By DERON SNYDER
The 2016 Rio Olympics provided many feel-good moments, from Simone Biles to Katie Ledecky, Michael Phelps to Allyson Felix and a host of unfamiliar names contributing to the United States’ medal count.
But now the party is over and everyone goes home. Except the hosts. They’re left with the bill, an enormous clean-up job and probably some regret. While the rest of the world boards return flights to their day-to-day existence, many Brazilians face bad conditions made worse by the Olympic Games.
NBC’s cameras won’t capture the heartwarming tale of 80,000 displaced residents moving on with their disrupted lives. There will be no touching vignettes about public servants missing paychecks, state universities being on strike or police lacking the resources to keep their vehicles on the road.
The crime, pollution, poverty and corrupt won’t be a poignant segment by Bob Costas, just an ongoing story on Brazilian newscasts.
All of us who watched and cheered during the Games should feel a twinge of guilt and a little dirty for supporting the International Olympic Committee’s fleecing of yet another host. Brazil estimated that it would spend about $3 billion in costs directly related to the event; the final bill is expected to be around $12 billion officially (though some experts put the true cost at closer to $20 billion).
You think that money would’ve been better spent on – I don’t know – improved education, affordable housing, upgraded healthcare, enhanced sanitation and urgent social services for the less well-off? Or any number of matters more relevant than shiny medals?
Yet we see the cycle repeated time and again as the IOC fishes for new Olympic hosts, as if previous sites outlive their usefulness the moment the flame is extinguished. In the IOC’s version of an arms race, the goal is to land increasingly higher bids from potential hosts willing to make horrendous business decisions for the sake of “Olympic glory.”
Sort of like the deals U.S. cities often make for “civic pride” when they build new stadiums for billionaires who own sports teams.
By DERON SNYDER
“Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain’t I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man – when I could get it – and bear the lash as well! And ain’t I a woman?”
— Former-slave-turned-abolitionist Sojourner Truth delivering her “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech at the Women’s Convention in Akron, Ohio in 1851.
South African runner Caster Semenya is making a similar argument, for different reasons, 165 years later. Questions about her are uncomfortable, unfortunate and unnecessary.
A favorite to win gold Saturday at the Rio Olympics in the 800 meters, Semenya has been forced to state her case since catapulting onto the scene in Berlin as an unknown teenager at the 2009 World Championships. The international track community publically and privately debated her very essence. That surely was a confounding and exceedingly painful ordeal for an 18-year-old from a rural village. But it was only the beginning.
“Just look at her,” Russia’s Mariya Savinova said after finishing fifth in Berlin. A writer in The New Yorker magazine used the term “breathtakingly butch” to describe Semenya.
She wasn’t cast into the spotlight solely because her appearance is much more masculine than traditionally feminine-looking women. Semenya became a controversial figure because her leaked sex-verification tests reportedly revealed that she had three times the amount of testosterone typically found in an average woman.
Performance-enhancing drugs weren’t to blame. Her “crime” is the natural result of hyperandrogenism, which creates abnormally high levels of testosterone in women. Semenya has never confirmed that she has the condition, but it’s the widely held belief of medical experts and others who have followed her case.
By DERON SNYDER
As proponents of sports, we’re quick to list the valuable lessons imparted by athletics.
Competition provides instruction on teamwork, discipline, commitment, dedication and sportsmanship. Participants (and spectators, vicariously) experience sweet victories and bitter defeats, which serve as classwork on appreciation and perspective.
Unfortunately, some folks prefer to skip certain sections of sports education, like topics that can bring discomfort and cause uneasiness. Subjects that can stir negative emotions and painful memories. Courses that come with a mirror and require self-reflection, examination and evaluation.
But we do ourselves a disservice if we avoid the totality that sports offers. That’s like attending college and enrolling in nothing outside of physical education. What a wasted opportunity.
So when we consider the accomplishments of Simone Manuel, a 20-year-old Stanford University student from Sugar Land, Texas, we can’t stop at the fact that she’s an NCAA champion in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. We have to move beyond her gold medals at the Rio Olympics in the 100-meter freestyle and 4×100-meter medley relay. We have to go further than her silver medals in the 50 freestyle and 4×100 freestyle medley.
