Amid the controversies over polluted waters, the Zika virus and Brazilian political tumult, there’s another question looming in the run-up to the Rio Olympics next month: Should U.S. athletes boycott?
Some say yes, including ESPN’s “His and Hers” host Michael Smith.
“If I were [an Olympic athlete], I would have serious reservations and conflicting emotions about representing the United States in Rio,” he said on Monday’s show. “I would seriously consider boycotting the Olympics, withdrawing from the Olympics.”
Smith said, while there are plenty of reasons not to go to Rio, including Zika, pollution and other issues, the recent police shootings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, should be at the top of the list for athletes such as Carmelo Anthony and other NBA players, who have spoken out against the violence on social media and whose careers don’t depend on Olympic success.
“I’m not going to put the USA on my chest and bring honor and glory to a country that is not respecting my fellow citizens as human beings with equal protection under the law,” he said. “People are hungry for athletes to speak out and embrace their citizenship.”
Smith’s sentiment was seconded by his ESPN colleague Mike Green, although not necessarily for the same reasons. Green has repeatedly noted his frustrations over Brazil’s lack of readiness for the event, including failures to clean up the waters where the sailing events are to be held.
Executives at NBC, the network that owns the television rights to the Games and would stand to lose the most because of a boycott, are firing back, however, labeling any calls to boycott the Olympics in particular opposed to American sporting events as “hypocritical.”
“So should they not play in Dallas? Should they not play in New Orleans?” NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus told SportingNews.com on Tuesday. “I mean, there’s a lot of horrific things all over the world – including in our country. We’re not perfect. And other countries say the same thing about us. I think it’s a little hypocritical for anybody to say we should try to affect the politics or the culture of another country based on sport – and a peaceful gathering of sport. I don’t admire that point of view.”
Longtime NBC announcer Bob Costas also chimed in.
“We’re hopeful that all these issues, which are real, don’t intrude,” he told SportingNews.com. “On the other hand, we’re prepared to deal with them if they do.”
He added, “We’re certainly going to acknowledge them before we begin because if you don’t, then you’ve buried your head in the sand of Copacabana Beach.”
Costas is referring to a special NBC plans to air on Aug. 4, the night before the Opening Ceremony kicks off the Games. It will cover the problems of Rio that have so far been cited as reasons why athletes have declined to compete.
But if any athletes take Smith’s advice they might need to add a segment about turmoil in the United States.
At press time, no athletes, including Anthony, who called on athletes to speak out against injustice in the wake of last week’s violence, including the Dallas shooting, which resulted in the deaths of five police officers, have said they plan to boycott because of political reasons. (Several athletes, including U.S. golfers Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson, have declined to go citing fears over Zika and other issues.)
On Wednesday, Anthony reiterated his plans to play in the Games, but hinted he will likely use the worldwide stage to draw attention to the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
“In three weeks I’ll travel to Rio with the United States’ Olympic team to perform on a global stage,” he wrote in the Guardian. “For me, I do feel like this is a platform where we should – we as athletes, we as Americans – use it for something. Whether we make a statement out there or send a message, we can show the world that we’re united. Whatever way we want to do it, this is a chance to do something meaningful before an audience of billions. I don’t know what that something is yet, but we still have time to figure it out.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Marissa Payne