Friday, August 08, 2008

What Do the Olympics Mean?

In ancient Greece, wars would stop for the Olympic games. It was not merely a time out for recreation, but rather an opportunity for humans to honor the gods by achieving acts of human excellence. It was an arena for human transcendence, to offer up to the gods of Olympus people who in body best modeled them.

The modern Olympics began with a more secular hope, to provide a forum for the world to come together peacefully in the mutual enjoyment of universal sport. It a chance for us to set aside all that we claim makes us different and come together as a human family for something less serious, something humane.

Of course, that didn't last long. Between Hitler's display in the Berlin games of 1936 to the assassination of Israeli athletes in Munich in 1972 to the US boycott of the 1980 summer games in Moscow to the tit for tat Soviet boycott of the 1984 summer games in Los Angeles, the Olympics have gone from a time to join the world to one that reinforces political pettiness and divisiveness. Nations train their athletes to compete as if winning actually meant something for the worth of the nation.

Following a loss to the Soviets in 1988 in which clock management made tenths of seconds fail to exist on the court, the Americans decided that the Olympics would no longer be the purview of amateur athletics and the Dream Team (c) concept was born to the great delight of the corporate sponsors (read: owners) of the games. I will admit that the first team, the chance to bring Bird, Johnson, Jordan, Barkley, Robinson, Drexler, and crew together to make a real team not just a goof-off all-star team was an exciting prospect, but in the end it has made the games into something less than they were or at least appeared to be.

And now, I greet the games with a shrug and a so what. Doped up track stars, spoiled pro hoopsters, fourteen year old gymnasts who have never had a chance to live a real life as a kid, and a network that spends 49% of the time showing commercials, 49% of the time with contrived, sappy stories to make these games into compelling human dramas, and 2% actually showing athletes during which time we have to listen to obnoxious homer announcers...Who cares? The mindless nationalism, especially when the people representing your nation are not the ones you want your kids to see as role models, you know, what's the point?

What do the Olympics mean anymore other than an opportunity to sell me Coke?