Yes, she’s the first U.S. woman to ever finish top-two in both freestyle sprints at the Olympics. Yes, she set a U.S. record and tied an Olympic record in the 100-meter freestyle. Yes, she was only two hundredths of a second behind Denmark’s Pernille Blume in the 50-meter freestyle.
But it’s impossible to extract the full value of those accomplishments without acknowledging Manuel’s African-American heritage. Her background should be highlighted because it adds important context to the story.
To disregard or downplay her race is to shun knowledge and enlightenment. That’s never a wise choice, unless ignorance is the goal.
By DERON SNYDER
Here’s something to do the next time you’re at work and find yourself … um … unfocused.
Create a Google search for “distractions” and pro sports. You’ll be amazed how often the terms are linked, like you can’t have one without the other.
Mets first baseman James Looney comes up in a story among the first few hits, followed by an article on Auburn defensive lineman Carl Lawson (proving that the NCAA’s amateurism can’t fool the algorithm).
Bill Belichick, Vijay Singh, Ricky Rubio and Premier League star Jamie Vardy all make appearances on the first page. The Los Angeles Clippers, LeBron James and the NHL expanding to Las Vegas show up on the second page (along with a story on Russia’s men’s gymnastics team, another example of truth in computer science).
You don’t have to be an athlete to experience a wandering mind, whether it strays to romances and finances, or random daydreams and real-life issues. Drifting is natural and not necessarily a bad thing. Research on human productivity suggests that sustained work bursts of about 45 minutes, followed by an intentional downshift for about 15 minutes, leads to maximum efficiency.
But we put athletes in a separate class, as if they’re incapable of simultaneously carrying out a game plan and contemplating dinner plans. Or performing their assignment in the heat of the action while mulling postgame analysis under the glare of TV lights.
Wide receiver Brandon Marshall played for the Chicago Bears two years ago when he created a stir by joining Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” as a studio analyst. He flew to New York for the show on Tuesdays – his day off – and spent the rest of the week with his teammates.
Now with the Jets (which, technically, makes his commute easier), Marshall became the first active player with a regular side gig on national TV.
Critics questioned his dedication to football. They wondered about his allegiance to the team. They complained about him perpetuating the antiquated notion of “free time.”
I can only imagine what they’ll say about Josh Norman.
By DERON SNYDER
Executives at NFL headquarters in New York are not to be taken lightly, especially not the head honcho with the big head in the corner office.
Players are all too familiar with the pain and punishment that commissioner Roger Goodell can inflict; team officials get an unwelcome taste of his power on occasion, too. The best course of action for everyone involved is to avoid anything that brings unwanted attention to yourself or your organization.
You especially don’t want to do or say something that could be taken as a taunt at 345 Park Avenue. I’m looking at Washington general manager Scot McCloughan, who last week was asked about his team possibly appearing on HBO’s “Hard Knocks” in the future.
“No,” he told NBC Washington’s Carol Maloney, according to The Washington Post. “Never.”
Really? Never is a long time.
“No, no, no, no, no,” he said. “It’s tough enough as we go through the process of training camp, trying to get down to 75 [players], trying to get down to 53. It’s really hard. People don’t need to know our business.”
Don’t be surprised if the NFL considers that stance a dare. The other 31 franchises are subject to be featured on the award-winning training-camp documentary and Dan Snyder’s squad shouldn’t warrant an exception. Washington’s team business isn’t more special or sacred than, say, the Los Angeles Rams’ or Houston Texans’ affairs.
The Texas were featured on the series last year while the Rams get the treatment this year, beginning Tuesday when the six-week series premieres. The usual storylines include a couple of firsts, as previous editions never documented a franchise relocation or a No. 1 overall pick (quarterback Jared Goff).
Judging by a teaser entitled “Hard Knocks: I Am Football,” someone at HBO has a wry sense of humor or is blithely ignorant of recent events.
The preview is shot from the football’s perspective. There’s video of various Rams players at practice while the camera focuses on the ball, which provides the narration: “I’m in every statistic that matters … I feel every hard-earned drop of sweat shared in each day’s victories. And defeats. I’m in every snap, every throw, every catch.”
