Rooting for all the Olympic athletes

This article appears in the Rio Olympics feature series. View the full series.

The first day of Olympic competition I heard one of the sportscasters say that the crowds never root for the USA, anywhere. While I watched, they were rooting for Puerto Rican women in volleyball, Polish and Columbian men in cycling, Australians and Chinese in swimming, and Qatar men in beach volleyball.

I can hardly blame them. The U.S. sent the biggest delegation to the Olympics, expects the most medals and puts the most money into opportunity and training. We have placed weapons and military bases around the world, and we’ve used them. We have created a global consumer culture, headlined by football, fast cars, bikinis and movies that bring down both envy and scorn on our heads. And we don’t give away our wealth generously. Indeed, we count as foreign aid our gifts of arms and military training.

We are seen as a bully, often rightfully. We rain down money on our winners and one of our worst pejoratives is “loser.” Other countries send a few athletes to the Olympics and are proud that they are there. We disregard the efforts of our cyclists and archers and badminton players. We want to win them all, and when we don’t, we turn our back.

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I also want the Americans to win. I just stopped writing to watch whether our swimmer was in the lead. I don’t know the story of the gymnast from Romania or the archer from Bhutan. And the sportscasters don’t tell us. So if I want a global view of  sports, it’s left for me to imagine the struggles and aspirations of the refugee athletes, the Saudi women and the African runners and jumpers who started out barefoot and don’t stand much chance for a shoe contract.

Every two years, winter and summer, I think this out once more. Then I give my rapt attention to the games and try my best to be a global citizen, rooting for them all.


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