Sun Yang: A jerk or a wretch?

by Wong Hoi Tung


Sun Yang, the Chinese Olympic and world-record-holder, who is also the most contentious swimmer at Rio Olympics 2016. He is the first Chinese man who won an Olympic gold medal in swimming. However, his glory history is not the reason for him becoming the subject of controversial media attention. Yang allegedly splashed his competitor, Mack Horton, in the warm-up pool before the 400-meter freestyle even and then being called a “drug cheat” by Horton after Horton beating him. Yang denied knowing Horton on the next day and declared that he is the king and new world. His behaviours and Horton’s speech have raised extensive media coverage of his private life. His stories successfully gain great attention from the public. Some states that he is a jerk and the opposite opinion argues that he is just a poor wretch.



Justin Peters’ “Olympics Jerk Watch: The Chinese Swimmer Who Kick and Splashes People” and Claire Harvey’s “Sun Yang should have our support and empathy – not our ridicule” which published on Daily Telegraph in August 2016 are two articles that hold different views about what kind of person Sun Yang is. Justin’s article claims that Yang is a jerk but Claire’s says he is just a poor Chinese swimmer manipulated by China.


Not both of these two articles reveal explicitly of what kind of person Yang is. “Olympics Jerk Watch: The Chinese Swimmer Who Kick and Splashes People” published on Slate in August 2016 clearly states its stance that Sun Yang is jerk with its tittle. Since Yang kicking and splashing people had already been widely discussed before this article, mentioning these behaviours has an obvious purpose of conveying Yang as the main subject in the article. The use of “Watch” is for telling people to check out why is Yang an Olympics jerk.


Claire’s tittle of her article does not just explicitly saying that Yang is or is not a jerk, but tells readers to give him “support and empathy”. People do not support jerk in normal sense, therefore, the tittle actually implicates that Yang is not a jerk so he deserves people’s support and empathy.


Both of the two articles are mainly combined by evaluative argument. The central primary claim of “Olympics Jerk Watch: The Chinese Swimmer Who Kick and Splashes People” is that Yang is a jerk. Justin justifies that Yang has done several jerk-seeming things such as explaining about ramming his car into a bus without driving license, tussling with Brazilian swimmer and splashing other swimmer. This justification appeals to social norms. The underlying warrant of Justin’s principle claim is that Yang is a very disrespectful and inconsiderate.


Sun is one of China’s best and most controversial swimmers. He won two gold medals in London in 2012,in the 400-meter freestyle and the 1,500-meter freestyle, setting an Olympic record in the former and a world record in the latter. Since then, he has done several jerk-seeming things.


Sun’s tenure at the Rio Olympics has been predictably controversial. Last week, he splashed rival Australian swimmer Mack Horton during a practice session, a maneuver Horton interpreted as hostile and disruptive.”


Justin uses very explicit phases and wordings to express how he thinks that Yang is a jerk and how bad the things has Yang done. In the paragraph talking about the car crash incident, Justin mentions Yang’s bad excuse for ramming his car into a bus while driving without a license. Yang told the public that he has been focusing on training and competition so he only had a hazy knowledge of the law, which led to his mistake. Justin claims that Yang’s attitude is jerk and he did not really care whether or not anyone believed him because his explanation makes no sense. This justification appeals to ethical and other social norms as well since everyone should know that driving without license is illegal. The warrant behind tells that Yang does not care how people see him because he is arrogant. Justin describes this excuse is “one of the worst excuses I have ever heard” and mentions Yang’s attitude is “pretty jerk”. The tone Justin uses is quite emotional and the use of “I have ever heard” is filled with subjective and emotive colour.


In 2014, he spent a week in jail after he rammed his car into a bus while driving without a license. In explanation, Sun offered one of the worst excuses I have ever heard: “Because I have been focusing on training and competition, I had only a hazy knowledge of the law, which led to my mistake.” I’ve never met the guy, but you’d have to imagine Sun knew this was a bad excuse and yet used it anyway, which implies he didn’t really care whether or not anyone believed him, which is a pretty jerky attitude to take, given that, you know, he collided with a bus.”


Informal fallacy is also involved in this article. When talking about the positive result for testing a banned substance- the stimulant trimetazidine, Justin uses a subjective word “excuse” instead of “reason” to describe Yang’s explanation. The author simply presumes and evaluate that Yang’s reason is an excuse without evidence. He also satirize that this reason is just a better excuse. However, this sarcasm also put readers in a position to view Yang negatively because it implicates that no matter how Yang explain is always unreliable.


That same year, Sun tested positive for a banned substance—the stimulant trimetazidine—and received a three-month suspension from the China Anti-Doping Agency. His excuse this time, that the medication he took for chest pains contained trimetazidine, was better than his bus accident excuse, I guess


Justin lists out all the “jerk-seeming” behaviours in paragraphs according to the timeline. Each paragraph starts with the year when the incident happened and ends with explicitly stating that Yang is the jerk due to those incidents. These are the characteristics of the article.


Despite the content of “Why he might be a jerk” covers two-thirds of the article, it also has a small paragraph as counter argument starts with: “Why he might not be a jerk”. The author rebuts his previous allegations toward Yang. He starts off with “To be fair” to make his argument more completed with different angles. In this paragraph, he claims that Yang’s splash can be a convivial gesture because it demonstrated in Bobby Darin’s classic Olympic swimming anthem “Splish Splash”. The justification appeals to precedent and customary practice, there is a previous example of positive splashing so Yang splashing might not be necessarily negative. Nonetheless, it involves informal fallacy of non sequitur since there is no any logical and direct relationship between Bobby Darin’s splash and Yang’s slash.


