This month, sports fans throughout the United States will be bombarded with a variety of sporting events to watch. There will, however, only be one sporting event where athletes will be wearing a uniform that will have the letters USA on their chest and that is at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang, South Korea. The United States Olympic team will not only be competing at the games, but also they will have the added responsibility of representing the United States of America.
Currently, athletes in the United States are protesting a wide range of causes including police brutality, social injustice, racism, and not supporting the 45th President of the United States. Some members of the United States Olympic team have already spoken out against President Trump or are differentiating between representing the American people rather than the current administration. What remains unanswered is if the members of the USA Olympic team will protest during the opening ceremonies, closing ceremonies or more importantly during the medal ceremonies. The use of Olympic ceremonies to advance a certain political agenda is not uncommon. Fifty years ago this summer, Americans watching the Summer Olympics witnessed the most iconic protest by a USA Olympic athlete during the medal ceremony of the 1968 Summer Olympics. Men’s track teammates Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in support of Black Power during the raising of the American Flag and the playing of the National Anthem.
United States athletes participating in the Winter Olympics have numerous opportunities to express their political views. It is, after all, a constitutionally guaranteed and protected right. However to do so, at the Olympic venue while representing the United States of America is wrong. Athletes who seek to use the Olympic Games as a platform to express their own political views divert attention from competing as a team for the United States to serving one’s own parti pris. Their staged protests or canned commentary detract from representing the United States of America in its entirety. There also exists an element, intentional or not, of diminishing the importance or pride of being a citizen of the United States.
The United States Olympic Committee should implement rules, similar to those governing members of the armed forces, prohibiting athletes from engaging in political protest while wearing the USA Olympic uniform. During the competition at the Winter Olympics, the team’s uniform is emblazoned with USA, the Stars and Stripes is hoisted high as they enter the opening and closing ceremonies, and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner occurs during the medal ceremonies. The uniform, flag, and anthem symbolize the United States of America and its lofty ideals. The United States of America in this instance is viewed as a collective whole and the Olympic team should also be viewed as one. It should be an honor to wear the USA uniform and represent our Country in the Winter Olympics.
By Dr. Matthew Williams
Dr. Matthew Williams is an Associate Professor of Sport Management at The University of Virginia’s College at Wise and is an avid NASCAR fan.