Accusations by several women against California Governor Arnold Scwarzenegger for sexual harassment during his inaugural campaign in 2003 must have been true for the most part or he would not have apologized for having “behaved badly.” And there may be still other women who were victimized over the years who did come forward. But, while I empathize with these women and understand their humiliation, I also understand how the Governator might have been influenced over the years to wrongly behave this way.
A few years later, in 1974, I sat with Arnold on the first leg of a plane ride from Columbus to Los Angles via Minneapolis while he was studying the script for one of his early movies, “Stay Hungry,” with Sally Field. He was relatively inconspicuous in his loose-fitting clothes sitting in a window seat engrossed in the script, so few people on the plane noticed him. But he was not unnoticed by the flight attendants (we called them stewardesses then). Whenever they walked by, they took extra pains to look twice at the tanned, athletic-looking young man with the engaging smile. He had, by now, already achieved the pinnacle of bodybuilding with the Mr. Olympia title, and he had the aura and demeanor of a champion. He was then – as he is now – supremely confident and charming, and they sensed that he was “somebody” and were seduced by his celebrity.
Later that same year I had dinner with him at Neptune’s West Restaurant in Los Angeles together with singer Jimmy Rogers and Irwin Paris (Jack LaLanne’s manager at the time). I particularly remember this meeting because, from the time Arnold joined us at the table, it seemed like every woman who entered the restaurant made a beeline toward him. They batted their eyes, swiveled their hips, cooed sweet nothings in his ear, and rubbed their hands over his biceps. A seemingly endless parade of women made their way to our table to meet the “Austrian Oak.” They were clearly looking for more than just an autograph. The four of us conversed lightly and ordered our beverages while the procession of female admirers continued. Midway through our salads, Arnold put down his fork and excused himself to walk away with a buxom blonde. I never saw him again in person after that day.
Such female adoration and aggressiveness does not justify Arnold’s boorish behavior toward women in general, but it does show, perhaps, how we place male athletes, movie stars, celebrities, and politicians on pedestals, and how they might sometimes assume – wrongly, of course – that every woman secretly wants to go to bed with them and that any kind of sexual innuendo is acceptable behavior even when considered only “playful.” I don’t know why these women waited so long to make their accusations public – only they can answer that – but Arnold was right to apologize even if it might have been too late.
My personal beef with Arnold is not his harassment of women, which is bad enough, but, rather, the adverse effect that he has had on the youth of California – indeed, the youth of America – by being elected governor in the first place. Why? Because Arnold probably would not have been elected governor if he had not used anabolic steroids (and, while I am on the subject, Jesse Ventura would probably not have been elected governor of Minnesota if he had not used steroids either). Ridiculous, you say?
Let’s be honest. Without the use of steroids, Arnold probably would not have achieved his remarkable physique; he probably would not have earned bodybuilding fame by winning the Mr. Olympia title seven times; he probably would not have been featured in the documentary film “Pumping Iron” which launched his movie career; and he probably would never have had occasion to meet Maria Shriver in his wildest dreams. He probably would not have been appointed to head the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, and he probably would not have been elected governor. He probably would not have had to face so many public accusations of sexual harassment either because his celebrity status would have been “terminated” even before it began.
Fans will say in Arnold’s defense that “everyone” was using steroids in those days and, after all, they weren’t considered illegal until several years later. In fact, “everyone” was NOT using steroids in those day, and steroids were illegal even then unless prescribed by a physician – which begs the question of what medical condition Arnold and his friends were afflicted with at the time to justify their continuing “prescriptions” for bodybuilding. It must have been a serious (and highly contagious) aliment to have lasted for so many years.
Athletes have always sought a competitive edge to win, and Arnold was no different from many other athletes who turned to performance enhancing drugs to achieve victory. He had to know that it was morally wrong, but his desire to win was apparently stronger than his ethical values, and the end justified the means. Has he continued to use steroids over the years to prepare for his occasional movie roles? I don’t know. But my concern, now that he has been twice elected and served as California governor, is that every youngster in America will assume that it is acceptable to use steroids to look like Arnold and to be like Arnold. And very athlete in America will assume that winning is everything even if it means cheating. Why not? It has worked for Arnold.
Perhaps our country is becoming conditioned to the new principle that winning is more important than how we play the game and that the end always justifies the means. I hope not.
Do as I say, not as I do.