Virtue-signaling tennis networks erase players' flags
As I relaxed on my sofa to watch the opening round of the Australian Tennis Open on ESPN+, I noticed that during some of the matches, the score box at the lower left-side of the screen had some blank white boxes that normally displayed the flag of the player's country. The blank white boxes were next to players from Russia and Belarus. Then I went on the NBC Sports website to check on scores, and after each name on the brackets the player's country was abbreviated in parentheses — except for players from Russia and Belarus. I then checked the official Australian Open results page, and all of the players except the Russians and Belarusians had their country's flags displayed next to their names. And now, Tennis Australia has banned Russian and Belarusian flags at the open. The Russians and Belarusians at the Melbourne tennis center are apparently players without a country.
The incidents that led to banning the Russian and Belarusian flags occurred after Daniil Medvedev from Russia defeated Marcos Giron from the United States. Fans held a Russian flag for Medvedev to sign, which he did. Later, Vasyl Myroshnychenko, Ukraine's ambassador to Australia, took to Twitter to "strongly condemn" the public display of the Russian flag at Ukrainian player Kateryna Baindi's match. Others on Twitter called for banning Russian and Belarusian players from the tournament, just as they were banned at Wimbledon last year.
The ostensible motive behind these moves is obvious enough — to show solidarity with the Ukrainian people, who are the victims of Russia's invasion, and to symbolically condemn Russia for the invasion. Another motive of those concealing the two countries' flags, however, is likely the desire to do something to punish Russia and Belarus so they can feel good about themselves. This is something that liberals — but not just liberals — love to do. It shows the world that they "care." It places them on the "right side of history." It's kind of like Jimmy Carter refusing to light the White House Christmas tree after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. It doesn't really accomplish anything or help the Ukrainian people, but at least they know that Tennis Australia and NBC sports are on their side.
Of course, the Russian and Belarusian tennis players had nothing to do with Putin's invasion of Ukraine any more than American tennis players had anything to do with George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq or Ronald Reagan's invasion of Grenada or Lyndon Johnson's invasion of the Dominican Republic. Had the "world community" condemned those invasions, perhaps U.S. tennis players would be flagless during tournaments. And perhaps there are some American tennis players who, like some of their counterparts in the NFL, would not mind a little disrespect for the flag. (I don't recall any U.S. tennis players kneeling for our National Anthem, but I may have missed such incidents.) But the point is that a person can love his country without loving his country's government.
In his book The Mortal Danger: How Misconceptions about Russia Imperil America, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn urged Americans to distinguish between Russians and the communist regime that ruled Russia. "Russia," he wrote, "is to the Soviet Union as a man is to the disease afflicting him." Solzhenitsyn witnessed what the communist regime did to Russians and other nationalities it ruled — it enslaved them, brutalized them, starved them, and killed them by the millions. The average Russian who simply and quite naturally loves his country and has an "inborn feeling of patriotism" did not, as the Soviet regime did, "hold other nations captive ... keep Eastern Europe encaged ... seize and arm far-off lands."
Solzhenitsyn was one of Russia's greatest patriots and also one of the greatest opponents of the Soviet regime that ruled Russia. In his book The Russian Question at the End of the Twentieth Century, he defined patriotism as the "unqualified and unwavering love for the nation, which implies not uncritical eagerness to serve, not support for unjust claims, but frank assessment of its vices and sins." Solzhenitsyn never stopped loving Russia even as he used his voice and powerful pen to undermine the Soviet regime's legitimacy.
Presumably, Russian and Belarusian tennis players love their country the way most Chinese, Cubans, Iranians, Australians, and Americans love theirs. A country is more than its current government. It is culture, traditions, customs, foods, language, neighborhoods, places of worship, family relationships, rivers, lakes, the soil, and memories. Citizens can love all of those things without loving their government. Russia is not the Putin regime, and Belarus is not the Lukashenko regime, just as in Solzhenitsyn's time, Russia was not the Soviet regime. That's something to think about before trying to symbolically separate tennis players from their flags and nations.
Image via Public Domain Pictures.