I usually don’t like to rant on social media but there are some rare exceptions. Recently, I read in the news that a gay US Olympic athlete refused to meet with US Vice President Mike Pence when the latter headed over to Korea to lead the US Olympic delegation. Ostensibly because Vice President Pence is a conservative Christian and as a Christian opposes homosexuality. The athlete is stupid and wrong. This is a case where the athlete let his personal politics and feelings rise above the good of the team and the nation.
When it comes to sports, it naturally unites and transcends politics while the latter tends to divide and is selfish. Take the recent Superbowl winners – the Philadelphia Eagles. This was their first championship ever. In their entire history, they have never won. Everyone was happy. And despite the winter weather, the whole city celebrated. Now, to be an Eagles fan, you can be old or young, black or white or Asian, male or female, Democrat or Republican, and yes, even libertarians, religious or not, and so forth. Because for those 4 hours Sunday afternoon, you watched “your” team became the best team of the 2017-2018 season. “Your” team beat another top team and made history.
United. For those 4 hours, all Eagles fans of all backgrounds celebrated together even if divided otherwise, even time zones. Ex-pats working overseas are streaming the event and just as happy. Happiness, pride, good food and drink.
Let’s look at the opposite. I’ll start in antiquity and move forward.
In 532 AD, the sport of choice in the Byzantine Empire was chariot racing. There was an awesome chariot racing area called the Hippodrome which was right next to the Emperor Justinian’s palace. There were four major teams that drew huge crowds and had their own fans, many of them die-hard fans. And some of the teams had longstanding rivalries. Not much different from today, like Pacers versus Pistons, Manchester United, West Ham, Arsenal, or Yankees versus Red Sox. In Constantinople, these were the Blues, Greens, Reds and Whites.
This is where the 21st century sports team and the factions diverge. Each team was backed by certain street gangs, all armed with knives and daggers and cudgels. Each team was also backed by different religious and aristocratic political factions, some of them hostile to the Emperor and would love to see him dethroned… forcibly.
To make a long story short, individuals from the Blues and Greens were tried for murder and executed fairly but made no one else happy. They rioted; at first, the riots were limited to each team’s backers and gangs fighting each other. Then the treacherous senators used the violence to try to depose Justinian. For five days, tens of thousands fought and died. They even tried to crown a rival emperor and Justinian was actually thinking of fleeing. Eventually, Justinian rallied himself (or some said his much more ruthless wife Theodora told him to man up), called in his troops and a bribe; he was a fan of the Blues himself and bribed them to leave the rival’s coronation. A tentative peace was achieved, especially if thousands of troops just arriving. The rival contender was later executed.
- Listen to your wife, especially if she has more backbone than you.
- When politics consume a sports team, messy things happened. It was estimated 30,000 people died. Think of the worse act of hooliganism after a soccer match in England. Maybe 3,000 people might get injured, but not die. Especially not if both Manchester United fans and their rivals each bring knives to the game.
Fast forward to 2017. An American NFL player decides not to stand like everyone else when the national anthem is played. Why? He calls the American flag racist. In his cursory understanding of American history, especial constitutional law, he claims racism was enshrined in the flag. I don’t deny that black people were treated horribly in the past. Rather, I have the following problems with his conduct and any other athlete who tries to turn his or her role as a public figure as an athlete into a political figure:
- You do NOT ever disgrace your country’s flag and national anthem, even if it is an expression of free speech. Let your enemies do that. Not you.
- If you want to express your disapproval of what is happening or government policies, do it elsewhere, not on the field of play. Use your head, not just your heart.
- If you already see divisiveness, strife and hurt, don’t add to it.
- If you want to call a specific flag racist, look no further than the Confederate flag. The Union’s Stars and Stripes remain a symbol of equality and hope.
This week is the Olympics. As I write this, spectators all over the world are watching their country’s representatives compete. In the US, the chants of USA! USA! USA! fill the millions of sports bars and restaurants when our guys and gals get the gold or score a major point. All of the racial strife and politics are quickly forgotten.
That unity is what I want to see more of because that is what inspires me more, not some athlete’s personal opinion. I certainly don’t care who they voted for in the last election. And when I do evaluate a player, I want to know about his or her training, how long they have been competing, how many other medals they have won, and their character and personality. I want to know more about what adversities they have overcome. I want to know how they interact with their teammates (at least for team sports).
Not just me, but the whole world too.
Because in the end, isn’t that what counts the most?
Training, dedication, discipline
Overcoming physical challenges – pushing one’s body to the limit.
The desire to win.
PS > Can’t help but root for my country in the 2018 Winter Olympics: USA! USA! USA!