Sunday, February 19, 2006

Tolerance and the Olympics

Pardon me from likely pissing off a lot of other extremely progressive and liberal-thinking people out there, but I was a little disappointed by Bryant Gumbel's comments on the Winter Olympics in Turino, Italy.

Bryant Gumbel had this to say on his HBO show:

Count me among those who don't like them and won't watch them...So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something's not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what's called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they're done, when we can move on to March Madness for God's sake, let the games begin.

Thank you Bryant Gumbel for exploiting all the prejudices so many people are crying out against when it comes to sports. Apparently, Figure Skaters aren't real athletes because they sit in "kiss-and-cry areas." Well, maybe real men don't cry in baseball, but can Cal Ripken do a quad? How about a triple axel? Can he even do it on the ground? I doubt it.

Now, I'll agree with Gumbel: I don't think a lot of the events at the games are particularly great sports or displays of athletic talent. Skeleton? Bobsledding? However, here's something I realize that Gumbel doesn't seem to understand: just because I don't like something or find it particularly athletic doesn't mean I have the right to belittle everyone who does. I'm not a big hockey fan, but I'm not about to suddenly condemn the talent of hockey players.

Okay, well, Gumbel will say 'at least hockey players are athletic; you don't need to be athletic to play Curling.' Maybe he would be right. However, Curling does involve a great deal of skill. Similarly, you don't need to be athletic to golf, but you do need tremendous skill. Is Bryant Gumbel calling out Phil Mickleson or Tiger Woods because they don't play a real sport? Not everyone is blessed with great athleticism, should people be condemned for choosing sports that don't require you to be 6'10" to have a chance of playing at an elite level? Does he support freakish genetics as a prerequisite for being eligle to compete at high levels of so-called real sports?

Think about it. In the NBA, there are dozens of players who aren't even athletic. They just happen to be tall. If someone tries to go for a layup, those tall players are able to swat the ball out of the air. That's all they have to be able to do to play in the NBA. There are people from when I was in high school who were more athletic than some players in the NBA, yet they'll never get paid the big bucks because they happened to be less than six feet tall.

Personally, I think the Olympic games are a breath of fresh air. Olympians aren't regular people, but the only thing that seperates an Olympian from an average Joe or Jane is the fact that they train every day, despite the fact that most Olympic athletes also work or go to college. Most Olympians will never make enough money to pay for their training and equipment, but they do it anyway. The Olympics are great because they give these hardworking, nearly average Joes from around the world a chance - once every four years - for a little recognition in their field. Is that so bad? Apparently, to Bryant Gumbel, yes.

Okay, so here's the part that could piss off my fellow liberals: I find the fact that he brought up race to be very annoying and misguided, at least in the way he did it. Bryant Gumbel had the perfect opportunity to constructively criticize the Winter Olympics by making the point that there isn't enough parity at the games. Where are all the black people? It is an important issue, but he did it no service by using that as an example to condemn the entire games.

Well, did he ever consider the fact that the Winter Olympics take place in cold climates may have something to do with it? I don't think there are too many mountains to ski on in Africa. Even in the US, most African Americans live in urban areas and in the South. There aren't too many mountains in those areas either, never mind snow. Just look at the countries that do well at the Winter Olympics: Norway is currently leading the medal count, despite the fact that it's a small country. Similarly, Australia is only competing in one event at Turino, despite the fact that they do exceedingly well at the Summer Olympics (and they are also a small country). Norway is cold; Australia is hot. Do the math. So there you go: perhaps region has more to do with Olympic participation than racism.

However, that doesn't mean race isn't at play here. In fact, Gumbel did the issue a disservice for not adequately addressing the issue. He could have used his influence to discuss the socio-economic reasons for the lack of parity in the US. Winter sports are expensive. To train as an Olympic Runner - a summer sport - requires a nice pair of sneakers and a visit to the local track field. To train as an Olympic Figure Skater requires a professional coach, professional choreographer, rink time (which can cost tens of thousands) and expensive equipment. Hockey is just as expensive, with equipment costing hundreds of dollars (and that's if you buy it used) and travel teams being exceptionally expensive (thousands of dollars per season). The fact is that African Americans, in general, have less money. Gumbel should have made that the issue: it is unfair that there isn't equal access to these winter sports for everyone. Cost makes them prohibitive - for everyone! More Americans of every sort would be at the Olympics if they could afford it.

Gumbel shouldn't have lashed out at the Winter Olympics for a lack of parity, he should have called out society and politicians that could actually do something about it. Instead, he belittled the games in an attempt to make them seem unworthy of attention. As if the ratings weren't low enough already!

If Gumbel claims to care about sports, he should recognize that people like different things and not condemn people for enjoying being able to watch people ski or dance on ice once every four years. If anything, it is an example of extreme intolerance. If he wasn't so quick to condemn the Olympics - so quick to ignore them - maybe he'd find something worthwhile to see.

If enough people concur with Gumbel's misguided opinions, no one will be able to recognize the extreme skill and hard work displayed by hundreds of worthy Americans and thousands of people from around the world - all trying to do their countries proud. NBC won't give people the chance. It'll be a very sad day for hardworking people to never get any credit for all their effort. In fact, it could be enough to bring some sports to extinction. It's sort of odd to hear a sports show host making these sorts of illogical opinions.

Update: an African American just won gold in speed skating. Maybe if Gumbel tuned in, he'd have noticed that.


joe schlieff said...

Chris Rock said "black people are the best atheletes in almost every sport, and when they open heated hockey rink, we'll be the best at that too!"

Kudos on breaking from the leftist status quo. If being realistic pisses off the liberals, then you can come hang out with us, Ryan! We'll have you chirping about small government and free markets in no time hahah

The Humanity Critic said...

I'm not coming on your blog to start anything, lord knows how many people just come on my blog to trash talk..I comment out of respect..

But I must say, I don't particularly see anything wrong with Gumbel's comments. I mean, the winter Olympics do suck, and since he was speaking from his personal perspective he has a right to say that as a black guy he can't relate.(Hell, I'm a black guy raised in an all white town, many white friends, prodominately white college, and I can't relate either.) Plus, a GOP convention is a place where you don't see a lot of black faces. But seriously, by saying what he said makes him racist??

Ryan Adams said...

No, he's not racist at all. However, he shouldn't aspire to confirm all the macho-ism that exists in sports. He basically made fun of figure skating and dissed it as a sport because there's a "kiss-and-cry-area."

My big point was that Bryant Gumbel, as a fan of sports, should respect *all* sports. He doesn't have to like them all, but he shouldn't condemn people for liking them and try to get less people to watch them. I don't like Golf, but I don't try to dissuade people from liking it and I certainly don't belittle it, even as a sport.

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