*The Olympics are the largest stage for athletic performance in the world. As such, even though they are supposed to be devoid of political considerations outside of national affiliation, they give the best opportunity to shed light on political and social situations that deserve the attention.
In the United States there is a history of politics and athletics mixing during the Olympics. In 1936 Jesse Owens dispelled the idea that German athletes were superior due to their Aryan heritage. 32 years later John Carlos and Tommie Smith introduced the masses to the Black Power salute and instigated a closer look at race and class struggle in this country. And in 1980 the entire American Olympic team boycotted the Moscow Games in protest of the host country’s military actions in Afghanistan.
The hot button issue in many countries across the globe today is civil liberties and citizenship privileges for homosexuals. And the host country for the current Olympics, Russia, just happens to have a philosophy that ranges from persecution of homosexuals to outright denial – the mayor of Sochi (the city of the Games) says the city does not have one gay resident.
Because of the strides that have been made in the United States in terms of homosexual citizenship privileges, there was talk of an outright boycott. But I am glad that we seem to be opting for the Jesse Owens route of shutting up Vladimir Putin because some gay people have won their chosen events. Perhaps they might even inspire legislative change.
To go even further, I think the 1968 treatment is called for. I would get a great kick out of any homosexual that medals brandishing a rainbow flag or some other emblem of the gay and lesbian struggle for civil rights. I assume that there are gay athletes there because I assume, and more and more evidence bears this out, that gay people are participating in every aspect of society and at every level. But what would be even more significant is if an openly heterosexual athlete would engage in that sort of activism as a gesture of support.
I recognize that there are serious security concerns in and around Sochi. But that’s the beauty of doing this when you’re done competing. Wave the flag and then get on a plane out of the country. Gay athletes from more progressive countries might be risking more because they could already be enjoying full citizenship privileges in their home country; the same is probably true of most heterosexuals. But some countries are of the mindset that gay people should be jailed or killed. The risk reward analysis for people from those countries should start to tip in the other direction. Winning a medal usually makes one a national hero and shows one’s value (sexual orientation aside).
So here’s hoping that we get at least one medal ceremony that defies Russian policy and advances human dignity.
Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War. His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.
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