At that point, the video fades to black before the frame is engrossed by a severely deflated football magically filling with air. “At my core, I’m part vulcanized rubber, part cowhide,” it says. Then we get an extreme close-up of an inflation needle.
I think it was blazoned with a New England Patriots logo.
Speaking of logos, McCloughan’s certainty that HBO’s cameras will never film his team might be rooted in Washington’s emblem. The league has no problem sending the team to London for a game against Cincinnati, but could be reluctant to feature Washington in a six-week cable series that might highlight the controversial nickname.
If the NFL chooses other teams for “Hard Knocks,” that’s one thing. But Washington shouldn’t be allowed to make the decision for itself. Pickings could be slim if the show was dependent solely on volunteers.
The league knows that some teams take matters way too seriously to self-nominate themselves for a turn. That’s why owners in 2013 created rules for mandatory appearances on “Hard Knocks’ if no one willingly steps forward.
Any franchise can be appointed with the following exceptions: teams with a first-year head coach; team that reached the playoffs at least once in the last two seasons; and teams that were featured on the show in the previous 10 seasons.
Washington would’ve been among several teams eligible for compulsory participation this year if not for winning the NFC East last season. McCloughan bought himself two years of grace and can add another two years with each successive postseason trip.
Maybe THAT’s why he’s so confident, an unwavering belief that he can fashion a playoff team at least every other year.
Forced to make a choice, Washington fans likely would favor that scenario over HBO’s unfettered access at Richmond. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or situation.
McCloughan’s state secrets would remain safe with HBO. The producers aren’t interested in revealing information that gives opponents a competitive edge. They just want to make a good TV show, based on human drama and emotions more than X’s and O’s.
Rams players have received numerous talks about “Hard Knocks” from coach Jeff Fisher, who told them “it’s almost as if [the camera crews] disappear. It’s been an exciting process, it’s been fun,” Fisher told The Los Angeles Times. “The players are out here to help win games and to improve, not make a movie. They’re not actors, they’re players.”
And it’s great to see players in a different light, especially rookies fighting to grab hold and veterans fighting to hold on. We gain a better appreciation for their jobs and everything that goes into making an NFL roster.
Too bad McCloughan is so dead set against Washington fans enjoying that valuable perspective.
Here’s hoping team officials have a change of heart … or the NFL changes it for them.
By DERON SNYDER
The Summer Olympics are more glamorous than their counterpart every four winters. And of all the competitions being held in Rio de Janeiro over the next two weeks, none are more familiar than basketball, gymnastics, swimming, and track and field.
They are the Mount Rushmore of Summer Olympic sports.
But athletes will compete in roughly three dozen other sports that don’t enjoy the same popularity or appeal. These men and women have been working just as hard in their fields as Carmelo Anthony, Simone Biles, Michael Phelps and Usain Bolt.
Toiling in more obscure sports, they won’t receive as much attention, adulation or airtime. However, the medals they seek are just as shiny and meaningful, valued prizes for the dogged pursuit of athletic excellence.
When it comes to the following sports, black athletes typically are few in number. But here are some participants you might see if you tune in to these events during the games:
By DERON SNYDER
Ater all the discussions about crime, poverty, pollution, corruption and the Zika virus, it’s now time to shift our attention to the actual games at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
More than 11,000 athletes representing more than 200 countries will compete in 42 Olympic sports beginning Friday. In total, there will be 306 events over the course of 19 days between the opening and closing ceremonies.
The number of black athletes from around the globe in the Summer Olympics always dwarfs the number in the Winter Olympics (something about cold weather, snow and ice?), and this year is no exception. When national anthems are played and the winners step onto the medal stand, here are some folks you might see.
By DERON SNYDER
This is the USA’s real dream team, the one that’s been a nightmare for all comers in the last five Summer Olympics and is virtually guaranteed to do likewise this year in Rio.
They are our women’s basketball team, 58-3 all-time in Olympic competition, with sights on a record sixth consecutive gold medal. They haven’t lost a game since the former Soviet Union’s “Unified Team” won a 79-73 squeaker in the 1992 semifinals.
You might recall that was the Barcelona Olympics, when the men featured NBA players for the first time and arguably fielded the greatest sports team ever assembled. The “Dream Team” defeated opponents by an average of 44 points en route to recapturing the gold medal we lost with our college players in 1988.
