Athletic Achievement Apparently Does Not Seem To Guarantee Achievement In Common Sense.
(Examples to follow…)
I have to think that most Americans, when they learned of the false events reported by Olympians Lochte, Feigen, Gonger, and Bentz (sounds like a law firm), were like me… all you could do is lower and shake your head out of the embarrassment of it all. Of course what made it all the worse was that the City of Rio, thanks to rigorous publicity, has been billed as the city of poverty and lawlessness and a possible threat to people attending the games. The original reports by these young guys rather played in line to what the public was conditioned to be expecting in Rio. But Mr. Lochte is 32 years old and should know better about how to conduct himself. Likely his long term “punishment” will be knowing how he went from heroic performance excellence to persona non grata in the eyes of the public in the time it takes to open too many bottles of booze. It also will affect his future marketability and income potential (say “adios” to the Breakfast of Champions). Obviously part of winning medals is also knowing how to live with the fame and expectations of that responsibility. I am guessing Olympic training doesn’t include “what to expect if you win the gold”.
Now in all fairness to Lochte’s & company’s dumb stunt there were others that acted not-so-Olympian at this Olympics. Australian swimmers (maybe it’s swimmers?) Josh Palmer and Emma McKeon didn’t return before curfew after a binge of drinking and got a slap on the hand. Some other Aussies were fined for using wrong credentials to enter a basketball arena to watch the Australian team play Serbia in a semi-final match. They were fined $3,000 by police for faking the passes.
Perhaps it’s being young and so dedicated to a singular purpose, in this case a competitive purpose, that makes athletes push to win medals; discipline over mind and body at the expense of common sense. The U.S. military often concedes that the effectiveness of our fighting forces, Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy… is because of the age group. Younger people take greater risks, have strong competitive natures, and have the overall physical prowess, dexterity, and response times to back it all up. Yep.. I was like that once… in a previous life. Ahh.. to be young again!
But Olympic dumb stunts aren’t just limited to a team going on a reckless celebratory binge on the town to release some steam in between events. CNN thought it prudent to resurrect an old name from the past in an article on their website about another past Olympian “snafu”. Remember Tommie Smith and John Carlos?
Likely you have never heard of them but you will very likely recall having seen that famous photograph. It was the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Smith won the Gold for the 200 meter dash.. breaking an Olympic and world record. Carlos got the Bronze. Both gentlemen were African-American.. or, in the terminology of those days, they were black. As they stood on the award pedestals and the National Anthem was played, they both raised their arms, black-gloved fists clinched, in what was interpreted at the time as being a sign for Black Panther racial militancy. They were booed, and subsequently discredited by the public and upon their return to the States no one received those lucrative product endorsements, had tough times even finding jobs, and struggled for years after trying to live down what they did.
Now.. that’s what I know about those two fellows. Reading this CNN article I now know a version of the rest of the story. To begin with… I am quite positive the reporters interviewing Smith, who is now 72 years old and recalling that day nearly 50 years ago, were not even alive. The reporting of Jill Martin and Alvin Whitney failed to include the mood of the nation at that time. Smith’s recollections of why he did what he did seemed to be more about making a justification of why with little remorse to the image him and Carlos conveyed to the world. Their stunt did far more damage to the cause he is alleging to have been trying to publicize. It was a political statement. Read the article here.
“I decided to wear articles that represented why I must do what happened on that victory stand. The black socks represented poverty. The right hand in the air with the black glove represents power and tranquility — as much as I could muster at that particular time. Of course the head bow was a prayer. It was a prayer of hope, a prayer of saneness. The prayer of equality, all prayers. You send the right prayer you will get an answer.
The moment the victory stand happened, the moment national anthem started playing, the hand went up. … It did not represent Tommie Smith only, but it represented those who did not have a platform. It represented those who did not have a word. It represented those that had stories needed to be told.
And that pose gave them an opportunity along with the glorious sound of the national anthem to be jubilant in the ears of the world. And to be seen by the eyes of the world. Because it was worldwide issue, the Olympic Project for Human Rights, and it stands as that.”
