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

February 10, 2014 | Revolution Newspaper |


From a reader:

While watching the team competition in figure skating at the Winter Olympics in Russia, where the U.S. announcers were pulling for Team USA, I thought how it would be a real advance for people in the U.S. not to be rooting for every single American and American 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.” (Listen to the talk at Track 1, Track 2.) All of this ends up being in the service of U.S. imperialism.

Avakian uses the NBA (professional basketball) as an example of how this training works, where the announcers try to get you to think a foul called is either “good” or “bad” based on the team you are rooting for, not based on what really occurred, and this is training people not to understand reality or the real world.

And this “root for the home team” stuff is in service of a political agenda. You are trained to root for the home sports team and Americans in the Olympics. And then, outside sports, you are supposed to root for the U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan or somewhere else; root for U.S. imperialism—the “home team.” And a lot of this is done in ways so 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.

At the Winter Olympics, announcers will be working to get you to root for the USA, particularly against the Russians.

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, which at that time was a Soviet bloc country, 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.” (“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, which was a wonderful showing of internationalism and friendship between two athletes.

But it was in the 1968 Summer Olympics where the athletes, themselves, struck a blow against rooting for the home team, while striking a blow for humanity.  On the 200 Meter victory stand, Tommie Smith, the Gold Medalist and John Carlos, the Bronze Medalist, both African Americans from the United States bowed their heads and raised black, gloved fists on the medal award ceremony podium during the playing of the American National Anthem to protest the conditions of African-Americans in the U.S., to have Muhammad Ali’s boxing title restored, to remove Nazi sympathizer, Avery Brundage, as head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and to protest the apartheid regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia.  In an unprecedented internationalist show of support during those Olympics for Smith and Carlos, Peter Norman, the Silver Medalist from Australia, wore the Olympic Project For Human Rights button (the organization that Smith and Carlos belonged to) on his clothing during the awards ceremony.  (For more see “Striking a Blow for Freedom: The Courageous Story of Tommie Smith and John Carlos”, Revolution #136, July 20, 2008.)

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 American flags.

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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