The world’s men have become much more competitive since then. The gold medal game against Spain at the London Olympics featured 16 lead changes and six ties before LeBron James & Co. prevailed, 107-100. The margin was even slimmer – 99-94 – in an earlier pool-play victory against Lithuania.
But hoop-playing women haven’t closed the gap much. The average margin of victory has been 30 points during Team USA’s 42-game Olympic win streak.
The USWNT is the hunted. They accept it and embrace it, taking their cue from a head coach who’s quite comfortable in that position.
“When you know you’re good and you know you’ve done it and you know what you have to do to get it, I think you have to turn that pressure around on the other team,” head Geno Auriemma told reporters. He easily could’ve been speaking of his phenomenal success at UConn.
By DERON SNYDER
Can Tim Tebow play?
Most observers, including yours truly, have concluded that the answer is “no” if the question refers to quarterback in the NFL. Maybe, with a capital MAYBE, Tebow could squeeze onto a roster as a short-yardage specialist. But his prospects as a hybrid H-back, fullback or tight end aren’t that great, either.
I wish that wasn’t the case, because the league would be more pleasant with Tebow dispensing joy and sunshine. Unfortunately, listening to his diehard defenders will have to suffice as an added-value proposition.
Before the Broncos moved up to draft Paxton Lynch in April, more than 10,000 fans signed a petition asking the team to bring Tebow back to Denver. There are still supporters who swear he got a raw deal in after leading the Broncos to the playoffs and a wild-card victory in 2011.
Broncos general manager John Elway opted to take his chances on recovering-from-neck-surgery Peyton Manning instead of single-wing-throwback Tebow, who subsequently failed to stick after one season (eight passes and 32 rushes) with the Jets and training-camp stints with the Patriots and Eagles. There’s no question that Elway made the right move, though Tebow’s true believers insist their hero’s style would’ve worked if given the chance.
Despite the dismal numbers in Tebow’s 35-game NFL career – a completion rate of 48 percent with 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions – his fans think there’s a place for him. The headline on an Internet article last weekend read “Eight NFL quarterbacks worse than Tim Tebow,” listing players such as Nick Foles, Geno Smith, Matt Cassel and Brian Hoyer.
Considering the league’s never-ending search for players under center, does Tebow have football left in him if a team calls?
“I mean I think for me, I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been in,” Tebow responded on “The Doug Gottlieb Show” on CBS Sports Radio last week, simultaneously not ruling out a comeback in that hypothetical scenario.
By DERON SNYDER
“If I can help somebody, as I travel along
“If I can help somebody, with a word or song
“If I can help somebody, from doing wrong
“No, my living shall not be in vain”
Those lyrics, sung by gospel legend Mahalia Jackson and later paraphrased by Martin Luther King Jr. in the “Drum Major Instinct” – the speech that ultimately served as his own eulogy – are the roots of activism. They can bear bountiful fruit among the rich and famous who easily could lead selfish, self-centered and self-serving lives, totally unconcerned about conditions outside their privileged circle.
Hollywood has produced its fair share of activists, from Charlton Heston and Elizabeth Taylor to Samuel L. Jackson and Ronald Reagan. The music industry also has delivered a list of issue-driven advocates, from Barbara Streisand to Bono and Willie Nelson to Harry Belafonte. TV stars have leaped off the small screen to fight for causes, too, from Oprah Winfrey and Jesse Williams to Michael J. Fox and Dennis Miller.
The fourth pillar of our celebrity culture – sports – doesn’t make room for the outspoken as easily.
There have been notable exceptions, especially in the 1960s and 1970s, but athletes traditionally have been encouraged to limit their public comments to sports, period. Refraining from social and political commentary supposedly is better for their team and their career, even more when their thoughts run contrary to prevailing views in owners’ suites.
No one was bigger or kept quiet longer than Michael Jordan. (OK, maybe Tiger Woods).
But that ended Monday when Jordan released a statement on “the divisive rhetoric and racial tensions that seem to be getting worse as of late. “I know this country is better than that, and I can no longer stay silent,” he said. “We need to find solutions that ensure people of color receive fair and equal treatment AND that police officers – who put their lives on the line every day to protect us all – are respected and supported.”