Revolution #139, August 10, 2008

From a reader

The Olympics: Rooting for the “Home Team” Means Being Played by the System

I was thinking about the upcoming Olympics and how it would be a real advance for people in the U.S. not to be rooting for every single American and American team, particularly the basketball dream team. In thinking about this I listened to Bob Avakian’s talk, “The NBA: Marketing the Minstrel Show and Serving the Big Gangsters,” where he gets into how people are trained through sports to not think critically, and not to see the world as it really is, and how this is done by training people to “root for the home team.” All of this ends up being in the service of U.S. imperialism.

Avakian uses the NBA as an example of how this training works. He points out that when there is a foul called on one team and the replay shows that there really was no foul, the announcers will say, “Well, if you’re a fan of the team that is fouled, that’s a great call, but if you’re a fan of the team that made the foul, that’s a horrible call.” Since it was actually not a foul, this method—which reflects a philosophical approach called “relativism”—is used to block people from being able to really understand the real world. In reality, a bad call is a bad call, no matter what team you want to win. But the way they announce sports, they want you to think that a bad call is really a good call if it favors the team you’re rooting for.

And this “root for the home team” stuff is in service of a political agenda. First you are trained to root for the home sports team, and the next step will be the Olympics and rooting for the Americans. And then, outside sports, you are supposed to root for the soldiers in Iraq or somewhere else; root for U.S. imperialism—the “home team.”

And a lot of this is done in ways that people don’t even recognize it. When this “good call/bad call” thing comes up, you’re not even conscious that you are being indoctrinated to see things in a way that really distorts reality, and in a way that makes it easier for the ruling class to come along and get you to respond the way they want you to.

This is already going on big time around the Olympics, and the games haven’t even started. Take the attacks being made on Becky Hammon and Chris Kaman, both professional American basketball players, who will be playing for other countries—Kaman for Germany and Hammon for Russia. They’ve been called everything from traitors to mercenaries to opportunists. On the other hand, these backward folks and sports announcers, who are attacking Kaman and Hammon, will be jumping out of their seats rooting for Bernard Legat, a Kenyan running on the U.S. Olympic team in the 1,500 and 5,000 meter races. He won’t be called a traitor or a mercenary.

Ugly Americanism, “my country is the greatest no matter what it does,” is going to run rampant at the Olympics. We are going to be inundated by the U.S. media with how “the American way is better than the Chinese way.” And the American media will be rooting for the U.S. Olympians. Just wait and see. Listen closely to the tenor and inflection in their voices when an American wins as opposed to when someone from another country wins. They will be a hell of a lot more excited for the American winners than for winners from other countries. Or when the Americans lose, they’ll talk about how sad it is that the Americans are out. And there is going to be this whole emphasis on who has the most gold medals and total medals—the U.S. or China—just in order to get you to focus on “your” nation versus “their” nation.

We’re also going to be exposed to some very ugly “USA is #1” crap at these Olympics, and at every opportunity, they will be showing U.S. medal winners saying how great the U.S. is and thanking God (who doesn’t exist) for their achievements. Here’s what I’ve got to say about “USA is #1.” They are number one at making wars on the people of the world and killing hundreds of thousands of people in these wars. They are number one at using nuclear weapons on civilians. They are number one at torturing people. They are number one at spying and incarcerating their own people. They are number one at creating a planet of slums. They are number one in destruction of the earth’s environment. And they are the number one hated country by the masses of people in the world. So just remember when you hear that chant of “USA, USA” what it really means.

In his talk on the NBA, Avakian uses the example of Wimbledon (the All-England Tennis Championships) to show another way national chauvinism comes out in sports. When the men American players get knocked out of Wimbledon, these announcers are always bemoaning that fact. “Oh how horrible, there are no Americans left at Wimbledon.” Well, who gives a damn about the American players? We should just want to see good tennis. In the Olympics, we may have another chance to see some great tennis but it will not be any Americans. I will be hoping for Rafael Nadal from Spain and Roger Federer from Switzerland, who played at Wimbledon, to make the Olympic finals because that will be high quality tennis with inspirational performances.

In the 1972 Montreal Olympics, I remember when Mac Wilkins, U.S. discus thrower and winner of the event, gave Wolfgang Schmidt of East Germany a big bear hug when Schmidt passed John Powell of the U.S. for second place on his final throw. Wilkins had met Schmidt earlier in the year at another track meet and they had a friendly discussion about such things as Vietnam and the Berlin Wall.

“It was one of those rare times when the Olympics did what they’re advertised to do,” says former U.S. women’s shot put record holder Maren Seidler, who witnessed it. “A guy’s respect for another guy’s come-through effort transcended nationality and ideology. And what happened? People were offended by it. Offended.” (“The Old Men and the Discus,” S.I. Vault, July 25, 1988.) Wilkins was blasted in the U.S. press for congratulating an East German who beat his own countryman, and he lost all potential endorsements for his friendly gesture. For me, when I saw it, it was even sweeter because I knew John Powell was a San Jose cop, and I hate cops! It was a wonderful showing of internationalism and friendship between two athletes.

Those of us who are proletarian internationalists, who have a burning desire to emancipate all the oppressed in the world and ultimately humanity as a whole, and those of us who are opposed to any kind of national chauvinism, want to see great, high quality athletic performances that are inspiring in the Olympics, not get subjected to a whole lot of “USA, USA” jingoism. In fact, I will have the sound turned off on my television, so the announcers will not have an opportunity to ruin my enjoyment any more than it is already ruined with all these U.S. athletes running all over the place with little American flags in their hands.

While watching and paying attention to the Olympics, will you be blindly rooting for the home team? Or will you see how they are trying to play you, and think critically about what the U.S. announcers are saying, and try to enjoy the Olympics for the beauty and awe that sports can bring?  

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