Let the Games Begin
Religious symbols are not the only things that are appropriated in our
society. Secular values or ideas are also fair targets, it seems, if they can
result in manipulating an outcome or motivating a consumer to buy
something she or he may not want or even need.
Patriotism, of course, is an obvious secular feeling that is appealed to in order
to get one’s desired outcome. “It’s not patriotic to…,” is one of the quickest
ways to manipulate, and “she’s not patriotic since she doesn’t…” becomes
one of the primary ways to influence public opinion.
Internationally, the Olympic Games have long been a universal symbol that is
often shaped, molded, manipulated, and eventually stolen.
The games this year are being held in China. And the use of the “values” of
the games is hot on all political sides. Surely, China pursued hosting the
games as a sort of legitimation of its participation in the world order, as well
as proof of its development.
Many groups and individuals are calling for a boycott by political leaders and
athletes alike, to demonstrate that the capitalistic ventures of China have
come with a human cost, that the host country has imperialistic ambitions
relating to its treatment of Tibetans, and that its record on human rights is
And surely there are more angles even than these.
These games take me back to an earlier time, a time when I was more naive
and, maybe, more hopeful.
The 1976 Olympics were held in Montreal. For Americans these were
confusing times between the Watergate and Iran Hostage crises. For the
world community, this Olympic Games fell between the Munich Games (and
the killing of Israeli team members) and the Moscow Games (boycotted by the
For me it was also the reason for a cub reporter’s first editorial. I was a
reporter for The Mandan News, my hometown paper, which came out twice a
week. I covered the police and fire blotters, some local politics (but not the
city council or the county commission), and sports. A good gig for a 17-
year-old, I figured.
And then came the Montreal Olympics. And my first opportunity for an
I didn’t yet understand fully that people with agendas want to tie themselves
to those social happenings that should be above agendas in order to further
their own agendas. I didn’t appreciate that this is a time-worn reality, a
tangible aspect of our social sin.
But I didn’t like that these “pure” international gatherings would be
manipulated so. I dug out an old copy of the editorial. It’s quite nostalgic; I
miss the naivete.
Some thoughts from the editorial that appeared August 1, 1976, in The
“Politics was the big gold medal winner at the Olympics again this year.
The small island of Taiwan fell recently to its famous and ferocious neighbor,
the People’s Republic of China.
“No, it did not fall politically. Nor did it fall ideologically. Because of a take-
it-or-leave-it proposal, the blame cannot be placed on anyone else.”
“The Republic of China (not the People’s Republic of China) … decided not to
compete, but the fact remains that the host country’s political ties forced the
Nationalist Chinese to withdraw from the four-year event.
“The Olympic Games, an almost sacred event that has always prided itself on
its cohesiveness, was pushed one step closer to extinction.”
After explaining further the reasons for the numerous internal revolts,
including the boycott of the games by numerous African nations due to the
participation of New Zealand’s rugby team (which included the then-
segregated South African team on its schedule), I concluded with my disgust.
“Many sports fans are offended by these problems. Even the Greek gods must
look disdainfully upon the games as the god of thunder and rain doused the
eternal flame, the symbol of the games. This ‘act of nature’ may overshadow
what man himself may ultimately be forced to do.”
And then one good editorial dig: “[T]he Olympics are still exciting to
watch,…knowing that ‘little Olga Korbut has done more for the Russian-
United States relationship than Henry Kissinger.” (Okay, so we all have our
In this column last month, I started laying out some thoughts about the
dangers of having our religious symbols appropriated, or more importantly of
having our our religious convictions manipulated by other people’s agendas.
Sometimes it’s hard to see that in religious circumstances. This month I
suggested it happens in other arenas — sports, for instance.
So how do we learn to resist the temptations to be manipulated? How do we
learn to discern the intentions of those trying to manipulate? How can we
become better persons, better citizens, better Christians even as we
participate in a world that forces compromise?
Is it possible simply to enjoy the Olympic Games in 2008? Can we appreciate
a run at eight gold medals by one athlete? Will an underdog team from a less
developed area of the world capture our attention? Or are we so skittish that
we will not allow ourselves to be manipulated?