This was sent to me by an old friend, Doug Turnbull, podcaster and writer of science fiction. He writes of his observations as an American watching the games in Rio, but also as a critical thinker, able to stand apart from patriotic or even nationalistic inclinations.
I like his thoughts here, I hope others do, too. I’ll add a place Doug can be contacted, in the Comment section.
On Wednesday during one of the women’s foot races, the runners from New Zeeland and USA, inadvertently collided. The American girl was first up and was about to continue the race when she noticed the other runner was still down. She stopped and helped her to her feet and they both were about to continue with the race when the American girl came up lame, with a bad knee injury. The runner from New Zeeland then stopped and helped her to continue to finish the race. To me, and I think to most who saw the events unfold, their actions were emblematic of humanity at its very best. I was truly proud of both of them.
If the event Wednesday was a proud moment, what happened in the women’s 400 meter relay Thursday was not so much. A less dramatic and almost undetectable, “collision” occurred when (according to the contemporaneous video), the elbow of the Brazilian runner crossed the line (not against the rules) into the adjacent lane where the USA runner was approaching her hand-off to the next runner. The Brazilian runner appeared (again according to the video) not to be aware of the collision as she was busy running her own piece of the race, executing reception of the relay, the harder of the two jobs, flawlessly. However, the American runner, apparently as a result of the contact (as she said shortly after the event), momentarily lost her composure, slowed down, and fumbled the hand-off, thus ending the team’s race. However, after several seconds, that same runner, retrieved the baton and handed it to her relay partner, who by all appearances had rightly given up the race as fairly lost, telling her to finish. She and the remaining runner did indeed finish, but a distant last. At this point, the American team immediately filed a challenge to the judges citing interference by the Brazilian runner as grounds. Both Tom Hammond and Ato Bolden, the NBC commentators, agreed with my assessment at the time: the protest was spurious, without merit, and would therefore fail. How wrong we were.
Until Thursday morning, I was enjoying an almost flawless Olympics. My only concern was the jingoistic “faux patriotic” chant that our huge contingent of USA fans insisted on howling every-time an American was doing well: “USA-USA.” Their actions were embarrassing, as was the suitcase full of medals we were racking up. Our team was far too large and well-funded, reminding me of the Cold War Days when the Olympics were hopelessly politicized. I was annoyed, but still enjoying things until our Women’s Relay team succeeded in getting a do-over in the 400 M relay. They dropped their baton and were rightfully out of the competition. The judges had made a political (Olympic politics) decision to give this to them. In the end, it was far easier to give it to us, and bump Brazil, who had done nothing wrong, but were already out of the running based on time. They took a chance that the super-fast USA team would blow their cakewalk do-over. It was the path of least resistance for them (the judges). Never mind that the right thing to do was to disqualify the USA team. They (USA) didn’t foul up the do-over and bumped the Chinese team, who had won their place in the finals, fair and square. I nearly got physically sick. The judges were simply afraid of the shit-storm that would follow the denial of the protest. Being perennial sore losers (see last several elections), the USA would have been bitching in the ear of anyone who would listen that we were “cheated”– for the next 4 years. The whole affair made us (Team USA) look like a pretty sorry bunch.
To add insult to injury, NBC, who had covered the event and correctly judged it to be a simple relay error, after several hours, and very likely some angry calls from the producers in New York, reminding them who was paying the bills, they had changed their tune and fallen into lockstep with judgement, stating during their evening broadcast that “it was a fair and right decision.” That was a lie and they knew it. NBC produced a transparently doctored video, which evening viewers saw, that made it appear that the Brazilian runner was at fault. Having seen the actual event that morning, I knew it to be a fake. I do radio and know how easy it is to edit a narrative to sound like something it is not. Listen to NBC’s doctored 911 call of the Travon Martin killing, if you don’t believe me. Despite the Network’s claims, the bad decision was unfair to all the other competitors and was further compounded when the USA Relay team won the Gold medal, in a race they were not entitled to run.
Then the Lochte affair also broke on Thursday afternoon, and I realized our whole team was effectively being disgraced and dishonored by our stupid fans, unsportsmanlike behavior on and off the field, and odious public behavior in our host’s beautiful city. Everyone on the planet (outside the USA), whether for right or wrong, has generalized (I do talk to my own international followers) that Americans are boorish, over rich bullies, and louts. Consider this: The people of Rio invited us to visit their home, and our swim team quite literally, not figuratively, peed all over the furniture. Nice going guys! Needless to say, you won’t be hearing the “USA” chant coming out of me anytime soon. It was a Dark Thursday for me.
Lest the reader think I am merely badmouthing our entire team, I am not. Many other American athletes have conducted themselves with honor and humility in victory, and dignity in defeat. Our Decathlon champion, Ashton Eaton, the great young swimmer, Katie Ledecki, our Gymnastics team, and many more than I can name here, have deported themselves honorably. To me, the fruits of their efforts far outweigh that of the rotten apples.
I am reminded by these events, of the great Jesse Owens, who despite the terrible handicaps of poverty, bigotry, and prejudice, was able to do what many considered impossible: to earn a place on the Olympic team and then win several medals. Ignoring derisive public comments about the inferiority of his race, he had the character and courage to do the impossible, exhibiting grace, humility, and style in victory: no chanting, no fists in the air, no bragging on himself; and deported himself with equal poise and grace when defeated. He was emblematic of the country he lived in, one that dreamed great dreams and did great deeds. Most Americans still try to believe this, despite a growing mountain of countervailing evidence. There is a price on this “winning is everything” attitude that dominates US sports and other endeavors these days, and it is a high price to pay: We surrender our honor and decency.
Since this seems to be the week for public apologies, let me make this one: and it is not a fake one filled with phony alibis and prevarications, but heartfelt. As an American, I sincerely apologize to all my many friends across this world for the reprehensible behavior of the individuals who purport to represent the best of America. They do not. We have come out of these Games, looking like the stereotypical “Ugly Americans”, that so many already judge us to be. Some of us truly are, but many more of us are not. Please believe that my friends.
So there it is, one man’s opinion. To my many international friends, please share this commentary with YOUR friends. Indeed, whether you agree with mine or not, and please feel free to include your own opinions. Thank you.