Let’s make it legal for more athletes to avoid the draftI hate any living creature that has more than four legs. I hate broccoli. But above all, I hate draft dodgers.
Not because I had to endure all the hazing and Army gourmet cooking. No, those things provide all the fodder when I tell my stories over a glass of soju. It’s just that it burns me up when I think that while so many, although unwillingly, became a number on paper that we could give our main enemy something to think about, someone would refuse to do the same at the expense of others.
Professional baseball took a major hit when a draft dodging scheme involving a group of players was uncovered this week. We are not talking about some bench brawl or drunken-driving incident or a marriage gone down the toilet. I couldn’t care less if Lee Seung-yeop were to decide one day to become a Mormon. To me, he would be still a player to remember.
Draft dodging is different. A star athlete who would buy his way out of the service cannot possibly be an icon to the fans.
Yet having said that, I wholly agree with some experts that we must find a permanent solution to this never-ending problem. Athletes are on a biological clock that is directly linked to their earnings power. By taking away two years in their prime, the service is directly influencing the life and future of these athletes, unlike ordinary people. In case of a professional baseball player who is about to hit the jackpot as a free agent, it would be even more so.
Military service is surely a sacred duty, but the individual’s rights have to be taken into account more than ever in the case of athletes. The government needs to be at the forefront of creating a consensus so that the general public would accept some sort of special law that would give the athletes more chances to be exempted from the draft.
Currently, Sangmu, the Army’s special unit that is home to some selected athletes, has a limited roster for baseball professionals. It’s not enough.
How hard is Army life? Let me give you an example: When Park Chan-ho (and I like Park a lot) finished his four-week boot camp and his service (athletes who have won a medal still need to go through a boot camp session), he was crying like a baby. Tears the size of snowballs were running down his cheeks.
One would think that a person like Park, a much better athlete than the majority of those in the Army, would cruise through boot camp. Those who haven’t gone don’t get it.
That’s how tough the service is ― mentally, I mean. I believe the physical stuff anybody can adjust to, but in the Army, they make it their business to break you down so that they can build you up from scratch. The breaking-down process is the hardest part to endure.
I don’t have any pity for draft dodgers, but the law should be changed to accommodate those with special circumstances.
The other day, I asked some soldiers whether they had watched the Olympics. A sergeant told me: “You bet. It was just crazy.”
I asked him what he thought of athletes exempted from the service. “They can help us by doing what they do best. I can live with that,” was the answer.
I am sure many more can live with that as well ― provided it’s legal.
by Brian Lee