PUB PENLike many of you, much of my television time this weekend was spent watching the Olympics. I have to admit that this is probably the first time in years that I have dedicated any time to the games. Part of it has to do with the fact I live in a home with two sports addicts, part of it has to do with the lack of quality television programming and part of it has to do with curiosity.

I honestly started watching to see if the official broadcast would talk about the many problems that are complicating the Rio games or if they would ignore them. It was no surprise the latter was case. During my (admittedly limited) viewing of the different events, I heard nothing about the countless problems connected with the games (lack of working water in the Olympic village, busted sewer lines backing up into athletes’ rooms, limited food in the dining facilities, the cycling bridge collapse, the collapse of the dock for the boating events, etc.) Instead the broadcasts concentrated on the athletes, and that is as it should be. 

It took only a few minutes for me to become riveted to the stories of the athletes – their challenges, their accomplishments and finally, their competition. I am by no means a fan of competitive swimming. It is the one sport my son has never shown any interest in. That did not stop me from quickly becoming immersed in the competition. I was amazed and awed by the sheer power and speed of Katinka Hosszu, the Hungarian swimmer who blew away the world record in the 400-meter individual medley. While I was cheering for the United States’ Maya DiRado, I couldn’t help but cheer the win of Hosszu.

I loved the heart and spirit of Kerri Walsh Jennings, a member of the women’s beach volleyball team. Jennings, at age of 38, has now participated in five Olympic Games and won medals in all of them. She is a world-class athlete, a wife and mother. She puts the last (mother) as her greatest accomplishment. Her spunk and drive make her a favorite – and one that kept me glued to the television.

I also cheered on Michael Phelps as he won his 23rd Gold Medal with his team in the 400-meter relay. For Phelps, the award ceremony may have been old hat, but this Olympics is much more than that. Phelps, who has been in the national spotlight for years, spent much of the past few years battling substance abuse. He made it through that dark period and came back stronger than ever. That strength had to be challenged as controversy swirled over his carrying the American flag during the opening ceremonies. He was given the honor by the American athletes, but those who are pushing a racial agenda, vocally disagreed with the honor noting that because he was a successful, white athlete, he shouldn’t be carrying it instead, they argued that Ibtihaj Muhammad, a fencer, should carry the flag.

In an opinion piece on CNN. Kamau Bell wrote, “It would be a symbol for our country in this moment when we are mostly known for one of the most contentious, controversial, scandal-ridden, hateful, xenophobic, jingoistic, and just generally unlikeable presidential elections in recent memory. This is at a time when we could use some more symbols of unity and togetherness. 

Muhammad carrying the flag would be nearly a one-stop inclusion shop. Muhammad is an African-American, hijab-wearing Muslim woman who is also a world-class fencer. Those are all groups that could use some more love, acceptance and respect from this country. (And yes, I’m including fencers in this group.)”

He went on to write: “Your stepping back will allow this moment to become something bigger than just another opening ceremony. No offense, but right now America has enough tall, successful, rich white guys hogging the spotlight trying to make America great ... again.”

As we all know, Phelps carried the flag – not because he was “tall, successful, rich white guy hogging the spotlight,” but because he is the most decorated Olympic athlete on the American team. He is an athlete who has given his whole life to his sport. He has trained non-stop. He has worked hard to be the competitor he has become. It has not been handed to him. He is not successful because he is white, he is successful because he of his dedication and drive.

As happy as I was that the problems in Rio did not dominate the headlines, I was equally as sad that an athlete, who has earned the right to be in the spotlight, was shoved into an ugly controversy not of his making, and surely not one that he deserved. 

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