Once a cheetah outran its welcome. When it first appeared on the scene, the cheetah was hailed by one and all as a phenomenon, as being in a league by itself. Nobody could remember a runner so gifted with both speed and agility. And the cheetah truly was a marvel to watch. So swiftly did it cover the ground that film of it had to be slowed down or else all that could be seen was a blur. Its lithe body flew past as if it meant to leave no tracks, touching down only to push off again the same instant. Some called it “a lean mean speed machine,” while others attempted a more literary tone and came up with “poetry in motion.” Not a few were inspired to speak of it in swelling terms normally reserved for mythic heroes who “fight past the pain to destiny and glory.” The cheetah itself didn’t know much about destiny and glory. It just ran. Crowds would gather everywhere to cheer the cheetah on. It was not unusual to see tens of thousands press together for a better look, often trying to outdo each other in their enthusiasm. They even took to wearing cheetah masks or cheetah hats and cheering their lungs out in celebration of its unrivaled speed. Their champion moved through this adulation like a demigod through the clouds. The cheetah had one failing, however. It was given to running down slower creatures and ripping their throats open. This alarming practice caused a certain amount of soul-searching among those who loved to watch the cheetah’s displays of prowess. It was thought by many that the crowds’ enthusiasm for blinding speed, their screaming demand for it above all other considerations, might be to blame. The unbridled worship of speed for speed’s sake may have led the cheetah to assume it could do anything and get away with it, this group lamented. Others blamed the cheetah, not the crowds. They claimed that no amount of frenzied adulation could possibly lead the cheetah to think it was free to defy the accepted rules of civilized conduct. The crowds’ behavior was essentially good, harmless fun in this view. There must have been some moral flaw in the cheetah itself that led to such distressing mayhem. Still another opinion, however, held that because the cheetah was in a league by itself, it simply couldn’t be judged by common standards. Its dazzling speed and the undeniable beauty of its running should be weighed in the scales along with everything else. What it did was reprehensible, no doubt, but allowances ought to be made, and it shouldn’t be forgotten that the cheetah had received numerous awards in the past as an inspirational role model. But by far the largest group, citing the widely held axiom that “spectator sports offer a socially constructive outlet for otherwise disruptive aggression,” insisted that neither the crowds nor the cheetah should be held responsible for such a violent reversal of expectations. It was just a bad bounce of the ball that the uplifting, reassuring symbolism of sports combat had been overtaken in a flash by brutal reality. The cheetah itself, wondering what all the fuss was for, maintained its innocence throughout.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans