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Rose Richard

I am not watching the Olympics, so please don’t ask me what I think about Skategate, or whatever the hell we’re calling it this week. In fact, that is the only part of the Olympics I’ve seen, because it was on CNN.

Not that I’m an expert on ice skating or anything, but those Russians clearly fell down and the Canadians didn’t. The Russians can say what they want about “technical merit,” but they weren’t doing anything I haven’t seen before. Who cares who gets the gold in the end anyway? The contest was tainted.

That aside, I’m not watching the Olympics chiefly because I think they are boring. Yes, boring. Crying tears boring. If I had a choice to watch winter sports or play in traffic, I think I’d rather go play in traffic.

I am not anti-sport, it’s just that being a television sports spectator feels so useless. You can cheer, but no one hears you and if they do, you look like an idiot.

Television is a poor proxy for attending an actual sporting event. Even watching a ski race can (occasionally) be exciting. Watching the Ducks or the Bulls or even the U.S. women’s soccer team are far more exciting to watch in person than on TV. Everyone cheers, and sometimes (mostly at any Bulls game) you will find a few sympathetic ears among fans of the opposing team.

The only sports I can’t say this for are golf and baseball. There is no way to make either sport interesting unless you add nudity or violence. There isn’t enough male nudity on television these days.

The other thing that bothers me about the Olympics, at least this year, is the almost religious zeal with which we are being patriots. Before, it’s been easy to be proud to be an American when an American wins a gold, whether the games are here or abroad. Now, I feel like the patriotism has become pushy, such as wanting to make the WTC flag a central part of the opening ceremonies, in an event that is supposed to have an emphasis on international relations.

I also dislike the place athletes have in our society. Certainly some are excellent role models, such as Dr. Mia Hamm or Michelle Kwan. They haven’t killed anyone or bribed judges. However, when we worship sports figures (or any celebrities for that matter) we tend to forget they are human. Tonya Harding wanted to escape the very ring of hell she inhabits today, and that caused her to kneecap Nancy Kerrigan. That is hardly an admirable action, but something that could happen in real life.

We don’t allow these people to make mistakes, but when we do, they are usually forgiven (Daryl Strawberry). We hold athletes to very weird standards. It is rare that they receive total public censure.

Take for example Canadian snowboarder Ross Rebagliati. In case you don’t remember, he was caught engaging in pot smoking. He wasn’t enhancing his performance or hurting another athlete, he was minding his own business, but he got his medal taken away and ignited a firestorm of controversy. They ended up giving him his medal back and he got a lot of publicity. But, did you know that he is not allowed entry to the United States? Even though he was caught smoking weed in Lillehammer, Norway, the United States is punishing him. This is one of the most bizarre and arbitrary drug penalties I’ve ever heard of.

The last thing that irritates me about the Olympics is the commercialism. We are not celebrating the glory of the ability of Picabo Street to ski really well, we are paying attention to the logos on her skis or what commercials she’s been in. During the most recent summer Olympics, there was a great deal of discussion about which companies were creating the best body suits for the swimmers.

What about raw ability? So, instead of the incentive of a gold medal, the athlete will also enjoy the added joy of a huge marketing contract and if he/she does not perform well, they will see their endorsements dry up. So instead of focusing on world records, athletes now have to concern themselves with a relatively modern concern. Athletes in the 1930s certainly didn’t worry about getting their faces on a Wheaties box. Making a world record was enough.

I do hope America wins a lot of gold medals. I hope no one gets hurt and the terrorists stay the hell away. I also hope those of you watching keep a healthy dose of skepticism and remind yourselves often that these are people just like you. They are motivated by the desire to be the best (sometimes, at any cost).