For you, dear reader, I will try and set the political and emotional mood of the nation at that time. The anti-war movement was well into high gear; Vietnam was already the feared quagmire. Each night on the evening news were the body counts for the week, reports from the frontlines… until we all got numb. The Tet Offensive where the Viet Cong won a psychological victory. The My Lai Massacre. Anti-war demonstrations on college campuses and in the city streets were constant on TV news. The hippie movement and counter-culture was in full swing changing social norms. The police were labeled “pigs”. The 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago was just the previous August where Mayor Daley’s police, on national television, tore into crowds of “hippie” demonstrators with tear gas and batons. Now add to all this mix the racial tensions in every big city in the nation. Poor neighborhoods looted and left in immense fires.. and constant images of black folks doing the looting and violence. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers, started just two years before.
The Black Panthers (from Wiki)
“At its inception on October 15, 1966, the Black Panther Party’s core practice was its armed citizens’ patrols to monitor the behavior of police officers and challenge police brutality in Oakland, California. In 1969, community social programs became a core activity of party members. The Black Panther Party instituted a variety of community social programs, most extensively the Free Breakfast for Children Programs, and community health clinics.
From the beginning, the Black Panther Party’s focus on militancy came with a reputation for violence. The Panthers employed a California law that permitted carrying a loaded rifle or shotgun as long as it was publicly displayed and pointed at no one. Carrying weapons openly and making threats against police officers, for example, chants like “The Revolution has come, it’s time to pick up the gun. Off the pigs!”, helped create the Panthers’ reputation as a violent organization.”
Returning to our Mr. Smith story. So again picture Tommie Smith and John Carlos standing in what seemed to most of white America (and the world at the time) a defiant black militant stance and open salute to black power, by two black guys, during the National Anthem after having won their respective medals. I was 18 years old, a junior in high school, and I already thought the world was going nuts. I remember all the public ruckus when these fellows pulled this stunt. Now, 50 years later I read his explanation is that he was just raising his hand because of some “innocent” human rights agenda?
Sorry.. if his life was messed up because of his political stunt that was entirely his own doing. One might have seen that he had other available and far more effective choices. The greatest leverage to his cause would have been to simply accept the gold like a good boy… then use his footing as a national hero, doing the endorsements, making money, meet the press… devote time and energy to any cause of his choosing. I saw him and Carlos standing there and I felt a mix of fear and hate. No, Tommie… you f****ed up back in 1968. I don’t care if you were preaching the support of the Boy Scouts of America. It was your image that messed things up. Dumb stunt for sure.
BUT… and I mean this as a strong BUT…. Having read the CNN Martin/Whitney article it was interesting to note some things I did not know… and I am sad as it seems an opportunity might have been missed, yet feeling proud of what Smith did achieve.
I read that Smith was in college at the time of his gold medal achievement, and had a wife and child to support. No question his ability to discipline and focus his efforts toward the Olympics. It took will and determination and no less effort than those who continue in the Olympic tradition today. Or maybe it took a bit more? Smith is black and in 1968 black folks, especially young black males, had a difficult time enough just staying in school much less going on to college and then getting a Phd., far more difficult than today’s black youth. Smith had to WANT what he got. Then he becomes an educator.. sports or academic, matters not. He obviously placed himself in a position to educate and teach others. He was even in ROTC in college (I was also, in high school in those days… and being in ROTC during the Vietnam years was NOT popular). That may have had an influence in his military bearing as he walked to that award pedestal that day (and incorrectly presumed by many as yet another demonstrative image of the black militancy of the day).
I am sad of sorts that he was unable to make a more sound choice to exploit his fame on the world stage for his preferred cause. Yet from my humble vantage point it seems his life stands an example of winning the gold.
To Tommie: You won the Gold based on pure athletic ability and determination of spirit. No one can take that away from you. Yet I am guessing your greatest achievement was your own life and the inspiration you have been able to provide to other young African-Americans struggling in a tough economic and social world. You have achieved on so many levels that which most can only dream of. But, jeez, Tommie.. that was sure one dumb stunt. When I was 18 I hated what you did and the image it suggested. But I would consider it an honor to shake your hand someday.
To Ryan Lochte: Ok.. you messed up a bit. You won’t likely get rich on endorsements, but move on in life. Read about Tommie Smith. No one can take away your Gold either. Just don’t let life take away your spirit. You are the only one in control of that.
To reporters, Jill Marvin and Alvin Whitney of CNN: The story about Tommie Smith and John Carlos is not about what they did.. but rather what they have done in spite of it all. That’s the inspiration. But you are young. 🙂 You will learn.
To Other Olympians Tempted To Do Dumb Stunts: Don’t… unless you get a medal for it.
[Regarding the “Gabby Douglas, hand-not-over-her-heart affair”, that’s another post]