The Olympics give us a good deal to think about. I have blogged about the medal count previously and will leave that one alone except to say it gets nauseating. The Games are supposed to be about athleticism and competition at the highest levels not about how much gold and silver one country can accrue. But that’s spitting into the wind.
For my part I try not to be partial to my country. When watching the women’s soccer match between USA and Canada, for example, I tried hard to root for the Canadians since I had read the American women had been poor sports in previous matches, engaging in pre-planned and choreographed celebrations after scoring goals and especially after winning matches — with their coach’s approval. During the game I watched I saw a number of examples of poor sportsmanship on both sides, but I confess I wanted the Americans to win. Sorry about that (as they say).
But one does want to be patriotic, doesn’t one? And pulling for your own country is patriotic, no? Perhaps. Or it may be excessively patriotic, that is to say jingoistic — which is not the same thing at all. It’s a matter of excess. As Aristotle cautioned: all things in moderation! Politics shouldn’t enter into the Olympic Games: it should be about athletic prowess and the best man, woman, or team should win regardless of what country they happen to come from.
One is reminded of the Olympics in 1936 when Jesse Owens ran circles around Hitler’s “superior” Germans, winning four gold medals, and Albert Speer is reported to have said: “Each of the German victories, and there were a surprising number of these, made [Hitler] happy, but he was highly annoyed by the series of triumphs by the marvelous colored [sic] American runner, Jesse Owens. People whose antecedents came from the jungle were primitive, Hitler said with a shrug; their physiques were stronger than those of civilized whites and hence should be excluded from future games.” Seriously!! He wanted his Olympics to be a showcase to demonstrate the superiority of the German race, which is Jingoism with a capital “J” coupled with blatant racism wrapped in a package of hatred and spite. But this is an extreme case.
To paraphrase Boswell, patriotism is the last refuge of tiny minds: a place for scoundrels and small-minded people to hide their insecurities and prejudices, identifying with the power and might of the country at large. It is all of that with its prominent displays of flags on shirts and poles and its tears at hearing the National Anthem. And it is patriotism that is on display when one pulls for athletes that represent one’s own country. A certain amount of it is healthy and to be expected, even, perhaps, the tears. But when the TV and media are full of episodes showing only our country’s athletes and their parents in the stands with their flags waving, and Americans — or anyone for that matter — count medals to see who is “best,” it goes a bit over the line and becomes jingoism — not Hitler’s form of jingoism perhaps, but excessive patriotism none the less. And that is just a step or two away from fanaticism: My Country, Right or Wrong!
We should applaud all athletes who perform at the highest levels. If we pull a bit for our own that is to be expected. But when we are shown only (or predominantly) our own athletes and athletic teams again and again and we ignore altogether how the other athletes are doing, we have crossed a line and are dangerously close to becoming biased observers, unable to see excellence except in red, white and blue. Our patriotism teeters on the brink of jingoism and we lose perspective and forget what the Games are really about: they are not political; they are not about collecting medals (and the vast amounts of money that go along with the medals); and they are not about OUR athletes. They are about the best athletes in the world exhibiting good sportsmanship (for the most part) and completing on the world stage, thus deserving the accolades of all of us regardless of what country they represent. But above all, we must keep in mind these are just Games!