An Object Lesson in Why Truth Matters

During the just-completed Winter Olympics, a major brouhaha was ignited by the media over a supposed U.S. Speedskating feud between Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick.

Shani Davis was largely portrayed as a non-team-player because he supposedly withdrew from a team event, thereby costing the team a shot at Olympic gold. Too wrapped up in his own little world to take one for the team, etc.

Phil Hersh in the Chicago Tribune writes that some apologies may be in order:

Davis did not withdraw, as has been reported persistently, from the team pursuit. He couldn’t have because he was not among the five skaters U.S. speedskating officials entered for the event.

Both Davis and his personal coach, Bob Fenn, had told those officials whenever asked that he preferred not to skate the pursuit so he could concentrate on his later individual races, especially the 1,000 meters. The coaches and officials knew of Davis’ feelings for at least a week and likely as long as a month before the Winter Olympics began Feb. 10.

Yet fellow U.S. speedskater Chad Hedrick accused Davis of betrayal for not skating the pursuit, saying Davis’ decision cost Hedrick and the U.S. team a gold medal. Eventual champion Italy eliminated the U.S. in the quarterfinals.

“I hoped Shani would skate the pursuit but I understand completely why he didn’t want to, and I would have done the same thing,” Cushman said. “His reasons were completely legitimate. I have nothing but respect for Shani.”

Cushman said he had talked with Davis about the team pursuit twice during the week before the Olympics began. Each time, Cushman said, Davis replied he wanted to concentrate on the 1,000 and 1,500. He won the 1,000 and was second in the 1,500.

Yet U.S. Speedskating still listed Davis as a “substitute” when it submitted its team pursuit roster to the International Skating Union at the official deadline, three days before the event’s first round. Tron Espeli of Norway, head of the ISU speedskating technical committee, said via e-mail Wednesday that substitutes could be used in case of emergency or illness.

So Davis didn’t withdraw from anything. He was pressured to take part in a brand new event, but felt it might cause him to lose focus on the events he wanted to focus on. Is this a crime now?

And U.S. Speedskating did nothing to correct what it knew were false statements, and by not doing anything, left Shani Davis swinging in the wind.

The media, as per usual, was more than happy to play up the conflict and the personal battles, without bothering to look under the rug for whatever might have been swept under there. Apparently, they see their role as nothing more than inflammatory note-takers, dutifully recording public utterances, and following them up with rude questions intended to provide more of the same, without any actual investigative work to find out what is true, and what is not.

And so what we have left is this. All of the incredulous and overheated gasping over Shani Davis withdrawing from an event was based on bad info. U.S. Speedskating knew the info was bad, but did nothing publicly to correct it. And the media didn’t care enough to find out if the info was bad, because then the story disappears.



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