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At the Rio Olympics: A Brave Stand, Speaking Truth, and Ugly Americans

August 30, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us


Notes from the Rio Olympics:

A Brave Stand

Feyisa Lilesa, from Ethiopia, won the silver medal in the men's marathon race. As he crossed the finish line, he crossed his arms to form an "X"—a symbol of defiance against the Ethiopian government and in support of the Oromo people, an oppressed ethnic group in Ethiopia.* Lilesa repeated the act in a press conference after the race and said he would repeat it at the medal ceremony later. He told reporters he faced being killed for doing so if he returns home after the Games. At the press conference, he said: "The Ethiopian government is killing my people, so I stand with all protests anywhere [referring to the nine-month protest movement of the Oromo people], as Oromo is my tribe. My relatives are in prison and if they talk about democratic rights they are killed." (The Independent, August 21, 2016)

Speaking Truth

Simone Manuel, a swimmer from the United States, won a gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle and the 4x100-meter medley, and silver in the 50-meter freestyle and the 4×100-meter freestyle relay. She is the first African-American woman to win an Olympic individual swimming event. Afterwards she talked about how her victory was special in the context of "ongoing race issues in the U.S." She said, "It means a lot, especially with what is going on in the world today, some of the issues of police brutality. This win hopefully brings hope and change to some of the issues that are going on. My color just comes with the territory." She also said, "Coming into the race I tried to take weight of the black community off my shoulders. It's something I carry with me. I want to be an inspiration, but I would like there to be a day when it is not 'Simone the black swimmer.'" (USA Today, August 12, 2016)

U.S. swimmer Anthony Ervin won a gold medal in the men's 50-meter freestyle. At 35 years old, he is the oldest-ever Olympic swimming gold medal winner. On Democracy Now! he talked about having a Black father and a white Jewish mother and was asked to comment about Black people being killed by the police. He said he was "definitely afraid to speak out... Like I do so fearfully of the repercussion that comes at me because of it," but said, "The plight of being—I mean, just the morale of being Black in America has got to be—it's got to be terrifying if you see those lights [police car's red lights] coming at you, because you don't know what's going to happen. You really—you want someone who's just trying to do their job and is a good person, but what they don't want is just someone who's going to come take your life." (Democracy Now!, August 16, 2016)

Ugly Americans

Ryan Lochte won some medals in Rio as part of the U.S. swim team. But his biggest medal was a gold in the Ugly American Race. He showed up in Rio with a $25,000 diamond- and ruby-encrusted American flag dental grill and every time you saw him on TV when he was not swimming, he was shown grinning, wearing this despicable thing. Then after the swim events were over, Lochte and three others on the U.S. swim team took their cocky frat boy American mentality out into the streets of Rio. It's not clear exactly what happened, but safe to say the four drunk athletes trashed a public bathroom at a gas station in Rio de Janeiro and pissed all over it—and security guards detained them and demanded they pay for the damage. Then Lochte and his teammates just completely lied about what happened—saying they were robbed at gunpoint by the cops. Later the ugly truth came out—after Lochte had quickly gotten on a plane and high-tailed it back to the USA. Lochte is now, as a New York Post article put it, a symbol of "everything the world hates about Americans."

Hope Solo, the goalie on the U.S. Olympic women's soccer team, showed up in Rio after tweeting a picture of herself wearing a big mosquito net helmet, holding a bottle of insecticide. Maybe she thought this was funny, but fans in Brazil thought this was disrespectful and chanted, "Zika, Zika, Zika" every time Solo touched the ball in her matches. Then when Sweden beat the U.S. in the quarterfinals, Solo put on her pouty face and in typical USA, USA sore loser fashion said, "We played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today... The Americans were better than Sweden and should have won." (Solo was later given a six-month suspension from the U.S. women's national soccer team for her comments.)

A Disappointing Backing Down...

Carmelo Anthony, who plays for the New York Knicks, went to Rio as part of the U.S. Olympic basketball team. Carmelo has been outspoken about police brutality. He marched in Baltimore when Freddie Gray was murdered. He defended the women in the WNBA (Women's National Basketball Association) when they were attacked for wearing shirts protesting police brutality. After the police murders of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge and Philando Castile in Minneapolis, he spoke out about high-profile athletes effecting meaningful change. He tweeted out, "There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone." At ESPN's annual sports award show, Carmelo and other NBAers called on other athletes to exert their influence. Anthony then hinted that he and others on the U.S. Olympic basketball team would make a political statement about police brutality. He said, "On the biggest stage you can possibly play on and have that voice, represent something that's bigger than us 12 players." Before the Olympics began, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who raised their clinched fists, protesting the oppression of Black people when they won medals at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, said, "I would hope that they circumvent the circumstances of society and digest it and do what they feel is necessary for them to help alleviate the pain of so many people, not just in the United States, but around the world."

But when the U.S. basketball team got up on the podium to get the gold medal—they did NOTHING!! Except just stand there with their hands over their hearts singing the national anthem. And when Carmelo Anthony was interviewed right after the game, he channeled a fucking Trumpism, saying, "I believe that American can be great again." Well Carmelo, we have to tell you America Has Never Been Great! And as you yourself said: "There's NO more sitting back and being afraid of tackling and addressing political issues anymore. Those days are long gone."

* The Oromo people are the single-largest ethnic group both in Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa and make up one-third of Ethiopia’s population of 100 million. Starting in 2014, the Oromo people protested their lands being taken by the government. The government has annexed Oromo land, evicted farmers from the ancestral lands, and banned the Oromo culture and language. After mass Oromo protests in late 2015, the Ethiopian government labeled the Oromo people as terrorists. On August 9 this year, 200 protests that included hundreds of thousands of people took place in the Oromia region. The government used brutal force against the protesters, killing at least 100, according to Amnesty International.  Human Rights Watch, which has criticized the Ethiopian government, and estimates 400 people have been killed “in a brutal regime response to the Oromo protests since late last year.” Despite human rights groups depicting Ethiopia as a brutal police state and calling out “the systematic marginalization and persecution of ethnic Oromos,” President Obama, in his 2016 visit to Ethiopia, “doubled down on previous endorsements by administration officials by describing the government as 'democratically-elected.’” (“Oromo protests: Why US must stop enabling Ethiopia,” by Awol K. Allo, Special to CNN, August 9, 2016) [back]


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