As a child, I despised calling on other children. I dreaded the awkward interaction with parents, the strangely inherent sense of authority held over me by a complete stranger and the feeling that I was interrupting or presenting an imposition with my request to hang out with their offspring.
I vividly remember an uncomfortable moment from my childhood in which I knocked on the door of my friend Mark, who lived in my neighborhood. His mother answered, and when I asked her if Mark could come and play, she said something incoherent to me about baseball. I informed her that yes, it was entirely possible that we might play baseball, and then we stood silently in the foyer of her home for what seemed like ten minutes.
Finally, she told me to come back another time, and so I left, certain that Mark’s mother was a little bit deranged. Walking home, friendless, I pieced together the words I knew she said to me from our awkward exchange with the words she might have spoken. The results of my word investigation revealed that I had failed to understand Mark couldn’t waste time with me because he was practicing baseball.
I thought about how absurd it was to practice something like baseball. It seemed like homework, something I avoided by playing baseball. In my mind, putting effort into getting better at a game defeated the whole purpose of playing the game. Later, when Mark emerged as the best player on our baseball team, I justified his superiority on the field by the fact that he practiced. I reconciled the gulf in ability between us by saying to myself that I could be just as good if I was willing to lower myself to actually trying to do so.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but my internal rationalization was similar to the underlying principles of the grotesque modern Olympic ideal. Masked in the false virtues of amateurism, superior athletes who competed professionally were outcast in favor of those who leaned on their own means to fund a more leisurely training, or had the political gravitas of an aristocratic surname that was able to induce government investment in their recreation.