How is it 'abuse' to train a heroine?

July 29, 1996|By Carl T. Rowan

WASHINGTON -- Grimacing in pain, 18-year-old Olympic gymnast Kerri Strug vaulted into the hearts of sports lovers the world over last week when she risked an ankle to guarantee gold for her magnificent team.

Unfortunately, she also awakened half the busybodies of the world who pretend to know and even legislate how other people may raise their children.

''Child Abuse! Child Abuse!'' was the cry ricocheting through the media from Americans who had seen an excuse to declare gymnastics a cruel sport supported by exploitative coaches and by parents who abuse their growth-stunted daughters for their own perverted gratifications.

Social abominations

I say that the complainers are social abominations. You can bet that they are mostly underachievers who never nurtured a dream for more than a few seconds.

They throw out their pablum protests against discipline and hard work in ways that create some of America's greatest social problems -- yes, including teen-age pregnancies and overall lawlessness.

Kerri Strug, supported by her parents, had struggled for more than eight years to become an Olympic gymnast. Last Tuesday, with a badly-sprained ankle, and with the gold medal up for grabs, she made a desperation one-legged vault to win for herself and six teammates the prize of their lives.

What a perversion of human life and common sense for anyone to try to make Kerri a victim rather than a heroine!

Persistence and bravery

She personifies the value of hard work and glorifies the qualities of persistence, self-esteem and bravery. Without them we would have no great skaters, tennis champions or golfers.

All these sports require the investment of thousands of dollars by parents and friends and even more hours of training by the youngsters who dream of becoming superstars.

Is it ''abuse'' when parents push their children to go to piano or violin lessons and dedicate enough time to practice to become world-renowned virtuosos?

There is an element of snobbery -- and stupidity -- in suggesting that a parent who makes a kid play the violin several hours a day is ''supportive'' while one who makes a girl swim several hours a day is ''abusive.''

A bunch of sanctimonious, self-styled Dr. Spocks have hurt a lot of kids and the nation by throwing the word ''abuse'' at things that inspire achievement and build character. That's why many youngsters don't respect teachers nowadays, and even expect their parents to beat up a teacher who scolds them.

And God forbid that a coach such as Indiana University's Bobby Knight curse or slap a player; or that a kid succumb to heat during football practice. The word ''abuse'' becomes a weapon.

A cause of pregnancy

Yes, I mentioned teen-age pregnancies and juvenile delinquency. Note that a father or mother used to be able to say to a teen-age girl, ''Be home by 11, or else,'' and the girl would fear the worst, including a paddling. These days 14-year-olds come home at 2 a.m. and threaten to call the cops charging ''child abuse'' because their parents' language is ''threatening.''

I congratulate Kerri Strug and her parents and all the other Olympians who endured the hard training and made the great sacrifices that lifted them to the top of their chosen field of competition.

For the nitwits crying ''abuse'' I wish a head-first fall from the high bar.

Carl T. Rowan is a syndicated columnist.

Pub Date: 7/29/96

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