Let's try to not read too much into today's news that former gold medallist Donovan Bailey was arrested on March 28 for drunk driving.
I'm not saying we shouldn't read into it because it's not a big deal that somebody drinks and drives, or that we should just focus on his career, or for any reason that you might equate me with an eye-roller who tries to justify illegal activity while crushing a Bud and watching Roethlisberger play on Sunday.
I'm not like that. I've never driven drunk in my life. I never plan to.
I'm saying we shouldn't read into it because he's a nobody now.
At the end of the day, Bailey is a human being. He is a former athlete, although he will return to your TV sets this summer (we think) as a commentator during the London Games.
And, like many human beings, he is flawed. This is a mistake, and all we know right now is that it was one mistake.
Reprehensible. Criminal. But, human.
Time is the ultimate test of all once-great human beings. They live a short life in the spotlight, and it's short even when it lasts forever. Because, once it's over, it's over. Even if your peak lasted 50 days or 50 seconds, you always pine for the times when you were bigger than anyone else.
It's why men get sad when they start losing their hair, whether they're 18 or 80. Does it really matter how long it lasted? The point is, it's over.
So, how small is the window for an Olympic athlete? How about an Olympic sprinter?
Bailey's lifetime can be summed up in 9.84 seconds. That's all anybody knows him for, at least.
Like most Canadians, I remember that day. I was eight years old in 1996, when my family and I huddled around our television in Matlock, Manitoba and watched Bailey torch the field, wrapping himself in that Canadian flag and proudly strutting around that oval in Atlanta.
It might have seemed cocky, but Canadians often aren't. We don't typically care when we are, because we're always compensating for being the quiet neighbour above the United States.
And, so, what about that race against Michael Johnson in 1997? Do you remember it? I do, and I can still picture it, much clearer than Bailey's gold medal in '96. I remember it because it was Man vs. Man and Country vs. Country, when Canada did the unthinkable. (Well, Bailey was born in Jamaica, but still.) We never win these track-and-field things. We can't compete with the Americans' Nike contracts, or their tailored Ralph Lauren entrance garb.
And so, when Bailey blew away from the irrelevant Michael Johnson -- almost immediately -- the country cheered. Johnson pulled up limping shortly after, but the race was already over by the time he decided to go all Thespian on us.
Said Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated, at the time:
" ... Johnson briefly eyeballed Bailey, grabbed his own left thigh and pulled up, violating -- unwittingly or otherwise -- the last principle of an event whose credibility hung by a thread: Both men must finish the damn race."
Canadians were angry with Johnson. He couldn't even lose with dignity. He couldn't win the title, so he had to hog the spotlight.
So, as a Canadian, Bailey was angry, too. He couldn't win with dignity, either. "He didn't pull up at all, he's just a chicken," Bailey said, moments after his win. "He's afraid to lose. I think what we should do is we should really run this race over again, so I can kick his ass one more time."
I loved it. Obviously. I didn't care about Michael Johnson. I was Canadian, and I was nine years old. My country just won the biggest damn thing in the world, at the time, and I would be happy to hear Bailey go on and on and on about Michael Johnson, the man who continually promoted himself at the "World's Fastest Man" when we all knew he wasn't.
But, I was nine. Bailey is 44 now.
His greatest moments are 15 years behind him, and his worst moment is only a month and a half behind him. Well, publicly, this appears to be his worst moment.
The jawing with Johnson was playful and tongue-in-cheek because, at the end of the day, a race is just a race. It's a damn sport, and it's over in 10 seconds.
But, Bailey doesn't have the platform or the time of folks like Dany Heatley or Jay Bouwmeester, who can hopefully play long enough and well enough to at least water down their Wikipedia pages so we don't first notice the words "vehicular homicide" or "DUI."
For Bailey, real life begun a long time ago. The hard part begins now.
(*This "article" was originally "published" on White Cover Magazine.)