I’d like to the think the story running beneath the headline Olympic Athletes Struggle With Protest On Darfur would involve, say, athletes risking life and limb to hang banners of protest from the nearest sports arena. Or putting their physical talents to high-risk use by personally sprinting across a Sudanese no-man’s land to deliver food aid, or something…. What I don’t want to discover is a meek, three-page apology for a bunch of cosseted, nutritionally-enhanced, massaged, over-funded, elite athletes who are currently simpering into their sports drinks because they’re afraid – poor, docile little lambs – that suggesting genocide is a bad thing might cost them a buck.
The opening two paragraphs of the story set a heart-rending scene. Not a refugee camp in the Sudan where women face the choice between risking rape to find fuel to cook for their families or watching their children go hungry, but an oh-so-much-more-poignant dilemma: that of a young American softball player, Jessica Mendoza, torn between banking her Nike payoff or going on record saying ethnic cleansing is wrong.
“Whether speaking to a group of young softball players or plying her teammates with literature, Jessica Mendoza… does not hesitate to speak her mind about the killings in Darfur,” it says breathlessly (brave, brave Mendoza! Giving leaflets to her buddies in the changing room! It’s nothing short of heroic!)“But Mendoza stops short of publicly condemning China… because one of her sponsors, Nike, has a major marketing presence in China.”
Suddenly all is dramatically clear. The unreasonable demands of conscience balanced against the perfectly understandable need to look after her fiscal self-interest. Still, poor Mendoza is doing everything she can. The article continues with the uplifting news that “When she is not in uniform competing, Mendoza plans to wear her Team Darfur wristbands around Beijing.” Whew. There I was thinking for a second that she was just another opportunistic do-gooder, paying lip service to good causes without making any sacrifices. But oh no, not our intrepid Mendoza – she’s going to wear a wristband around Beijing. I bet the militias are disarming as we speak.
To be fair, it seems Mendoza isn’t the only athlete who’s offloaded all unnecessary baggage in the pursuit of success – including morality and a functioning cerebral cortex. Basketball player LeBron James has refused to criticize China over Darfur for fear of endangering a $90M Nike contract. Oh, and apparently it’s okay for lesser-known athletes to cop out of taking a stand because the Olympics are “their one time every four years to make money.”
God forbid anyone should be so narrow minded, so unresponsive to the needs of badminton players or synchronized swimmers or whatever as to suggest that human lives might be a little more valuable than them getting a water-bottle endorsement contract.
The moral monstrosity of this pitiful “discussion” is eye-watering. Pathetic equivocations like “There’s a time and place for the issues and causes… the Olympic Games and politics don’t go together,” make me want to shriek. What the fuck is wrong with these people? Have their iron-rich diets so hopelessly warped their moral compasses that they really don’t see anything wrong with sitting back in their paid-for Olympic Village suite swigging protein shakes while people are being slaughtered in Sudan? Would they be so fucking complacent if it were their families living precariously in refuge camps as the world disintegrated into hell on earth around them? Would they be so complacent if it were white people suffering? Hell no.
The only person who comes out of this article looking like he has a soul is Angolan basketball player Emanuel Neto who says, “It doesn’t matter… what will happen to me. What matters… is that something has to be done.”
Too fucking right something has to be done. For starters, how ‘bout we call off the quadrennial orgy of smug jingoism and homage to steroid use that is the Olympics and spend a few of the billions poured into it feeding some of the children who are dying at a rate of 70 per day in Darfur? Or is that a little too radical for those nice, wristband sporting athletes and their “struggle”? Lord knows, no child’s life is worth losing your supply of free sneakers over.