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February 27, 2014

Olympics spirit in need of repair

Cooperstown Crier

---- — It is time to rethink what the Olympics ought to be about. 

We were away for much of the games, so we did not see too much. Based on what I have read while traveling, it is just as well. Unfortunately, the Olympic games have traveled the same road as professional sports – too much money, an over abundance of greed on the part of all concerned and, most importantly, a capitulation to jingoism of the worst sort.

I make no bones about my love of sport. I played three sports in high school, lacrosse in college, and continue to admire the dedication, skill, and determination of highly motivated athletes. There is artistry in sport and those who strive to achieve it are worthy of our attention and admiration. Watching a skilled skier negotiate a slalom course at high speeds is as pleasing to me as watching a ballerina pirouette across a stage with elegance and ethereal grace. When a gifted tennis player rips a beautiful one-handed backhand down the line it fills me with something more than mere appreciation – call it vicarious joy. It used to be that we loved sport for itself, for the feelings of accomplishment it can provide us. As a culture it seems as if we have lost touch with the purity of its purpose. It is that purity, that love of sport for its intrinsic rewards that we seem to have lost. And it appears to be an infections disease taking the world by storm.

From time to time I have suggested that there be some changes in various sports to make the whole experience a bit more interesting – and entertaining. For instance, there is nothing remotely remarkable (at least to me) when a six-foot eight or seven-foot tall basketball player dunks the ball. In fact, I find it to be rather boring. It makes sense to me that if all one has to do is reach up a bit, perhaps on one’s tip toes, and thrust the ball down into the net, the ease with which that move occurs should only be worth one point. I would also eliminate the three point shot. Two points used to be good enough – it should have stayed that way. As a rabid tennis fan I would impose a speed limit on the first serve. What makes the game so enjoyable is the variety of shots that occur while the ball is in play. These days all most players do is try to serve aces or just sit back at the baseline and hammer the hardest shots they can at their opponent. It tends to be a sleep-inducing experience for a fan – well, for this fan at least.

I wish for several things that will never happen. But an old sports fan like me can at least dream of a better future. I would love to return to the good old days when only amateur athletes competed. Too much money is spent on building new venues and facilities every four years. Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that so many people are displaced all too dispassionately when governments decide on building sites for the games and raze whole nighborhoods. All that money could be spent on affordable housing, health care, and education. The story of a man in Russia who did not cave to the allure of money is a case in point. Why not build a permanent site for the summer and winter games? Each country could cough up some cash for construction and maintenance. Greece might not be a bad place for the summer games. After all, that it where all this insanity started. I am sure there are suitable sites for the winter games. I would also do away with the silly and morally corrupt practice of keeping tabs on how many medals each country wins, as well as the Niagara Falls of self-serving commentary that spews forth should a team or an individual fall short of expectations. Frankly, I do not care how many medals any country wins. The idea should be to do one’s best, roll with the punches, and then live for another day when things just might turn out better.

I know that none of my suggestions will ever see the light of day. Having floated some of these ideas previously to friends and family, I am inured to the snickers they have elicited. No matter. A man has to stand by his principles. Sport is, or should be, about having some fun, yes, and doing the best that one can in the process. Winning is great, but losing can be much more instructive. It is too bad that we have placed such a heavy burden on winning, on who wins, and who amasses the largest heap of medals.