To be fair, this Mack Horton guy seems like kind of a jerk himself. Also, splashing can be a convivial gesture, as demonstrated in Bobby Darin’s classic Olympic swimming anthem “Splish Splash.” And I haven’t seen it conclusively demonstrated that Sun doesn’t have heart problems. Finally, Sun’s blowup with his coach apparently came after said coach tried to get him to dump his girlfriend so he could spend more time in the pool. You tell me who was the real jerk in that situation.”


When readers read “Olympics Jerk Watch: The Chinese Swimmer Who Kick and Splashes People”, they are positioned to take a negative view of the Yang. The main claim of this article conveys Yang negatively with respect to credibility and plausibility of the words from his mouth. Justin uses “excuse” to describe every explanation from Yang’s mouth. The author’s approach is obviously trying to portrait Yang as a very dishonest, irresponsible and inconsideration person, basically a jerk. The words and phases he uses in the article are generally mixture of direct blaming and sarcasm.


The other article, “Sun Yang should have our support and empathy – not our ridicule”, has a completely different view and stance. “I feel sorry for Sun Yang” is the very first sentence and paragraph of the article. The tone of her expresses how Clare really feels pity and sorry about Sun Yang. In the first sentence of second paragraph, her words: “Yeah, I know China’s bad-boy swimmer is Australia’s public enemy.” shows that although everyone else does not like him, she is still going to write things that she wants, even that it might hurt people who do not like Yang.


” I feel sorry for Sun Yang.”

“Yeah, I know China’s bad-boy swimmer is Australia’s public enemy. I know he tested positive to a banned substance. I know he splashed Mack Horton in a training pool.”



Claire’s primary claim is that we should not humiliate Sun Yang because he is only a victim that manipulated by China’s medal-winning ambition. The underlying warrant is that a victim deserves our empathy. However, it is evaluative presumption of informal fallacies since she does not give strong evidence to support that Yang’s scandals are all because that he is controlled by China. That is all her own evaluative presumption. Claire raises questions to doubt the actual causes of Yang’s scandals but she does not give a strong answer that makes sense.


“Sun Yang is a victim. He’s a cog in the relentless machinery of China’s medal-winning ambition; a mere tool for Beijing’s desire to prove itself the equal, and the better, of the United States in every field of human endeavour. Just as Beijing redesigns the South China Sea to show America just how powerful it is, China’s Olympic mandarins have colonised the bloodstreams of their athletes.”


Claire has two major approaches in the article. First, shift the focus from blaming Yang to how the others can handle things better. For the “drug cheat” scandal, she says that Mack Horton could have showed some empathy instead of humiliating Sun. Second, always provides an explanation for his scandal, which she always shifts Yang’s responsibility to the others.


She claims that Horton acts like a schoolgirl and hurt Yang’s feelings because he ignores Yang and remarks Yang as drug cheat. Informal fallacies is involved. It is a use of ad hominem Argument. This fallacy substitutes irrelevant judgements of an individual for reasonable evaluations of an issue.


Maybe, instead of publicly humiliating Sun, Australian gold medallist Mack Horton could have showed some empathy. Horton could have said he wished China didn’t sacrifice the health of its athletes by making them take drugs. Or Horton could have been a bit less of a schoolgirl about copping what he himself described as a friendly splash, given that he was already in a swimming pool. “He splashed me to say hi and I ignored him because I don’t have time for drug cheats,” Horton said. That remark clearly hurt Sun’s feelings, and it helped motivate him to win his own gold medal.”



There is a paragraph talking about the superior background of Yang, as a justification to support her claims about Yang is a problem child. She mentions about many scandal of Yang and claims that those scandal could not be trustworthy because the national pride of Chinese is low. It involves non sequitur since Chinese’s high national pride does not have direct relationship with whether Yang’s scandals are trustworthy or not.


The article concluded in the point that Yang is a talented young man who does not make every decision by himself and he has been controlled by China government, therefore, maybe people should be on his side.


The whole article of Claire basically just lists out many of the scandal of Yang with a few sentences of evaluations, mostly tells that she does not think things are true or Yang could be innocent. Her article lacks of strong justification and evidence. Therefore, her article is mainly combined by factual argument and evaluative argument. However, it involves a lot informal fallacies.


“It might feel good for Australians to dismiss Sun Yang as just another drug cheat — but to me, that interpretation fails to acknowledge the obvious. Sun, like every other Chinese athlete, is the employee of a regime that practises brutal repression of its own people, military intimidation of its regional neighbours and a single-minded pursuit of glory.”

“To me, Sun Yang’s a phenomenally talented young man kicking against the pricks, as much as he possibly can. Maybe we should be on his side.”


Peters, J. (2016). Olympics Jerk Watch: The Chinese Swimmer Who Kicks and Splashes People. Slate. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2016].

Harvey, C. (2016). Sun Yang should have our support and empathy — not our ridicule. The Daily Telegraph. [online] Available at:–not-our-ridicule/news-story/84546dc2ea2e8de9131e126f11f6b9c1 [Accessed 2 Nov. 2016].