The Summer Games in Tokyo started with the U.S. women’s soccer team taking a knee before their first-round match against Sweden. Two hours later, the Americans were 3-0 losers.
But that’s not what I’m going to take from these Games.
What I will remember most is watching Green Cove Springs’ Caeleb Dressel fight back tears after winning one of his five gold medals in swimming. I will remember seeing Syndey McLaughlin drape herself with the American flag after winning the 400-meter hurdles and proclaiming she’s “really grateful to be able to represent my country and have this opportunity.”
The Olympic Games are about athletics. It’s a competition between nations. We cheer our favorite athletes and applaud the efforts of all.
But for some, the Games have become a platform for social projects. They turn their backs and take their knees during anthems, cross their arms in protest and use the podium to promote their agendas.
And it’s not working.
People, particularly in the United States, aren’t watching the Games, and they’re doing it in record numbers. Some point to the 13-hour time difference between Tokyo and the American east coast. Others point out television ratings have declined across the board for all shows. Then there’s the loss of some prominent athletes by the COVID-19 pandemic. But many are simply tired of the insufferable mix of competition, entertainment and protest. There really is a time and place for everything.
The reason I go to an NFL game is to enjoy the game, not to be lectured by a handful of men who scream about injustices when they make more in a week than I make in a year.
I used to watch NBA because it was an incredible display of skill and prowess. But when some of the sport’s biggest stars turn the basketball court into a civil pep rally, they lose me.
I support anyone’s right to protest or challenge authority. That’s what being an American is all about. If an athlete wants to stand on a street corner to ask for change, they will get my attention. But when they turn my sports, a two-hour escape from reality, into their personal gripe session, I either will spend my money elsewhere or turn the channel.
Others apparently agree.
Ratings for this year’s Olympics are less than half of what they were five years ago at Rio de Janeiro. Raven Saunders won the silver medal for the United States in the shot put, she raised her arms into an “X” on the podium to show support for the oppressed people of the world “who are fighting and don’t have the platform to speak up for themselves.” She then challenged the Olympic Committee to “Let them try and take this medal.”
That clicking sound you just heard was me – and millions of others – turning the channel. Again.
The Olympics used to be a television boon for advertisers and organizing committees. Advertisers put up more than $1.2 billion to help fund the Games, and in return, they were promised a certain level of viewership. NBC hasn’t come close to meeting those minimum standards, it must make up the difference. Even more telling, NBC still has considerable unsold inventory for the Games.
The women’s soccer team also took a knee ahead of their semifinal match against Canada. And they lost again. Instead of taking a knee for the finals, they took a seat in the grandstands and watched Sweden and Canada play for the gold on Thursday.
The Americans had a 42-game winning streak dating back two years coming into the Olympics. They left Tokyo with grass-stained knees, two wins, two losses and a tie. And millions who now question whether their protest or performance was the real mission.
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