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.