Every four years we gather around the television to watch the Olympics. It’s exciting, arouses national pride, and the spectacle is unparalleled.
Unfortunately the Olympics are at times a mixed bag of celebration and outrage. And for all the pride, joy and ecstasy they arouse they are at times matched by outrage.
As far as outrage goes there is always one big thing to be outraged by: steroids. It’s common knowledge that almost all of the Olympic competitors are using performance enhancing drugs, in some sports more than others. Weightlifting, cycling and track and field have proven track records of being the dirtiest sports. At least, they’re caught the most often which probably means they’re the dirtiest. But that doesn’t mean performance enhancing drugs aren’t involved in sports like gymnastics, basketball or rowing.
And with world records being broken year after year, Olympics after Olympics, we start to grow numb due to the knowledge that these athletes are competing with advantages totally surpassing those of the competitors years ago. On the other hand it seems every time Usain Bolt sets a record we choose to look the other way because he’s funny and sponsored by McDonalds.
The other form of outrage tends to vary by location. This year (2016) the Olympics are in Rio, Brazil. Brazil is wildly corrupt and ridden with poverty, and the corruption and poverty have been well documented leading up to the Olympics. This has had the effect of making me, personally feel guilty even watching. I saw a photo taken of the stadium erupting in the beautiful light of fireworks. But the photo was taken from one of the hills behind Rio with a group of impoverished children, dressed in rags, in the foreground, looking at the stadium.
While the government of Brazil is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to host the Olympics children are literally starving and dying of poor water and nutrition everyday.
And still I watch. What a mess.
And then there’s the topic of the treatment of Olympic athletes after retirement. China is known to have former Olympians living on its streets because they weren’t equipped to provide for themselves once they were no longer athletes or taken care of by the government.
The United States is better but not by much. We fund almost none of our Olympic athletes and even tax them on their way back in to the country on whatever they won.
My friend Steve was an Olympic competitor on the men’s water polo team back in 2000. He shares stories of many very unremarkable aspects of being an Olympic competitor (like poor living conditions while competing).
But after devoting his life to being an Olympian he had nothing when it was over with. No care from the government, no preparedness to deal with bills, get a loan or even how to get a job. Steve was lucky his dad was a plumber and so Steve was able to go into plumbing after years in trade school and apprenticeship. He now runs a successful plumbing business that can be viewed here but not all Olympic athletes are as fortunate as him.
So while it’s fine to enjoy the Olympics and feel patriotic, remember those less fortunate who might not even have a television to watch on while living a mile from the stadium. Be thankful for what you have and don’t take any of it for granted.