Archive for Thursday, August 19, 2004

Athletes serve as ambassadors to community

August 19, 2004

I'm a patriotic sap -- so sue me.
The Olympics are here, and I am glued to each of the five NBC channels covering the Games, whether it's women's fencing or the Not-So-Dream Team. I can't get enough of the sensationalized storylines or the melodramatic match-ups.
I've got a thousand thoughts on a thousand aspects of the Olympic experience. Bare with me as I share a few.
First of all, I am passionately enthralled by these incredible athletes. The dedication these individuals have put into their pursuits provides a dramatic backdrop unrivaled in sports. Some of these athletes have been training for a lifzetime to participate in an event that takes a few seconds to complete. It's almost hard to comprehend that level of dedication.
The other inconceivable aspect is the great probability of failure that accompanies the experience. These lifelong pursuits rarely end with a medal ceremony. That sort of drama makes it almost impossible for me to watch sometimes. I mean, the balance beam should be banned from television. Every step, every flip and every dismount takes a year off my life. When you attempt to comprehend the sacrifices these athletes and their families have made, it is almost unbearable to entertain the thought of failure.
Secondly, the patriotic thing really does get to me. The name on a jersey has, and always will be, the biggest factor in my passionate love affair with sports. I believe whole-heartedly that athletes are the supreme ambassadors of the community they represent with the name on their uniform.
When I talk about the Royals or the Chiefs, I always refer to them as "we." Why? Because the name on the jersey says Kansas City, and I consider myself a Kansas Citian. They represent my incredible civic pride. Granted, my intensity on this issue exceeds the vast majority of my peers, but I still maintain this representative principle. When the name on the uniform is USA, well, the pride factor is amplified exponentially.
These men and women are laying it all on the line for the justification of a lifelong quest and the glory of their country. I don't care if it's team handball or synchronized diving, I'm watching.
And I don't care if the American was the great favorite to win gold or a shocking underdog. When they stand on the podium with the Stars and Stripes hanging high and the "Star Spangled Banner" playing in the background, I get choked up. I have so much pride in my country, and when its children succeed on this grand global stage I can't help but feel a part of it.
The flip-side of this warm fuzzy feeling is the hoopla surrounding the U.S. basketball team. The Dream Team label was intended for the original NBA-infused squad that included Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. But for marketing purposes, the name has transferred from team-to-team. This year's team, in the wake of lopsided losses to the likes of Italy and Puerto Rico has embarrassed the nation and threatened its superiority complex.
The Athens' Dream Team is a collection of young physically phenomenal players that are all legitimate NBA stars. However, as a team the group does not work. There are no outside shooters, and other than two-time NBA MVP Tim Duncan, there is no dominate inside presence either. The sports community wants to label the team a bust and pass blame on each and every one of its members. But at least these guys are there. The Shaquille O'Neals and Kobe Bryants of the NBA opted to stay at home. Some cited fear of terrorism overseas. Others cited injuries or bluntly chose to rest and relax over the summer.
Although I can't attack those sincerely concerned for their safety, the rest sits in complete violation of everything I stand for. These are players that embody the negative aspects of sports. These players are more concerned about themselves than representing the greatest team in the world -- Team USA. So I encourage each of you to control your criticism of the "Dream Team." Besides, they very well may walk away with gold when it's all said and done.
Remember, the Olympics is not about the NBA, it's not about stud swimmer Michael Phelps setting records, and it's not about getting a photo onto a Wheaties box. It's about dedication, representing your country and the promotion of world harmony.

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