The Olympics are here. The opening ceremonies are mere hours away. The pageantry of international competition is upon us…and I couldn’t care less. And, it’s not just about China and its (misguided) politics. It’s about what the Olympics represented 100 years ago, when I was a kid, versus what they are all about now that I have a kid. The Games have changed.
When I was a kid, the Olympics were every four years (as opposed to every two years now). But more importantly, they were about everything that was right in sports (as far as I knew). These were amateur athletes who trained like mad to represent their countries. If they were lucky, they might make a little money. If they were REALLY lucky, they’d end up on a Wheaties box. But for most…Olympic glory was about just that – Olympic Glory.
Nowadays, the Olympics are about politics, big business and professional athletes. It just sort of sucks all the fun out of it. (True, some of my feelings are the result of being older, “wiser” and more aware of the realities of the Olympics, versus being a naïve little kid.) But, I’m not here to pass judgment on what the Olympics are or aren’t. Really, what I meant to write about was the role that sports play in a dad’s relationship with his son.
K-Man is too young to really care about having any sort of rooting interest in a team, or too young to really care about winning and losing (which is all good). On the one hand, I keep up with sports. I know which teams are winning and which are losing. I tend to know which players are studs and which aren’t. But, on the other hand, I certainly don’t let sports guide my day. I won’t stay home to watch a game when I could be outside on a beautiful day, or taking K-Man on some kind of adventure.
But then…I think about all those great times with my dad back in the day. All those days spent watching the Dodgers, Angels, Lakers and Rams. I remember the stories about his days in New York going to Yankees games. Or his stories about the City College of New York (CCNY) basketball and soccer teams (the hoops team would go down in infamy for a great point-shaving scheme). He tried to get me to watch hockey, but I just couldn’t do it!
In the most recent Sports Illustrated, there’s a story about a children’s DVD that’s been produced to help parents (I assume mostly dads) teach their kids to have an allegiance for a certain team. The programs are hosted by celebrities. (For example Alyssa Milano talks about the LA Dodgers and what sports meant to her as a kid. Besides being famous for her acting, she’s also allegedly dated half of Major League Baseball. So, for her, watching baseball with her dad had a bigger impact than it maybe does on most kids.)
The thing is, back when I was growing up, most athletes were role models. There was no ESPN. These were guys you could pretty much look up to. Not only that – you knew all the players on your favorite teams (because they stayed there from year to year). I could always count on Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell in the Dodgers infield. It’s just not the case anymore.
I can’t root for the Dodgers anymore, cuz I just don’t know the Dodgers anymore. I follow the Giants a bit more closely because this is where I live, but I certainly don’t really care if they win or lose.
Which brings me back to the Olympics. I want to care about the medal counts and I want to feel that huge national pride, but I don’t. For me (and it's too bad), the Olympics have become a show. I don’t want to see Kobe Bryant representing the U.S. I’d rather see some college kid. But, that doesn’t sell jerseys. Maybe K-Man will discover the Olympics on his own, and if he does, I’ll support his desire to watch and learn. Maybe he’ll even erase some of my jaded attitude about this stuff.
If I had my choice, though, I’d rather he go for goals than go for gold.