There I was casually taking in the Parade Of Nations during the opening night of the London 2012 Olympic games. I was enjoying watching the athletes from different countries stroll through London’s Olympic Stadium and beam with pride at being able to represent their homeland, and deservedly so after the years of hard training that they have undoubtedly put in. Then, as members of the Albanian entourage walked across the screen, NBC anchor Bob Costas noted, “This is a good opportunity for us to remind you of something we’ve said in the past: the vast majority of athletes that come to these games will not win a medal. At least they will get to say, ‘I marched in the opening ceremony behind the flag of my people.'” By association their list of non-winners (and non-winning countries, of which there are actually dozens) included Albania. (Isn’t it bad enough we waged war on them in Wag the Dog? Okay, I digress.) I looked it up, and no, Albania has not won any medals. Now I want them to win one.
Mr. Costas (and take note, co-anchor Matt Lauer), this was simply the opening night ceremony. Nobody cares how many medals anyone has won. As broadcasting representatives for the nation that usually clean ups at the Olympics, it’s incredibly arrogant and condescending to make statements about all the people who won’t beat your team. This is the kind of myopic worldview that pisses off people in other countries and makes them think that many of us have an attitude. (It’s not the first time I have noticed it either. Even when discussing Afghanistan before Albania, Costas mentioned only the US and UK security forces there, nothing about the actual country or its people.) While I root for my country during the Olympics, I also root for whomever I think is the best in whichever sport they are competing in. After all, shouldn’t the best athlete win? Are we not supposed to be united in sport through the Olympics? Isn’t it awesome just to appreciate greatness when you see it? And with regards to winning medals, the beauty of sport is important too, not just the ceremony afterward. Sometimes rooting for the underdog can also be fun and keeps things interesting.
Try to remember that as you keep broadcasting over the next two weeks, Bob. I hate it when the stereotype of the Ugly American keeps being perpetuated.