Stay Tuned/Jeremiad For an Olympiad

From Eccentric Flower

 



stay tuned
 



Jeremiad For an Olympiad
8 February 1998


I do not like sporting events. No amount of reform is likely to make me like sporting events. This falls into the category of "just because" dislikes; I don't have a good reason, it's just not on my map.

I admire people who can draw and people who can play the guitar, because I do neither of these things decently. I do not admire people who can write or play the piano, because I can do both of those passably well, therefore they are not enviable to me. I do not admire people who can think, because I expect everyone to be able to do that, and if you can't, I have no time for you. In each of these cases, I have a reason for my preference, however silly. But I do not admire people with athletic prowess because I just don't.

Even so, I have some conclusions about athletic events, and one athletic event in particular.

I think there are two processes in this country which could greatly benefit from being parted from the flow of incoming dollars: presidential elections and the Olympics.

The commercialism attached to the Olympics finally exceeded my ability to overlook it when I saw that General Mills was not confining its franchise to disgusting new breakfast cereals, as noted two weeks ago. For once I will spare you the nauseating details of its Olympic-promotion line of baked goods mixes - because I am confident that if you're really interested, you can pick a grocery store at random and find them prominently displayed on an endcap somewhere. Our grocery store has even attempted to put up Olympic decor. It looks about as inappropriate as you'd expect.

I don't expect something like NFL football to be free of commercialism. Commercialism is what the NFL is all about. They are in the business of making money, and always have been, and don't really bother to conceal it. They are in the entertainment business. People watch them to be entertained, and the NFL tries to make as much money as possible in the process. It's a transaction, albeit a rather unbalanced one.

But the Olympics are not entertainment. The Olympics are competitions where all manner of young cocky people strut their stuff and establish that they're qualified to stay in the gene pool even though they can't think their way out of a paper bag. That people like to watch this is incidental. The Olympics are supposed to be about establishing pecking order.

Oh, all right. That was too cynical. I'll try again.

The NFL is bread and circuses. The NBA likewise, and nearly every other televised sport in this country except golf. These are sporting events held primarily for the benefit of the spectators. The Olympics, on the other hand, are supposed to be held primarily for the benefit of the participants. The Olympics are supposed to be for the athletes, not the audience.

No matter how meaningful an Olympic victory is to the crowd back home, it will never be as meaningful to them as it is to the athlete. On the other hand, if Drew Bledsoe loses a football game, do you really think he loses much sleep over it? It's a paycheck. It's entertainment. (Now, his coach will lose some sleep. Every loss threatens his job, after all.)

I don't even object to the exorbitant paychecks paid to professional athletes, because my attitude - again, not being a sports fan - is "whatever the market will bear." If the fans and managers are such fools as to support these huge salaries, then they deserve what they get - and forfeit the right to complain about how the game is a lot less fun than it used to be. Remember: You don't have to pay those outrageous prices for tickets. You don't have to watch the game.

But the Olympics are supposed to be for amateurs. They're not supposed to be in it for the money, see?

It's time to take drastic steps. First: Remove those damned pro basketball players (and pros who have crept into any other events). Dream team, my eye. If that means that the other nations kick our collective butts at basketball, then question a system which inspires college athletes to punt their degrees and turn pro at such a tender age. Ever notice that the sports we excel in at the Olympics are ones where there isn't a whole lot of "pro money" floating around? Did anyone ever stop to think what a shame it was that Tiger Woods - who by all accounts does have a brain - left college before finishing?

The corollary of this: If an athlete does product endorsements of any kind, he can't play. This may have already been a rule before some events decided to let pros in; we need to return to the hard line here: You can't take drugs or take cash. Period.

Second, and you're going to hate me for this: Take the Olympics off TV. No, seriously. The Olympic committee should just not permit the games to be televised. Period. Yes, this will create all sorts of fiscal shock waves. That's exactly the point.

The Olympics were funded before without TV money and they can be funded again. If this reduces the Olympics to low-budget status, run on a shoestring, so much the better. TV is the single biggest source of money corruption. Once the cameras are running, the temptations of cash become overwhelming, to the point where nearly everyone - including the Olympic committee - wants to cheat a little.

But what if you want to see the Olympics? Then get your act together and show your support by renting a hotel room and buying a plane ticket. Attend in person or don't see it at all. These are not events for the armchair enthusiast - or shouldn't be.

Can't afford the trip? Town was so overbooked for the Olympics that there wasn't a single room to be had six months before the fact, when you tried to make reservations? I'm unsympathetic.

Once again: These aren't events for the spectators. Ideally, the Olympics would consist of groups of athletes competing against each other in an empty arena. The winners would stand on their little podium, and only the judges who go around hanging ribbons on necks would have witnessed their efforts. There would be no applause. There would be no concession stands. There would be no stuffed toys and banners and tie-ins and paraphenalia.

What a ridiculous idea, huh? I mean, what would be the point of having the Olympics at all then?

Exactly.

Today's exercise in reductio ad absurdum has been brought to you by General Mills. Among others.

I told you I didn't like sports.



Backstory

[February 2007:] This ship has long since sailed, I'm afraid. However, some signs indicate that the marketeers themselves will scuttle it. There have been any number of complaints about the way the Olympics have been shown on television in recent years - mostly because of advertising pressures - and I would like to think that a nice backlash has well and truly begun, and that one day no one will watch at all. It will be a shame if that also means the end of the Olympics, an event which I persist in thinking, foolishly, would have a point even without an audience. Apparently everyone else disagrees.


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