Rant of the Week: The Olympics and Politics

Mixing sport and politics is a huge stinker of an issue. There are some stalwarts that believe that the Olympics should remain free of them, but aren't those keeping athletes out of the Olympics because of their politics acting on politics? Kinda makes your head hurt, doesn't it?

I've spent the last day or so reading The John Carlos Story. If you don't remember my earlier post, John Carlos is one of the men that participated in the infamous black power salute in 1968. It was really interesting to read about his motivations, what got him to that point, and what happened in the aftermath. But even more than that, it got me thinking about boycotts.

There was a big movement among black athletes to boycott the '68 Games, but with the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the exclusion of apartheid South Africa, the wind was taken out of its sails. America's black athletes arrived in Mexico with a pact to each do their own thing and to have each others' backs if/when they did. Smith and Carlos did their thing, and their stand is an image that has been burned into our collective memory. It may not have accomplished much right off the bat, but it invited the world to see that America wasn't as all-inclusive as everyone believed it to be. I don't think it's a reach to say that it went a long way in instigating change.

Now, would a boycott have done the same?

The US and a good chunk of other nations boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980. The Soviet Union then reciprocated, along with their own chunk of nations, at the LA Games in 1984. These were the two biggest boycotts in history, and what did they accomplish? Does anyone even remember them? I only know about them because this is the stuff I research, as opposed to the black power image, which I'm pretty sure is printed in textbooks.

Carlos was talking about how he happily would've given up his place on the Olympic team, despite it having been his dream since he was a child, because a boycott would've made waves. And yeah, maybe some people would've scratched their heads and wondered why America's delegation was mostly (if not entirely) white. Yeah, maybe some extremely perceptive and tenacious people would look into this problem of racism. But there were 5,530 athletes competing at these Games. I have no idea how many athletes were planning on boycotting, but let's say 100. Would anyone have noticed their absence?

(Click to enlarge.)

The Olympics are so massive that, honestly, I don't think that any conceivable boycott could make a difference or have any true significant impact. Especially now, people are content to shrug things off without much thought. Out of sight, out of mind. Nowadays, about 200 nations compete. Tell me, would you notice if it was 175 instead? There would still be thousands of people swarming around the field of play during the ceremonies, right? Nobody would miss a couple hundred, let alone a handful of black athletes during an extremely racist time.

What Smith and Carlos (and, let's be honest, Peter Norman as well) did that day, in my mind, made far more of an impact that any boycott ever could. All eyes are on the athletes when they're on the podium, so it would be impossible to ignore a statement made here. If you want people to pay attention to your cause, you have to force them to see it, and that's what they did. It may not've been their first choice of a course of action, but Carlos himself wrote that he never could've dreamed how iconic that image has become.

...Wait, the US boycotted the Moscow Games in 1980? Oh yeah. Totally forgot.

This is not me advocating political protests at the Olympics. Far from it. I'm the first person to argue that the Olympics should be a place free from protest and politics and all that crap that plagues day to day life. This is me saying that the idea of boycotts makes me roll my eyes. If you're trying to make a statement, actually saying something certainly helps. A pair of black gloves is far more memorable than the proverbial silence.


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