The coming and going of the year's most anticipated sporting event is a great opportunity to talk about integrity- how we value that virtue in life is reflected in the competitions that we can't seem to unglue our eyes from. These events are microcosmic in several ways (although the finances behind them can be downright macrocosmic), as they ostensibly highlight and reward the values that we purport to value in our society: tenacity, physical might, mental fortitude, loyalty, and fair play. The competitions are short compared to the lives we lead, but they last long enough to feature some swings in momentum; some highs from which to fall and some lows from which to scratch and claw up.
But then there's winning, which is prized- incomparably so. So much that it eclipses everything else, and forgives all other transgressions. We skirt the word cheating when we talk about pursuing victory, instead opting for terms like gamesmanship, and finding an edge. When a rule gets bent or broken, there is always a swollen faction of people who still admire the transgressor for doing what he had to do to win. After all, we all know everyone is breaking the rules in some way- they've got to be- so why just punish the ones who happened to get caught? It's clear: we'd rather win with shame (although there seems to be less and less of that in cheating) than lose with honor. Get the W, and don't worry about the now-clichéd * that hovers near it.
Sunday's Super Bowl was one of the best ever, and the miraculous game-winning play that snuffed out Seattle after their seeming-game-winning play is now a permanent part of our memory, and will inspire heated arguments until the sun explodes. Just as well; big drama, a big victory, and we've all forgotten the sour sporting news that we were talking about in the days leading up to the Super Bowl. The thing that should be a permanent part of our memory, but has since been overshadowed by the climax of the game.
I refer, of course, to the former wrestler Mankind cheating in the Wing Bowl.
The Wing Bowl has been taking place around Super Bowl Sunday in Philadelphia for over twenty years; it was founded to provide some much-needed competitive excitement for a city whose football team did not seem to be destined for the Big Game anytime soon. What could that city need more than the marriage of competition and a beloved food to assuage a frustrated, sports-loving population? I can't think of anything.
This competition has been blessed by the talents of San Jose's own Joey Chestnut, Takeru Kobayashi, and Bill "El Wingador" Simmons. These are some of the top athletes in the world, and their training and dedication to conquering mountains of severed, fried wings only bolsters the event's credibility. Of course, to add a little sparkle to the event, the organizers sometimes invite celebrity competitors. They may be eye candy, but their presence at the Bowl is not a pure novelty, as these ringers usually come from a background that hints at potential wine-eating excellence; there's a reason Mick Foley (Mankind's real name) gets the nod over Natalie Portman, is what I am saying.
The brazenness of Mankind's cheating is alarming, as you would think that a champion athlete would hold himself to a higher standard of craftiness, if not honor. But he video plainly shows Mankind's massive mitts flipping the delicate wings into his fanny pack- at one point even stashing two consecutive wings in his shameful oubliette-poulet. Why the fanny pack is not banned by the Wing Bowl- or, come to think of it, by constitutional amendment- is beyond me, and Foley uses his to make a mockery of a sacred rite.
Even more troubling than Foley's disregard for fair play is the lukewarm reaction of the Philly crowd: there is a gasp of horror and there are scattered boos, but there is also applause for Foley, which comes even as he is outed by the announcer and asked to explain over the PA system what the hell he was doing. Apparently we are in such gaping awe of our sporting heroes that- whether it's dashing, cleft-chinned Tom Brady or hefty Brawny-man Mankind- that we are blinded enough by their sheen that we miss the warts, even when they are being pointed out to us. Tempted to just laugh this one off? After all, it's just the Wing Bowl. No biggie, it's just the AFC Championship. Don't sweat it, it's just the NSA collecting all your communications. It's chilling, and it's time we ask ourselves this: What kind of world do we live in where we can't trust a professional wrestler to perform honorably in a chicken-wing eating contest?
Until we answer that, anything else is just a distraction. And the worst part about Foley's actions is his explanation: He saw guys getting sick from eating wheelbarrows of wings, and he didn't want that to happen to him. "I didn't want that to be my legacy" were his exact words. Think about that. Forget about earning an honest legacy through hard work, determination, and up-and-up wing scarfing- Mankind's statement implies that the straight route wasn't even an option. Forget about the prospect of leaving it all (including stomach contents) on the field of battle in an honest attempt at glory- that little indignity would be too much to bear. Cheat to win was the only option as he saw it, so he went for it. And he still lost.
So Mick Foley got what he wanted- his did not leave a puddle of Buffalo vomit on the floor. But he will be forever remembered as a cheater. Not only a cheater, but a cheater and a loser. I'm sure he did not want that to be his legacy, either, but now it is. That flaming wing of shame will be Mankind's to swallow again and again, for the rest of his life. And no fanny pack can hide that.