Dominating the world one Gold medal at a time

By Joel Ebert

The obsession that some people have over the Olympics confuses me. I am not anti-American, but sometimes I wonder if people are rooting for the American team for the right reasons.

Allow me to digress.

Occasionally I run into people that I enjoy talking sports with. Seeing as how I live in Chicago, I mostly run into people that want to talk about whatever sport is in season. There are so many Cubs fans right now that you wouldn’t even believe it.

On occasion though, I run into Chicago Bulls fans. We reminisce about the 90s and Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (sometimes Dennis Rodman) and their dominance over the NBA for six years. The thing that strikes me odd about this is not that people stopped liking the Bulls when Michael Jordan left, but that people seemed to stop liking them when their dominance was over, although this coincided with Jordan’s exit.

I don’t exclude myself from this observation. I especially lost interest once Jordan and Co. dismantled; leaving a team of mediocrity that was in place for the same amount of time as the one that was dominant - six years. The seasons between 1998/99 and 2003/04 were among the worst seasons (record wise) the Bulls have played in their entire franchise.

And then suddenly the 2004-2005 season catapulted them back into the playoffs and coincidentally, popularity. For the past three seasons now there has been a level of excitement surrounding the Bulls that have not been seen since the Jordan era. Once again, I am not immune to this. At some point in the 2007 season I found myself at a local bar watching one or two playoff games that the Bulls were in. This is especially odd because I probably didn’t watch more than five minutes worth of basketball since that wonderful 1997/98 season when the Bulls won their sixth title.

This all occurred to me as I began doing some research on the 2008 US Olympic Basketball team. With a team featuring a host of NBA superstars including LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, and Dwayne Wade, there has been much excitement surrounding it. Some people have even called this the Redeem Team (an obvious take on the 1992 Dream Team which featured M.J., Larry Byrd, Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson) because of the failings of the US Olympic basketball team in three previous Olympic competitions. And by failings I mean their inability to win the Gold medal.

So now all of the sudden, perhaps because of the Olympic team, we may see a surge in basketball fans. But I am pretty sure that this will only happen if they win the Gold. If they fall anywhere short, it will be seen as a disappointment.

Now I’m wondering if this is such a good idea – to break things down into such extremities. Why is it that we feel disappointed when our team does not succeed in the fullest capacity possible?

I will come back to this question later.

It seems to me that there are two types of sports fans:

1) The type of fan that enjoys the actual sport and who may or may not like a particular team for one reason. Reason may include physical location or personal upbringing.

2) The type of fan that claims to enjoy a particular team but whom only passively enjoys the actual sport.

The major difference between these types of fans is where their allegiance lies – in the team or in the sport. You can determine whether you or someone you know fall into which category by asking yourself a simple question: If the I watch most often was the worst team in the league/division/conference/etc for several years, would I continue to watch/follow/like them?

You should be able to figure out what type of fan you are by answering this question.

Now let us go back to the question I asked above. Why is it that we feel disappointed when our team does not succeed in the fullest capacity possible?

Perhaps one of the reasons (and most likely not the definitive reason) is because when the team that you support fails, you in essence fail along with them. And when the team succeeds, we succeed with them. This is exactly why I think so many people are excited about the 2008 Olympic basketball team and to a larger extent why so many Americans enjoy watching the Olympics.

We inherently desire our team to succeed because it ultimately reflects on our nation. Winning a gold medal says not only that we have dominated in one sport over the rest of the world; it also gives us that feeling of dominance over the rest of the world that we felt for so many years.

Looking at the sluggish economy, the weakening US dollar, highly disputed foreign policies, and a much despised President, the United States is viewed today as less dominant in the world than it used to be. So we look for successes and dominance in any form we can get them. This may secretly be the reason why so many Americans will glue their heads and hearts to the US Olympic team this summer. Not because they love the sport that they are watching, but because they are yearning for American dominance in one form or another.

And honestly, I can’t say I blame anyone that may feel this way. I’m not saying we need to dominate the world, but it would be nice to be a leader in the world again, and perhaps an Olympic Gold medal will push us in the right direction.


Justin Massa said...

Earlier this year I had a chance to spend one evening at the boxing tournament at UIC. It was the last qualifying event for boxing before this summer's games and there were boxers from more than 100 countries competing for just a handful of spots.

I'm definitely not a "rah rah USA" kind of guy. It's not that I'm unpatriotic, I've just never gotten excited about waving a flag or chanting my country's name, at least until I went to the tournament.

It's fair to say that I'm a serious boxing fan, and while I was familiar with the few standouts on the American, Russian, and Chinese teams most of the competitors were completely unknown to me. I was rooting for my countrymen simply because, maybe for the first time in my life, I felt completely safe expressing my patriotism by chanting and waving a flag.

Anonymous said...

you have an interesting point, but I wonder if wanting to win has nothing to do with dominance. Maybe people - human beings - like to win simply because they want to know that they have mastered something they've learned to do. In other words, maybe success is the fruits of your labor.

And whats wrong with that? You exchange the word dominance with the word success, how come?
And in doing so, you suggest that striving for success is a bad thing.

I want America to succeed, just as I want to succeed in my personal life.
What's wrong with that?

Joel Ebert said...

Replying to the above post - I don't think that there is anything wrong with enjoying the fruits of labor.But what I disagree with is simply feeling like anyone should root only for the home team's successes. I am saying that if your stress is on the ability to allow someone to enjoy the fruits of labor, then it should not matter who wins because in essence everyone is working to win (succeed).

But my argument is that we inherently want the home team to win because there is something inside us all that says Hey, thats where I am from, go team (ie go me). It gives us self assurance that our rooting for that particular team was worth our blood, sweat, and tears ie enjoying the fruits of their (and our) labor.

I also want America to succeed, but this can be dangerous because it may insinuate that I am ok with everyone else's failures. This global competition for crowning success is really, to me, just a really unusual way to argue about who is the best (as if that argument could ever really be settled) and I don't know if that is such a productive thing.

I am basically making a comment saying that it is not wrong to root for the US team in the Olympics but I am trying to make an argument as to one of the many reasons we may do this.

And I may very well be wrong.

pnutgallery said...

I think that nationalism is becoming less and less significant. There are athletes on the US team that have been living in the US for less than a decade.

This is a globalized Olympics- Will a "world is flat" Olympics become less jingoistic and rather be about what it was intended to be about when it was created in ancient Greece- pushing the physical limits of the human body and mind?

When I watch these athletes I will marvel at their discipline, drive and focus to be the best that they can be. I really could care less whether they are American.