Of course this was before his connection with the dreadful Kardashians, the shaved adam’s apple, the “Rachel” haircut, and the Sophia Lauren sunglasses. Back then, he was an uber-stud of the first order. If I close my eyes, I can still see the video of him waving the American flag during his victory lap after winning the ‘76 Decathlon, officially anointing him as the Greatest Athlete in the World.
Being pre-pubescent and all, it wasn’t sexual, although I do remember his thick, hairy thighs in his red Team USA short-shorts (okay, maybe it was a little sexual), but it was most definitely worshipful. He represented to me not only everything manly and athletic and American. That moment also cemented my lifelong love of the Olympics.
I was crushed four years later when Jimmy Carter pulled the US out of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow. Then 14, I was still not mature enough to understand the political necessity of the US abstaining from those games, which had become an imperative due to the ethnic cleansing and repression that was taking place all over the Soviet bloc. All I knew was I was being robbed of an opportunity to watch my favorite sporting event, one that only came around every four years. I was bitter with President Carter, and didn’t understand what politics had to do with the Olympics.
Although my parents were (and are) staunch Republicans, they supported Carter’s action. Even though I grew up in a sports-crazy household, with a father who put sports performance above nearly anything, he was also a first generation American from one of those countries behind the oppressive Iron Curtain.
As a Ukrainian-American whose father had fled to the West at the time of the Russian Revolution and the advent of communism, my dad understood how repressive and dangerous the totalitarian government in the USSR was. [So much so that he always made sure that if people asked where we were from, we were never to say the Soviet Union and to always say Ukraine.] While he loved sports more than life itself, he grudgingly had to agree that the US sending a contingent to Moscow in 1980 was a bad idea and bad politics.
But I was shattered. I sulked for weeks. Of course I was a 14-year-old, and a fairly moody one at that. Sulking was part of my vocabulary.
Thirty some years later (I’ll let you do the math), another piece of video has been burned into my subconscious. Although it took me several attempts to actually get through it. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It has been placed on YouTube by a disingenuously named Russian group called Occupy Pedophilia. It features some of the most barbaric, disgusting, and frightening bullying, humiliation, abuse and assault I’ve ever seen.
It simultaneously and deeply touches both the bullied gay child and the full grown man in me. (The latter would like to take a brick to the side of the head of the leader of this hate-group. I’d like to see how he’d do against someone his own size. Bigger, actually.) Defenseless gay men—obviously chosen because they can’t defend themselves—are terrorized for the enjoyment of these thugs.
Of course, homophobia and gay bashing are not new concepts. The difference here is that this is state-sanctioned bashing. The draconian laws put in place by Vladimir Putin have created an environment where this sort of naked, egregious neo-Nazism has been allowed to be played out in full view.
Imagine, if you will, a slightly different scenario: the president of a world power that is about to host the Olympics announces that people in his country are not allowed to say anything in support of integration or racial tolerance (not such an arcane idea for Russia, by the way). As a result, fringe groups arise in this atmosphere and racial minorities are terrorized, abused and murdered.
The world community would piss in its pants. Try to tell me that the US State Department, the Executive Branch (in my fictitious example) and the USOC wouldn’t swiftly and immediately pull the US delegation from that country’s Olympic Games.
But American gay men who “really like” the Olympic games are turning a blind eye to all of that, so they can coo over downhill races and double axels. I’m sorry. I just don’t get it. Yes, innocent athletes would be penalized for something they didn’t do, but not nearly as much as the dead, missing and wounded young gay men of Russia.
Where is your outrage? Does your viewing enjoyment really take precedence over ignoring the crimes of an oppressive, abusive regime so you can live vicariously through a healthy, fortunate athlete from a free country?
I love sports. I’ve played lots of different ones my whole life. But sports aren’t as important as liberty and freedom. Thirty-eight years later, going to the Russian Olympics is still a bad idea, and it’s still bad politics.
This long-time lover of the Olympics will not be watching a single second of these Games.