Friday, August 15, 2008

Basking in reflected glory

A dude with an Armenian name, Ara Abrahamian, competes for Sweden in the Olympics and throws a hissy fit. A gymnast with an Eastern European name, Nastia Liukin, competes for the USA and wins a gold medal. So what is all this tornado about, “My country can beat your country!”? To be more upfront it should be, “Our residents can beat your residents. If you live over here, you can beat the people who live over there.” Or not.

Several years ago two schools in the Chicago suburbs had such an intense rivalry that their students were fighting every day after school. Kids were getting bloodied just because they attended a certain school. I suggested that any student caught fighting be transferred immediately to the rival school.

It appears the Olympics are going the way of pro sports. How many pro athletes on our Chicago teams: Cubs, Sox, Bears, Bulls and Hawks can find their way on the CTA from Portage Park to Pilsen without a police escort, librarian or sherpa? Can these sports dolls name our city’s birthday (March 4, 1837) or the years of Daley I’s reign (1955 – 1976)? Who was our first African American Mayor? (Harold Washington) What is the longest avenue in Chicago? (Western Avenue) How many of these athletes actually live within the city limits? What’s so “Chicago” about these players on our sports teams? What’s so Swedish about this Armenian hissy guy? Are countries so obsessed with winning that they adopt folks from other nations to represent them because they are afraid they can’t produce a champ? No? Well, that’s what it looks like from this side of the TV.

I'm just as guilty as anyone. I get excited when someone from the Czech Republic, Slovakia or Romania wins recognition, not because my ancestors came from these nations, but because I'm impressed with the fact that they never invaded any other country. They rock, in my humble opinion, so I get jazzed when they win something.

But what would happen if we all, including me, dropped this pseudo-nationalism in favor of something along the lines of, “Look what humans are capable of!” Actually, that’s kind of what is happening, but under the guise of so-and-so playing for such-and-such country even though s/he was born somewhere else. Now it’s time to pull up our eyelid skin and see what’s really going on.

We are all more alike than we are different. The differences in our countries of birth, skin colors and languages make for nice drama but they’re just the fragile veneer.

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