Progressives aren’t exactly in the mood to cheer the U.S.A. and conservatives can’t stand seeing the American flag disrespected by activist athletes.
Week after week, day after day, through swim heats and pole vaults, wrestling matches and judo competitions, interest in the 2021 (nee, 2020) Summer Olympic Games has been anemic at best.
An international event, the Summer Olympics used to command a wide audience from all over the world, drawing fans and media attention to a degree if not on par with the World Cup, which is also only held once every four years by a changing host country, then at least in the ballpark.
Not this year, though.
In the U.S. at any rate, American households have by and large tuned out, turned the channel, and moved on. Perhaps permanently.
There is a great deal of inner-industry finger pointing as to why. And, as with most results, there is probably more than one cause for the growing apathy of television and online audiences.
International Olympic Committee executives are anxious to blame COVID-19 for the general lack of interest in this year’s games. While the pandemic has undoubtably changed many of our habits, what it has not done is cause us to watch less television, however.
That the games were postponed from 2020 should have actually made sports fans even more anxious to watch their favorites compete.
The lack of fans at the events was bound to put something of a damper on the “celebration”- so that must certainly be a factor. There are also some who don’t believe the games should have been held this year at all.
The advent of extreme sports, the X-Games, and other sports exhibitions over the last decades undoubtably played some role in weakening the appeal of the Olympics. Viewership, which peaked decades ago, has been on a steady decline ever since. The last Summer Olympics, held in Rio, weren’t especially well-attended by at-home audiences.
Political polarization, which is becoming more extreme and pronounced by the day, is also likely playing a factor in dwindling support.
There is the growing sentiment, in wider and wider progressive circles, that the basic immorality of the United States, the original sins of its founding compounding in the years since, has rendered displays of national pride on par with overtly racist signs and symbols.
This attitude makes supporting U.S. athletes at the games, cheering their “American exceptionalism” as they try, and often succeed, at winning the gold for their home country, a bit awkward, to say the least.
In most years, the Olympic games would have been followed by an explosion of merchandising. From tee-shirts, to cereal boxes, to lunch pails and beyond, the market would have been saturated with Team U.S.A. merchandise. And yet, here again is the inescapable fact that supporting U.S. athletes at the world’s Olympic Games means cheering for America.
Against other countries.
Whatever your political affiliation, it must be admitted that a righteously rah-rah America attitude, with a wardrobe and accessories to match, went out long before the Trump Administration stuck a stake in the heart of patriotism on the left, perhaps forever.
Progressives want Gwen Berry to medal, but not enough to cheer for America. Conservatives want America to win, but not enough to root for Megan Rapinoe.
Progressives and conservatives should perhaps take another look at the Olympics, and forget for a moment what the right-wing and left-wing media has been saying about America, this year’s athletes and this year’s games.
The right-wing media warns conservative Americans not to watch, and if they do, to brace themselves for a wave of anti-American sentiment from professional athletes competing for the U.S.
The left-wing media is so busy apologizing for America, and the original sins of its current inhabitants, covering American athletes competing at the games is the last thing on their minds. Sports is anything but equitable, and is as much a meritocracy as we are likely to find anywhere. Progressives shouldn’t watch the games, these authorities warn if only implicitly, because they are likely to see American athletes thanking God and draping themselves in the Stars and Stripes.
They are both right; and both wrong.
Conservatives will almost certainly see some manner of demonstration against perceived injustices in the U.S.
But they will also see American athletes thanking God and draping themselves in the flag.
Progressives will have to watch that display, too.
But they will also see American athletes using their moment in the bright spotlight of the Olympic torch to highlight injustice and inequity.
Like the U.S. itself, American athletes at the games this year represent every conceivable belief about America. As a result, there is something for everybody. We don’t have to agree; and that’s the beauty part.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)