Saturday, February 27, 2010

Give The Olympics Back To The Amateurs

The 2010 Winter Olympics are coming to a close. I will enjoy the USA/Canada gold medal ice hockey game tomorrow. It will pit the best hockey players in the world against each other. TV ratings will be off-the-charts as Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin continue their rivalry on an international stage.

The only problem for me is that they are professional hockey players. I am of the view that the Olympic games, at least men's ice hockey and basketball, should be returned to amateur status. The Olympic games should be about more than America, or other countries, crushing lesser developed countries. The idea of sending multi-million dollar professional athletes like Crosby, Ovechkin, Jordan, Barkley, LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to the Olympic games and pitting them against poor and less developed countries makes little sense to me.

The advent of the state-sponsored "full-time amateur" athletes of the Eastern Bloc countries began our sending the professionals to the Olympics. Those days have come to an end. Now it has become the commercialization of the games which contributes to the presence of the professionals. As a result of Peter Ueberrroth first selling the TV broadcasting rights to the Olympics in 1984, the over-the-top TV ratings thrive on the participation of popular, household name professional athletes.

The USA men's ice hockey team could win the next five Olympic gold medals and all of them combined would not come close to equalling the emotion felt for the 1980 young amateur USA hockey team when they beat the Russian National Team. That game has become the standard for what the Olympics should represent. It is hard to believe today that 1912 Olympic pentathlon and decathlon champion Jim Thorpe was stripped of his medals when it was learned that he played in a semi-professional baseball game in Rocky Mount, NC. (His medals were restored by the IOC in 1983 on compassion grounds).

The Olympic motto is "Citius, Altius, Fortius", meaning faster, higher, stronger. The Olympics are to be about excelling and achieving a higher standard than previously existed. The Olympic creed reads, "The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well". (I certainly realize that alot of my "young buck" friends and relatives don't buy this point at this time in their lives, but hopefully, give the wise ones time).

I realize America is not only about winning, but is about crushing the competition and the opponent. As I look around, I am concerned about the product which that goal and philosophy has created. Can't we set aside that philosophy and purpose once every four years and seek the ideal of the Olympic creed and motto? It might be good for our national soul and psyche.

In the future, I hope the NBA and the NHL rethinks the policy of sending players to the Olympics. Yes, I will enjoy the hockey game tomorrow as NHL players play against each other at the Olympics. But for me, it will be confusing, wrong, and, while it will be very American, it will be contrary to the Olympic creed, motto, and purpose.

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