This column should be solely about the Olympics that just ended, and deservedly so. But why, you ask, do I toss in that addendum?
Because in watching the Olympics and sports in general, I see so many similarities between life and sports — winning and losing, compassion and competition and taking those experiences in making ours a better world.
Once again, our Olympic athletes represented all that is good about this country when going out into the world to compete in their respective sports at the games.
You might notice I said compete, because competition, for lack of a better word, is good. And of the 550 plus athletes we sent to the games, they all competed. Simple math will tell you more lost than won. But what matters is not winning or losing. What matters is competing and how one wins and loses. Is it with grace and sportsmanship or disdain and hatred? That makes all the difference in the world. What I saw was an overabundance of the former and little to none of the latter.
And, yes, our athletes went out into the world — many of them already world travelers and competitors well before the fortnight plus in Rio, but probably with just as many or more who have not. As they always do, they upheld American values, spirit and exceptionalism for the world to see. Just as the many talented athletes from other countries around the world did in the same way.
You see, readers, sports is a good thing because it teaches something few other things in life can teach: The value of not only teamwork, but also of teammates and fellow competitors. I would dare say you could ask almost any of the athletes about the pride they felt for themselves, their teammates and countries in being an Olympian, and it would beam out of every pore of their bodies. You’d also find a healthy respect for their opponents. And it should give us all shivers and ambitions when it comes to others in our lives.
Because if you’d like a place where racism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination rarely exist, it would be the world of competitive sports. When athletes step onto s field or into an arena, no one cares about their teammates’ color, race, sexual orientation — or anything else, for that matter. They care about winning and doing everything in their power to achieve the same goals. At that moment, the only thing that matters is the single-mindedness to come out victorious. And because this happens in the Olympics, it’s why I’ll watch team handball and ping pong and synchronized swimming and myriad other sports I only see once every four years.
It’s truly a beautiful thing.
It’s beautiful because these athletes compete, win, lose and celebrate the spirit embodied not just in sport, but life.
And then I ask: Why can’t that happen here everyday?
I argue that for the most part in America it does — whether this spirit is in your workplace, at the dance and cheer gym where your kids compete or darned near anywhere we interact with other humans. Just look at the beauty of free people associating with other free people to achieve what everyone, I hope, still believes a worthy end: the American Dream. I know that’s the America I grew up in and live in to this day. And one of the great things about the Olympics is our chance to share that ideal with the world so they can also see it and achieve it.
I know many will read this and say, what a childish view of the world.
I’d respond that it is indeed. Because in the eyes of a child there is no discrimination, just the joy of playing, learning and being with others. The next step for many comes in the teamwork and social aspects found in sports, school and their first jobs. The big problems of racism and discrimination and self-centeredness come later on when people are taught others are to blame for their failures, instead of those failures serving as a lesson to try harder.
And just as there will always be Ryan Lochtes and other athletes who won’t shake hands, a select few will always use racism and discrimination against others. Sadly, in America many of these derive their power through government and demand law after law not to produce a level playing field, but rather, equal results. This takes us in every bit the wrong direction as the unlearned lessons above. Having those in power decide every thought and action based on racism and discrimination has proven throughout history to not unite people, but divide them and always to the benefit of the deciders.
The people I know and deal with on a daily basis wish for but a few things: an ideal to fight for, a fair competition and great teammates with which to achieve their dreams. They know the outcome might not be ideal, just as they know some competitors will do things outside the rules and laws of civil society. But they press ahead in the face of incivility.
Laws will never end racism and discrimination. The victory is in the human spirit overcoming them.