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Friday, August 22, 2008

America's Watching... Don't Drop the Baton

Dag nabbit! I think as I the final runner on the USA drops the baton and sufficiently leaves me and the other folks crowded around the screen at our vineyard condo sufficiently gagging. For the first time in Olympics history both the men and women’s relay team dropped the baton, disqualifying themselves from the finals. They basically gave Jamaica an all access pass to the gold, which is great considering that the Jamaican track team and it’s star Usain Bolt are phenomenal. Of course, the Black woman in me applauds any person of color that seizes gold.

Nevertheless, I can’t help but consider the political implications as we are in the heat of political season, and everything seems to carry a political implication. But let’s consider this scenario. The USA track team (like basketball) historically has been dominated by African American athletes. In the unspoken, but earnestly implied, competition for gold metals between Chinese and the USA, the track team was a dependable deliverer. Track… it’s just our sport. So considering that Chinese athletes have showed up to show out at their Olympics, there was a conspicuous pressure on the track team to perform. Their success meant national glory. And this shouldn’t have been an unrealistic expectation as commentators have remarked that the team assembled in Oregon this year is one of the strongest yet. Nevertheless star after star incredibly underperformed. Tyson Gaye injured himself upon arrival, ruining his chances at Gold. Shayna showed up ‘flossing’ with her new 5 caret engagement ring, the un-aerodynamic Flo-Jo weave, and flashy gear and in the final second, was completely swept out of her lead. (I have to wonder where her mind was) Lolo fell to her knees when in less than a second a misled hurdle carried her from 1st to 7th position. Ouch. And then back to back, both relay teams dropped the baton in the final stretch.

The word in every commentators mouth was “leadership”. How had the coaches failed the athletes? But I think the subliminal message that national audiences may have unintentionally (I think) received was leadership of the presidential kind, and how it might fail the nation. The Blacks dropped the ball. Literally. They underperformed when it mattered most, failing to seize the gold for the country… Would another brown person in a position of power do the same? I couldn’t help but wonder if there were some American viewing audiences drawing their own political interpretations from the track madness. Or not. It’s just at thought.

My analysis is that the relay goof up reflects a lack of solidarity. Pride we have. We are proud to be a part of this great country despite its shortcomings. But Americans don’t have the same solidarity as other nations. We don’t grow up feeling a natural affinity, or kinship even to our fellow country men. It is the “melting pot’s” double edged sword. And as running in an innately individual sport, to me, what was lacking on that team was true solidarity and the focused cooperation that accompanies it. But I can’t help but think back to 1968 Olympics when runners Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed the Black Power Salute during the medal ceremony. It demonstrated a solidarity with those Black Americans at home struggling for their civil rights. Smith later said "If I win, I am American, not a black American. But if I did something bad, then they would say I am a Negro. We are black and we are proud of being black. Black America will understand what we did tonight." I wonder, was this sort of solidarity present on that field last night, forty years later? Perhaps not. And perhaps some will argue that it doesn’t have to be.
In the grand scheme of things, when the pressure is on and America is watching, please don’t drop the ba(ll)ton.


TheUltimate said...


Good post, but I'd like to point out that you're incorrect in your claim that Usain Bolt and the rest of the Jamaican team "all train in the States." In fact, Usain, Asafa Powell, and Shelly-Ann Fraser, to name a few, all train in Jamaica.

"Ike" said...

Thanks so much for the correction. I will make an edit.