This American is proud of our Olympians
I will admit upfront, it did not get off to a good start. Therefore, I would recommend that the U.S. Olympic Committee strongly urge all future team members that politics remain at the water's edge, and to remember that the name that is on the front of their uniform and jersey (and the nation they represent) is ultimately what is most important:
The Women's National Soccer Team, in addition to the losses amassed by Team USA basketball, are in stark contrast to what I have seen take place in Team USA Swimming and Women's Gymnastics. For my family and me, the Tokyo Olympic competition has been "must-see TV." We are enthusiastic about what we have seen, and our faith in America is steady because what is best about America is shining through the tempest.
I know many have disagreed and still do. It's America, after all, so we can do that. I, however, will hope. I am cautiously optimistic (after all, the games aren't over yet), but I will praise the good where I believe it is clearly evident, despite the circumstances precipitating the crisis in leadership and critical individual performances that have been counted on to lift our Team USA.
Here is one man's simple observation: the diversity (yep, I said it!) of so many of the teams is itself a tribute to the founding ideals and the institutionalization of those ideals of the United States of America. Equal opportunities afforded to all our citizens will produce diversity. When coupled with the merit-based selection to Team USA, diversity among participants from a free and non-discriminatory society is a natural consequence.
In televised coverage of Team USA Women's Volleyball, Women's Rugby (oy! those women are tough!), Women's Gymnastics, and all of Team USA Swimming, I see Americans from across the spectrum of America's races and ethnicities. Their biographies indicate that this is not a privileged class of Americans. Many have overcome incredible hardships, found their calling in Olympic-level athletics, and have earned hard-won spots on the Team.
I see unity, esprit-de-corps, and loyalty among team members that deserve praise and predictably lead to success. By contrast, the high-paid, über-wealthy self-centeredness of other Team USA members has not engendered success in their endeavors. We have noticed, and we have been sorely disappointed in their behavior.
We learned early on Tuesday that Simone Biles was stepping away from the team all-around competition and telling her teammates they must continue without her. We dourly awaited the expected implosion and embarrassment. But no! Those ladies are made of tough stuff, their talent and competitive spirit have shown through, and the team earned a surprising (under the circumstances, in my opinion) silver medal. I assert that it was a proud moment for their team and for America. The news that Suni Lee has earned the Olympic gold medal is her victory and one of which we should also be proud as Americans.
Imagine that! Like all great organizations, there was depth on the bench, both in competitive performance and in leadership. I argue that Biles did what she knew was best for her team and best for her, and by stepping away and not bombing her events or, worse yet, sustaining a crippling injury, she enabled her teammates to move forward decisively and succeed.
The commentaries and analysis of Simone Biles stepping away — "quitting" — will continue ad nauseam for some time, so I will join the fray: she's human. Very few of us can comprehend her strength and the talent she must have to compete at such a level, setting new standards of performance for her sport and becoming the Greatest of All Time in Women's Gymnastics. Neither can we comprehend the "gas" needed in the "tank," nor the mental preparation and focus required. She knew she had drained that tank. She's human, and maybe we should be more careful about putting these athletes on a pedestal and demanding they perform to our expectations so we can live vicariously through their success.
I am recommending and advocating that we Americans show more grace, more humility and understanding. Not pity, not sympathy. Just be quiet for a few minutes and chill so "the better angels of our nature" come to the fore and offer these athletes the support they need from us.
Please read and reflect on Theodore Roosevelt's "The Man in The Arena":
Few of us average, everyday Americans will know what it means to have competed and performed at the highest levels ever achieved in human endeavors. We love our sports, and our sports celebrities, but we need to remember we are all human, and so are they.
These athletes have toiled year after year to succeed and attain their coveted places on Team USA, and the level of dedication that is beyond the reach of most of us has been their daily regimen. Even more, to compete and win at the level of competition we witness at Olympic events, among all the world's top athletes, is mind-boggling. The difference between gold, silver, and bronze — or not being on the podium at all — is sometimes less than the blink of an eye.
We will do far better if we let our Team USA athletes know they have our support, and if we can exhibit humility that comes from honestly acknowledging their talent, the grace we should because we are all human, and the understanding that comes from knowing, in our own lives, we fail greatly at far less-noble endeavors.
Jeff M. Lewis is a Christian, a husband and father, a veteran, and a self-employed small business–owner in South Texas.
Image: A group hug for some members of the victorious Women’s Rugby team. YouTube screen grab.
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