Approaching my third week of boycotting the 2018 Winter Olympics, I want to say something that, frankly, nobody really wants to hear; in fact, when I brought this up the other night while eating at my parents’ house, my mother told me that I would have to use the drive-thru window the next time I came over for dinner.
So here we go:
The Olympics ideal is, well, hooey-and-a-half.
(Now, technically, this is a humor column – that is, the weeks in which it contains something humorous – so every time I get up on my soapbox about a somewhat serious matter, many readers want to pull that soapbox out from under me, which then catapults Couch Slouch into sort of a Buster-Keaton-slipping-on-a-banana-peel predicament. My apologies.)
In a full-page newspaper ad taken out by Team USA sponsor Dick’s Sporting Goods, Dick’s CEO Edward W. Stack wrote, “For 17 days, the world will be united by the joy and spirit of sport.”
Or it will be united by the joy of NBC’s nonstop commercials and spirit of Tonya Harding.
Indeed, the cliché is that sport can be a great uniter. In truth, particularly on an international stage, it remains a great divider; the athletes might bond, but back home, their partisans feed off a frenzy of fanaticism.
There’s a fine line between national pride and nationalism. Naturally, people should be proud of their roots, whether it be nation, hometown or neighborhood. But this often bleeds into a xenophobic chauvinism, an us-vs.-them mentality, a need to validate ourselves by proving our way of life is superior.
The “Miracle on Ice” was much more than a story of an underdog U.S. hockey team upsetting a powerful Soviet opponent. It was a Cold War shaming of our communist enemies: We won. We’re better. We’ll carry the day in the long run.
I recently saw a New York Times op-ed by author Steve Almond, in which he mentioned – and reminded me of – George Orwell’s brilliant 1945 essay, “The Sporting Spirit,” that I read in college on one of those rare days where I parked legally and got to class on time.
(You should go online and read Orwell’s essay RIGHT NOW, even before you finish this column, which, of course, assumes you were going to finish this column.)
Orwell – smart fellow, perhaps more Orwellian than anyone ever – wrote, “At the international level sports frankly mimic warfare. But the significant thing is not the behavior of the players but the attitude of the spectators: and, behind the spectators, of the nations who work themselves into furies over these absurd contests, and seriously believe – at any rate for short periods – that running, jumping and kicking a ball are tests of national virtue.”
Who’s to argue with a chap who anticipated 1984 35 years before 1984?
Orwell concluded that “big-scale sport is itself…merely another effect of the causes that have produced nationalism.”
Indeed, at times I think the Olympics disrupt the world order even more than, say, Logan Paul.
To be honest, the Olympics are a façade, a mirage, a charade. They bring us together under false pretenses – the triumph of the human spirit, fair competition, abundant diversity. Abundant diversity? Heck, the Winter Games are whiter than a Martha Stewart dinner party.
In a vacuum, athletic achievement can be inspiring, but too often – and much too often at the Olympics – it is overwhelmed by widespread cheating, by international posturing, by political shenanigans.
(You can see why I am not invited onto sports talk radio too often anymore.)
Besides, as Orwell wrote, “sport is an unfailing cause of ill-will.”
We’d be better off breaking bread with one another than facing off – a communal table beats a cross-check every time. If you want to bring the world closer, we should share potato spaetzle soup, dakdori jungol and tonnarelli cacio e pepe family-style, with Parker House rolls.
And I’d wrap up the night with a game of Twister – now, that brings people together.
Ask The Slouch
Q. Fox News host Laura Ingraham last week told LeBron James and Kevin Durant to “shut up and dribble.” Don’t those guys prefer to “trash-talk and dribble”? (Neil Epstein; Miami)
A. I’d have a lot more respect for Ingraham if she told LeBron to “shut up and travel with the ball because you never get called for traveling.”
Q. In view of New England’s loss in Super Bowl 52, do you think Bill Belichick and Tom Brady will suspend their efforts to have a book added to the New Testament entitled “PATRIOTS”? (Pete Perry; La Plata, Md.)
A. Actually, the team equipment manger is handling that.
Q. What would it take for you to end your comically stupid Olympic boycott? (J. McKinley; Austin, Tex.)
A. If they added poker as an Olympic sport – all the doping in the world can’t make you play better – I’m all-in, baby!
Q. After NBA players are traded, is the reason they don’t play the first game with their new team because they first must learn the special pregame handshakes? (Paul Ferko; Parma, Ohio)
A. Pay the man, Shirley.
You, too, can enter the $1.25 Ask The Slouch Cash Giveaway. Just email email@example.com and, if your question is used, you win $1.25 in cash!
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