking about sporting achievement, then it is difficult to ignore Sir Bradley Wiggins. After a quite phenomenal year in his sport of cycling in what has been a quite phenomenal year for cycling itself – and British sport in and of itself – the 2012 BBC Sports Personality of the Year is riding the crest of a wave of public adulation.
What follows, however, is not the post that I had originally planned – “Why I no longer support Bradley Wiggins” – based on an analysis you will see below. But in the actual act of writing this, I continued to read and think, and I uncovered various things that really have served as a powerful reminder that what we know is always less than what we don’t know.
I have not used a word like ‘hermeneutics’ in the name of this blog just to be a pretentious buffoon. Today, I am the one who has changed in the process of thinking about my interpretation of certain people’s actions. And that’s precisely why this blog exists! I’m a Christian who is engaged in constant critical reflection on his life and times and trying to be a standard-bearer for what I believe without negatively imposing this on others. And while my essential opinion about certain things remains unchanged, I can see that I may have judged him more harshly than the Bible gives me permission to do. And THAT’s a problem!
Let’s get to it. Here’s where I began. Cyclist David Millar was banned in 2004 for two years after being caught taking performance-enhancing drugs. Millar served his time like a man and was able to make a professional return to the sport he loved. He has become the most prominent anti-doping activist in cycling.
The 2011 BBC Sports Personality of the Year – cyclist Mark Cavendish – said that Millar had redeemed himself. Cavendish did not gloss over the issues, but he spoke from the heart about why he felt Millar deserved a second chance:
Is there anyone in the world who at some point has not been grateful for a second chance?
Bradley Wiggins then came out with this:
It has taken me some months to get my head around this fully, but I can now look back and see that this video was in fact the beginning of the end for me as a Bradley Wiggins fan. To describe Cavendish as selfish and to argue that ‘legitimate morality’ demanded that Millar, having made a drugs-related mistake, should never be allowed to compete in the Olympics was – and is – boorish, graceless, spiritually bankrupt and completely hypocritical to boot.
This is not the time for a proper philosophical discourse on how morality and ethics are understood and constructed by human beings. But it is a time to point out that secular morality is inconsistent by definition. Bradley Wiggins certainly made mistakes as a kid. Some of the things he has done as an adult can also be criticised. He has criticised celebrity culture, but his post-Olympic antics were not those of an anti-celebrity person: pulling down Mo Farah’s trousers, jumping on the car in Paris, publically getting wasted and advertising the fact on Twitter….
Forgetting my Christian morality and fundamentalist teetotalism, none of that would have mattered if he’d not been so emphatic about not being a celebrity. And sure, the evidence appears to suggest that he really is genuine and down-to-earth – but he’s not consistent, and that’s my point. Missing your children’s birthdays just to maintain a training programme to win a piece of metal and a place in history… some fathers would do anything but not be there for their kid’s birthdays. Who is talking morality here? Who is the judge? Bradley Wiggins??
I could write 1500 words on the subject of Wiggins’ relationship with Mark Cavendish – the ups and downs, the roller-coasters, the inconsistencies, the lack of transparency, the hypocrisy of allowing Team Sky to renege on its commitment to helping both Cavendish and Wiggins get something massive out of the 2012 Tour. Cavendish literally dropped weight to be able to be a team player and sidekick to Wiggins. Sky then, realising that Wiggins really might just win, then dropped Cavendish, seduced by the chance to re-write the record books.
This may well explain why Chris Froome took a couple of opportunities to flex his own muscles to Bradley Wiggins before obeying team orders and letting Wiggins catch him up. Here’s the bottom line: the success that Bradley Wiggins has had this year has come at a high price – not least for Cavendish – and the inherent morality of that is absolutely open to scrutiny.
So now – Wiggins wants to argue that David Millar, having made a mistake, admitted it, come back and been nothing but an asset to his colleagues – is not good enough to compete at the Olympic Games? There is no grace, no mercy, no nothing for him? Just because he was banned once?
Is the Olympics big enough and important enough to merit that type of shut-down, binary, dogmatic position? Really? Why? Because the legacy of the Olympics and what it stands for cannot be ‘tainted?’
I’m sorry, but that is as wrong-headed as can be. There are stronger words I could use.
Morality? Let’s talk morality. If David Millar had committed sexual infidelity, would that have disqualified him from the Olympics? What’s the difference? Bradley Wiggins had to quickly get out of a controversial tax-avoidance scheme when a PR firestorm broke. Would he have done that if there had been no media shindig?
No sporting competition is important enough for that sort of ban, and the legal experts working in international sporting arbitration have realised this, which is why the BOA have been forced to get rid of lifetime bans for drug-convicted athletes.
So, I was all set to batter Wiggins here on this blog for being an inconsistent, self-important, hypocritical prig with an over-weening sense of his own importance. But then I began to learn more about who he was and where he has come from.
It cannot be easy having a drug-and-alcohol addicted father – also a professional cyclist – who has hurt you as badly as Bradley was hurt by his own father. And to have a father who was a drug cheat as a professional cyclist has to hurt like few things can hurt. To not attend your own father’s funeral is also incredibly harsh, and I’m not sure that Sir Bradley may not look back in years to come and wonder if that was the right decision.
Wiggins has also acknowledged his own battles with drinking. Not easy, having the details of your life all over the media. Hard on your wife and kids!
So, I can sit here at my desk or in my armchair and pass judgement on Bradley Wiggins and his lack of grace, but if I had his background, would I be any more balanced? It was easy enough for me to be riled at him, but could I live his life? Has God called me to be judge, jury and executioner on him or anyone else?
If I’m honest, I began writing this post with an unacknowledged sense of my own superiority over Bradley Wiggins. I close this post with the realisation that all these realities are precisely why the gospel message is so important. An atheist perspective has to make a number of arbitrary constructions to facilitate grace and forgiveness – because only Christianity makes a necessity out of treating others “better than they deserve.” I am a product of my life and upbringing. So is he. I may not agree with his thinking and reasoning and choices, but I am not better than he is. His life is consistent with secular morality. And if I have rejected that, then I need to ensure that I don’t become the pot who called the kettle “black…”