An Olympic Cynic

Why do we root for Olympic athletes?

The easy answer, of course, is that they’re representing our country. It would be unpatriotic not to root for Apollo Ohno.

But let’s challenge that easy answer today. Think about it. What, if anything, does speed skating have to do with helping America? Isn’t it really just entertainment? Why are these “heroes” important to us?

Is someone who can swim 50 yards really fast an American hero? Is someone who can ski well an American icon? If I can dance on ice with a partner better than anyone else, am I improving our country?

Perhaps I’m just a cynic, but I really don’t get it. I just want things called as they are. Olympic athletes are entertainers. Most of them are of a privileged, elite class that can afford expensive facilities and famous Russian coaches. Every four years they’re featured on TV so NBC can make a lot of money.

And yes, if you watch Olympic TV, you can’t help but be inspired and feel “patriotic.” There are some good stories to be told. Maybe you get excited when you check the medal board and see that America is number one. We’re number one at what, though? People who can dance on ice? Why are these people idolized?

Like I said, these athletes are entertainers, just like any athlete. But if you’re looking for an American hero…well, frankly, I don’t even know what an American hero looks like anymore. You can live the America dream by starting your own business. You can become an American legend by becoming a politician or a president. You can be an American icon by being a movie star. You can defend America by joining the army.

I’d have to say that a true American hero is a rare breed. Someone who has earned what they have in an honest and ethical manner, is responsible for their lives and the lives they affect, and seeks to improve their situation and the situation of the people around them (and people they don’t even know).

What is an American hero to you?