Should The Olympics End?

People are starting to talk openly about whether the Olympics — the celebrated get-together, every four years, of athletes from countries around the world, to participate in summer and winter sports — should just end.

Some of the stated reasons for looking to end the entire Olympics experiment are listed in this piece by Charles Lane of the Washington Post. The Olympics often are hosted by countries that are not exactly paragons of freedom and tolerance — like Russia, which will host the Winter Olympics in a few weeks. The Olympics are corrupt; some athletes cheat by taking banned substances, and the members of Olympic committees allegedly are influenced by bribes or lavish treatment. The Olympics exacerbate mindless nationalism. The Olympics are an inviting target for terrorism.

I know that many athletes, particularly in sports that don’t attract much public attention, view the Olympics as providing their one chance at glory. Americans who win a gold medal, even if it is in some obscure sport like curling, can always say that, at that moment in time, they were the best in the world. And there is no doubt that athletic competition can bring people together.

But the ideal has, I think, largely been lost. The Olympics are so soaked in money that they can’t really claim to present the pure athletic competition that was the original Olympic dream. And it’s not just TV revenue and endorsements, either. Host countries go bankrupt trying to provide the facilities needed to provide venues for the dozens and dozens of sports in which competition occurs and trying to one-up the last host country for the events. If you lived in a city vying for the Olympic Games, what would you rather spend your money on — roads, bridges, and schools, or high-ended, limited utility sports venues that go unused when your three weeks in the spotlight ends?

The Olympics seems like a silly, wasteful luxury to me. I’d be perfectly content if the United States never hosted the Olympics again.

Life Lessons On A Cold And Snowy Night

About 50 years ago, on a bitterly cold and snowy night in Akron, Ohio, I learned two valuable lessons.

Grandma and Grandpa Neal had taken UJ and me to a University of Akron basketball game. When we walked back to the car after the game we saw that it had snowed, and Grandpa’s gigantic Oldsmobile 98 was half-buried under the blowing and drifting snow. He tried to clear away the snow, but it was obvious from the sound of spinning tires that he was stuck — and there was no way that two elderly people and two little boys were going to shove that 3,000-pound tank to a clear spot.

Fortunately, before we knew it our car was surrounded by college students and other men who had gone to the game. They lowered their shoulders and bent to the task, rocking the car as Grandpa slowly accelerated. At one point a student next to the passenger side rapped at the window, looked in at Grandma, and said: “Is it warm in there?” It made her laugh, and it was a line she recalled with a smile for the rest of her life. After a few more rocks we were over the hump and free. Grandpa got out, thanked the men, they wished us a cheery good night, and we drove off.

The first lesson — essential if you want to live in the Midwest — is how to free a car that is stuck in the snow. You don’t gun the engine and floor it; you’ll just dig yourself deeper and never get out. You need to work with your helpers, patiently going back and forth by incremental degrees, to rock the car out of the rut. And when your car is free, you need to be careful not to coat the Good Samaritans who helped you with a spray of snow and slush as you pull away.

The second lesson is that there are good people out there who help complete strangers who need help, no strings attached. Now, when I see someone who needs a hand — a neighbor whose car can’t make it up their icy driveway, or a Mom whose station wagon got stuck when taking her kids sledding — I think of those nice men who assisted us so long ago and always stop and do what I can to help them out. The Good Samaritans are still out there, and we should all strive to be one of them.