By Oh Young-jin
This is about our heroine figure skater, Kim Yu-na. Then, again it is not entirely about her, rather more about us.
I don’t want to sound ambivalent, but any issue concerning the 21-year-old Olympic gold medalist is complicated, especially when it is an unpleasant one.
I now risk being misunderstood as a Yu-na naysayer because I raised the issue of her appearing in a television beer commercial not long ago. My argument was that she is too big a role model especially for young people to promote an alcoholic beverage.
My editor’s note came after a group of psychiatrists issued a statement of concern about the commercial. I agreed with them and endorsed their view.
However, now I have to address another similarly awkward issue _ I don’t want to keep emphasizing her negative points but I have to because it is part of my job.
This time, it concerns Yu-na’s recent teaching practice, undertaken as part of a physical education degree at Korea University, which a Yonsei University professor argued was just a “show” stage-managed to maintain her commercial value.
In an interview during a radio talk show, the professor wondered whether Yu-na attended all the classes necessary to qualify her as a “student teacher.”
It is up to you, readers, to make a final decision on whether this story merited the treatment as our front-page lead article for last weekend’s edition. The three-column boxed article is under the headline “Yu-na’s fall?” As a matter of fact, we have planned a series of articles about what we can learn from the Yu-na case and whether the current incentive system for successful athletes needs revamping.
At least, I can say that it was not just a slow news day that made me decide to “play up” the episode.
Yu-na’s teaching practice is different from her beer commercial.
As the professor pointed out, it is all but certain that Yu-na’s busy schedule of overseas travels, commercial endorsements and other engagements have prevented her from meeting the requirements to participate in teacher training practices. Otherwise, I would make a retraction.
It is common sense that teaching practice should be completed by anybody who is to be a licensed teacher. If one doesn’t meet a given criteria, he or she may not be allowed to participate.
Put yourselves in the position of the other practicing teachers. They couldn’t be blamed for thinking “what qualifications enable Yu-na to stand among us.
Then, who decided to let her stand in front of students as an “apprentice teacher?”
Maybe, it was her decision but, more likely, it was that of her handlers.
Yu-na is a big enterprise that generates a great deal of money. Just imagine how much money her commercial endorsements ranging from refrigerators, sanitary pads and bottled water to beer and natural gas are worth. Her agency handles her engagements but I would not be entirely wrong in thinking that Korea University, which she attends, also embraced her photo-ops with open arms. Interestingly enough, some obvious Yu-na supporter speculated that the critical professor works for Yonsei, a rival private school of the figure skater’s university.
I have my personal reservations about the excessive commercialization of athletes but I don’t want to blame Yu-na and her family, if they decide to make as much money as possible before her athletic value dries up. After all, we live in a capitalistic society, which allows one to cash in on their skills, unless they are illegal.
Besides, I only have thanks for Yu-na, repeatedly beating her Japanese rivals and winning Korea its first gold medal in Olympic figure skating.
She made a perfect presentation that contributed to PyeongChang winning the right to host the 2018 Winter Olympics after two failed attempts.
I still remember that I was moved to tears after her stellar performance in the world championships and averted my eyes from the television when she performed in Vancouver.
I appreciate what she has done as a national cheerleader for us and the nation.
But that doesn’t mean I will give her a free pass for being able to get what she is not qualified for because it is not right. And it is the part that requires us to reflect and chart the path we are taking in the future.
In a deeper sense, we as a nation have matured enough to determine what we have to do for the nation, collectively as well as individually, without expecting special treatment or monetary gains.
There were times when we were poor and needed inspiration from good performances from our national athletes to renew our determination to aspire.
We needed Pak Se-ri’s victories on the U.S. LPGA Tour for a morale boost and overcome the currency crisis that was dubbed the worst peacetime crisis facing the nation.
The Yu-na case needs to be used for a greater purpose.
It should be used as grounds for revamping our incentive system for athletes that exempts them from military service for raising national prestige after good performances.
The key message this reward system sends to society is that only the unprivileged and mediocre athletes are left to serve the country. We know how people in influential positions and their sons have been “saved” from military duty. But aren’t we supposed to think that doing things for the nation is a privilege itself? And getting paid for this should be deemed unpatriotic. Okay, it may not be unpatriotic but it would certainly reduce the value of their contributions.
It’s called noblesse oblige. The right direction we should go is one where those with power set a good example for the rest of society.
We have outgrown the stage of blindly pursuing our myopic interests to the exclusion of all others, I think.