Athletes disrespected America. Don’t let them do it again at the Olympics


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A pair of U.S. athletes at the Pan American Games decided to make it about politics rather than uniting the country around athletic achievement.

At a medal ceremony Friday night, fencer Race Imboden knelt for the national anthem while hammer thrower Gwen Berry raised her fist.

The actions were in direct violation of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee policy these athletes signed onto. Athletes are not allowed to “make remarks or release propaganda of political, religious or racial nature, or any other kind” during the games.

Imboden explained via Twitter that his actions were indeed political and, in part, against President Trump.

and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list.

I chose to sacrifie my moment today at the top of the podium to call attention to issues that I believe need to be addressed. I encourage others to please use your platforms for empowerment and change.

— Race Imboden (@Race_Imboden)
August 10, 2019

The United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee must make an example of these athletes and punish them for violating their rules. The punishment should be harsh: Neither of them should be able to compete in the 2020 Summer Olympics.

Americans competing in international competitions should be a uniting force. Typically the Olympics, World Cup, and other international events are a great example of positive nationalism.

Even though the country is divided politically and culturally, people of all backgrounds come together to cheer on Team USA in hopes that they succeed on the global stage. The country’s success in international sports is something which makes 73% of Americans proud of their country, according to a recent Gallup poll.

It’s a civic form of nationalism, not ethnic. Nationalism is “pride and devotion to one’s country.” In the United States, this is an inclusive form of nationalism which encompasses people of different sexes, races, and national origins.

As Sen. Marco Rubio explained in November, American nationalism (which sports can help promote) centers around the “belief that all people are created equal, with God given rights.”

American Nationalism isn’t racial nationalism b/c American isn’t a race.

As Reagan said, unlike other nations, “Anybody from any corner of the world can come to America to live & become an American”

Our identity is belief that all people are created equal,with God given rights

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio)
November 16, 2018

What Imboden and Berry did is antithetical to this goal. Their actions were provocative and divisive. Americans don’t like it when people bring politics into sports. In February 2018, a Washington Post poll found that 53% of Americans think it is never OK to kneel during the national anthem, as opposed to just 42% who tolerate it under the right circumstances.

Bringing athletes to the Olympics next year who would make the event about politics rather than sports and unity would be harmful for a country already so divided along political lines. One of the biggest appeals of sports is the opportunity to take one’s mind off politics or other important issues to enjoy light entertainment for a couple of hours. However, if people feel as though the athletes are disrespecting the great country they represent, Americans will be less inclined to watch.

Besides, the Olympics also bans political displays. Allowing an athlete to compete who has already broken that rule is only inviting the rule to be broken and at that point, what’s the point of having rules?

Does the U.S. have problems? Every country does. Making sports toxic for millions of viewers won’t fix things. That’s not what the Olympics are about. Uniting the world and the country is their purpose, not division.

Tom Joyce (@TomJoyceSports) is a freelance writer who has been published with USA Today, the Boston Globe, Newsday, ESPN, the Detroit Free Press, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Federalist, and a number of other media outlets.

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