“Are you watching the Olympics?”
It was a simple question posed by a woman on a local Facebook group, less than 72 hours after the opening ceremony. Many people said yes and many, a simple no, and I understand. The sixteen-day focus on sports is not for everyone. Then I saw a wave of other responses like this: (Paraphrased)
When these athletes start respecting this great country, I’ll watch again.
Not this year. I refuse to support these people who don’t represent my America.
They didn’t even stand for the national anthem. When I heard that, I said I’m not watching.
Absolutely not. If they don’t like it here, they can just leave. We don’t want ‘em.
It’s gotten all too political for me.
Whoa. In a matter of a couple of hours, this simple question had exploded like an IED. Something had happened while I was out and about during the day on Monday, so I had to do some research. There it was – It had been (erroneously) reported on Facebook (where only truth lives), and spread faster than a California forest fire, that the US women’s soccer team had refused to stand for the playing of the national anthem. Instead, they kneeled.
My ten seconds of research told the real story. Eleven members of the team took a knee before the game with members of the Swedish team, and a game official, in a preplanned event to signify their support against racism and discrimination. ^1
What’s the issue here? Elite athletes have the position of influence in not just our society, but others as well, and not just today, but for generations. ^2. And just because they take a stand (or knee) on a social issue, does that make them anti-American and unpatriotic? What is that logic? It’s okay if they get paid millions to endorse commercial products but not if they use their (free) voice for loftier messages?
When I dug a little further, I discovered that the International Olympic Committee softened their rules for this Olympics, recognizing more athletes are using their status for social activism. ^3.
What also immediately occurred to me is that all of these folks who previously enjoyed watching at least some of the Olympics, were now being influenced by just 11 of the 613 athletes representing the United States. That’s less than 2% of the athletes. Let me add, the entire soccer team stood, hands over hearts, for the national anthem prior to the first game.
I’ve enjoyed watching the Olympics this week. I’m not glued to the TV, but on Tuesday, I sat on the edge of my chair, fists pumping, doing what I could to help Lydia Jacoby, the high school student from Alaska, win a gold medal.
On Wednesday, I chanted “Go Katie, go Katie, go Katie …” helping Katie Ledecky in the 1500 swim.
Thursday, even when I knew the result, I was screaming ‘Su-ni, Su-ni, Su-ni” stopping to wipe my eyes when the first Hmong athlete won a gold medal. Her family’s journey to get her to this stage is what the American spirit is all about.
This was just week one. Victory, defeat, sacrifice, celebration, heartache. There will be more the second week, and I’ll be watching. Too political for me? Politics has been involved with the Olympics since it started in 1896 ^4, and nothing is likely to change. I may ignore athletes and events I don’t care for, but an entire Olympics? Not likely.