The United States Doesn’t Deserve Any Gold Medals These Days

The London Olympic Games were a hit, and I enjoyed them. But I also found them disturbing.

On the one hand, I was proud of our athletes, their accomplishments and commitment, their courage and hard work.

On the other hand, however–and specifically with our Olympians’ repeated successes foremost in my mind—I felt ashamed.

I was ashamed and frustrated that as incredibly and admirably as our athletes performed on stage after stage, in contest after contest, they didn’t represent us. Not really. Not today.

If the gold-winning U.S. Women’s Gymnastics team was truly representative of “us” as in U.S. or the U.S., they wouldn’t even have medalled. These days we’re not first, second or third in any rankings of real consequence, much less champions of good causes or fair outcomes. And the last thing a team representing us would have been is united or working together towards common goals. Petty dissension would have split their ranks. Some of the athletes would have demanded to see Gabby Douglas’s birth certificate or accused Kyla Ross of being a Manchurian Candidate planted in the line-up to sabotage the team’s chances.

If the U.S. Men’s 4 x 100M Freestyle Relay Swim Team was truly representative of us, they wouldn’t have won the silver medal in London. Bitterness and suspicion over accusations that Cullen Jones was only in the mix due to Affirmative-Action measures probably would have crippled the team’s efforts and made team members doubt and/or resent one another rather than strive collectively towards positive results. And the fact that they only won silver surely demonstrates the point. Blame for the 2nd place showing can obviously be laid at the feet of the “other” who tainted the squad; surely if the group had been more homogeneous, they would have brought home the gold.

If the U.S. Men’s Diving Team was truly representative of us, David Boudia wouldn’t have won gold in the 10-meter platform dive and Troy Dumais and Kristian Ipsen wouldn’t have earned bronzes in the 3-meter synchronized diving competition. All three men were mentored by openly gay, HIV-positive Olympic diving legend, Greg Louganis. You and I discourage homosexuality and would never concede that gay folks have anything of worth, value or decency to convey to the young people in our communities, much less the sports they participate in. We’d prefer diving into the nearest Chick-Fil-A to join the rest of the righteous, even if it meant losing, because that’s how we Holy roll.

Make no mistake. The 2012 U.S. Olympic Team was not representative of us; they were better than us.

Team work. Trust. Shared sacrifice. Ethnic diversity. Sexual tolerance. Unity in the face of challenge, adversity, competition, difficulty. Cuban-Americans, Jamaican-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc., etc. A wildly diverse group working together without suspicion or derision or someone holding up signs that say God hates this group or that. Immigrants and the descendants of immigrants–champions assembled from the tired, poor and huddled masses (wretched refuse from a thousand teeming shores) sharing the toil and rewards without fear- and hate-mongers demanding to see their papers or making it more difficult for them to participate in the process because of the color of their skin.

I had to stop myself when I began feeling pangs of pride as our Olympians excelled in London because I knew it was a pleasant mirage, an aberration. My country no longer believes in greatness or team work. The current levels of ignorance and close-mindedness that govern (and are encouraged by many of those who govern) this nation preclude it from golden accolades, particularly in terms of greatness and team work. And what our athletes did in London was just a dream—an Olympic dream. A dream our athletes work hard towards but many of us don’t even aspire to, much less condone.

While we sat there cheering our Olympians in London day after day, it never occurred to us that some of them represent the very same folks we’re trying to take our country back from.

We no longer observe the ideals this nation was founded on or that kept it strong. And we no longer deserve the richness and diversity that those ideals afforded us.

We’re not medalling these days. We’re meddling with the ideas and processes that made America great. And we’re doing it for petty political points.

Unfortunately, there are no Olympic events for political expedience.

E.R. Bills is a writer from Aledo, Texas and the author of Texas Obscurities: Stories of the Peculiar, Exceptional and Nefarious (History Press, 2013). He can be reached at: erbillsthinks@gmail.com. Read other articles by E.R..