No matter the accomplishment, why is the American flag held higher than the athletes who play for it?

I come from a country where a 20 medal performance in a summer games is considered a great Olympic showing. In fact Canada has only done it twice. Our Olympic athletes, at least in the eyes of the public, are treated as royalty and rightfully so.

In a land covered in ice six months out of the year, it can be difficult to find world class athletic talent out of the thirty-five million citizens who call this place home. So when we find an athlete like Penny Oleksiak swimming in the snow, we count our blessings. Whether she wins or loses, we feel a little happier inside. and her patriotism is never questioned.

The first week of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio has brought many surprises, but I stand in constant disbelief as to how Americans treat their Olympic athletes. That includes the media.

The United States is riddled with rich athletic scholarships and a seemingly bottomless talent pool of 320 million people. Americans therefore tend to take their talent for granted. It’s all Americans know and see. I dare you to watch NBC for more than five minutes without seeing an American competitor. To show other countries competing would be unpatriotic (and bad for ratings).

All that being said, it’s no excuse for how the country has reacted this past week. Certain ridiculous indiscretions committed by a few of America’s world champion athletes should have gone unnoticed, but sadly didn’t.

First we have Gabby Douglas, the gold medal winning gymnast. The media, both social and traditional, flipped out when she didn’t cover her heart as the Star Spangled Banner played out. Was she protesting? Was she disrespecting her country?

Perhaps she was just taking in the moment. Regardless, like a second class citizen she was forced to apologize. In America, it’s not enough to train your entire childhood in order to represent your country, it’s not enough to be the best in the world. Without a trivial hand gesture signifying your devotion to your country, you’re nothing.

I understand that in a lot of American schools kids are brainwashed early on to place their hands over their hearts when the national anthem plays or when they recite the Pledge of Allegiance. But it isn’t patriotic. Neither is hanging a flag on your porch or screaming USA! USA! repeatedly. More on that later.

Next we have World Champion American Decathlete Ashton Eaton. He’s married to Canadian born heptathlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton. Husband Ashton did the unspeakable by wearing a hat that read “Canada” this past Friday as his wife was competing.

For Eaton’s crime of supporting his foreign born wife, he was called unpatriotic and of course, a traitor. Eaton’s twitter response however was as golden as his 2012 Olympic medal “Have I not represented USA well? Yet u demand more. Ur respect is hard earned. I support the country that produced my wife; who ru2 shame me?” For the record, Ashton defends his gold starting Wednesday, his wife Brianne won Bronze.

Now, I’m not the type of person who believes in national pride or ethnic pride. I was born where I am, the way I am by sheer luck. Being born a white English male in a G7 country is not an accomplishment or a skill, it’s an accident.

I view patriotism as the act of someone who strives to make their country better. Waving a flag doesn’t do that. Neither does covering your heart, wearing a hat or shouting your country’s name. Our young athletes are in Rio to represent our countries on a world stage never before seen in human history. With over two hundred different nations present, being the best they can be, on and off the field of play, is patriotic enough.


  1. This is schoolyard bullying all grown up and splattered across the world stage via Twitter.

    As Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis stated in a 1927 decision; “Those who won our independence . . . believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American government.”

    As stated in our national anthem, America is “…the land of the free…”. If Ms. Douglas and the several other athletes who did not place their hands over their sternums while this song is being played, it is their right and is protected as an expression of political belief under the First Amendment. As a fellow American, I feel proud and grateful that she can do so without getting a knock on her door in the dead of night and disappearing to meet a fate of prison, torture chambers or firing squad.

    That she and others were subject to an avalanche of vitriolic rage through social media illustrates the level of ignorance and hypocrisy that seems increasingly common in our society. Although mean spirited and shameless, many of the reactionary statements would also fall under the umbrella of the First Amendment. The threats of harm and death most certainly do not. Where I live, these kinds of targeted statements can lead to misdemeanor or felony charges of Terroristic Threatening. A whiff of irony perhaps?

    My sincere congratulations and admiration to all the athletes competing at the Olympics!

  2. Shaming someone you don’t know is so much easier than actually getting up and following the lead of the much adored athlete and putting your butt in gear. So much easier to be critical the Greatest American Pastime.

  3. If more journalists had done their research (which only took like 15 seconds) you would see why there is an uproar. It’s called 36 U.S.code section 301.

    The composition consisting of the words and music known as the Star-Spangled Banner is the national anthem.
    (b)Conduct During Playing.—During a rendition of the national anthem—
    (1) when the flag is displayed—
    (A) individuals in uniform should give the military salute at the first note of the anthem and maintain that position until the last note;
    (B) members of the Armed Forces and veterans who are present but not in uniform may render the military salute in the manner provided for individuals in uniform; and
    (C) all other persons present should face the flag and stand at attention with their right hand over the heart, and men not in uniform, if applicable, should remove their headdress with their right hand and hold it at the left shoulder, the hand being over the heart; and
    (2) when the flag is not displayed, all present should face toward the music and act in the same manner they would if the flag were displayed.

    • The operative word here is “should.” Pointing out this code is meaningless. It is not against the law, it is merely a suggestion. We already knew that though. Whether or not Gabby covers her heart is her business.

      • I have no idea what she was doing by not following protocol, she could have been distracted, she could have been making a political statement, she could have just not been with it for any number of reasons. I am not going to worry about it. However, I can see the point raised, and of course, her efforts were extraordinary as well, just like the efforts of those who trained her and paid for her training and supported the US Olympic Teams with dollar bills. I see no reason why she shouldn’t be asked what was going on that platform.

        Secondly, as a person who has been called upon to fight under that flag, it matters to me how it is honored, because too many of my classmates shed blood or gave up their lives for what that flag stands for. I will happily “should” on those who missed that memo.

      • Mike, the Code also says military members should salute.

        I am not going to try to convert someone who is obviously into allowing people to do whatever they want.

        Just a couple quick points. When Natrilaized Citezens are taken into this Country, they cover their hearts and swear aleagatnce to this Country and its Flag.

        There is history and are traditions beyond what you may know or care for.

        For many people like me that has lost nearly 100 Brothers in Battle fighting for this Country, it is a death of a thousand cuts to see disrespect to our Flag and Country.

        I wouldn’t walk up and punch you or anything, but just know what disrespecting the flags we have draped over the broken bodies of our fallen does to those whom have protected the homeland and its huddled masses.

  4. I’ve been to Canada on many occasions and have found that just like in the US, there is a certain percentage of the population born with an extra asshole gene. Our anal group has recently been let out of their cages by a shameless, self aggrandizing super asshat by the name of Donald Trump. The majority of this country are extremely proud of the dedication and commitment of our Olympic atheletes.

    • I have no issue with the dedication and commitment of our Olympic athletes but what I do take issue with is their blatant disrespect for the National Anthem of the nation they are representing in front of the entire world by not putting their hand over their heart. If there is a shameless, self-aggrandizing super asshat it is not Donald Trump but rather Hillary “What difference does it make” Clinton. I’m absolutely certain that the certain percentage of the population born with an extra asshole gene are all registered Democrats and everything done by the administration for the last eight years is abundant proof of this as if the deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya while the administration (including Hillary Clinton who should never have been Secretary of State at all..let alone the next President) watched debating the optics of how to spin it rather than saving American lives wasn’t proof in and of itself. In my honest opinion, every American athlete who disgraces the United States of America by not showing our flag and our national anthem the respect it deserves should be forever banned from competing on behalf of our nation ever again and stripped of their medals. I don’t want athletes representing our nation who won’t do so little as to put their hand over their heart during the national anthem.

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