I have always loved sports. I am my family’s tomboy and my dad’s sports companion. Although I played sports in my youth, I never had Olympic hopes. For Rio 2016, though, I do have an Olympic dream and it doesn’t involve winning a medal, although that would be super cool.
When I watched the Olympic games back in the Dominican Republic, I saw the U.S. athletes winning many medals. From my perspective, and many others around me, American athletes had lots of support and resources to achieve this level of greatness. After living in the United States, I learned the reality about their parents’ efforts, emotionally and financially. Most importantly, I learned about the athletes’ tremendous drive, passion, love, and pride for the country they represent.
As I watched the opening ceremony with my daughter last Friday, I enjoyed every bit of it. The parade of nations was a teaching opportunity to tell her about all the countries in the world, and the athletes’ discipline and hard work. I even daydream that one day my child might compete in the Olympics.
When we saw Team USA walk in the parade with its beautiful multicultural and multiethnic rainbow of athletes, I couldn’t help but think of an Olympic United States. I realized that it’s only every four years (most of the time outside the U.S.) that this pool of multicultural people, Team U.S.A., the members of the U.S. delegation, are “just” Americans.
Embracing Americans Without Reservation
What if all the athletes came back to the United States and continued to be called Americans, as we cheered them on in their studies and professional development? What if they all were treated equally once they came back to America?
If you take a quick look at the team you will see that in any other context, the athletes’ Americanism would be questioned. Likely they would be the subject of hatred, racism, inequality, and injustice. Why don’t we view their Americanism with the same fervor once the Olympics are over?
For example, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first American woman of Muslim faith to compete in the Olympics wearing a hijab. She has become a media sensation and been given the opportunity to tell her story. In an interview with CNN she explained how fencing has given her the opportunity to be seen solely based on her skill set, since all athletes are completely covered in this sport.
Her experiences outside of the fencing strip are very different – in her everyday life, at the airport, almost everywhere she goes. As is true of many minorities, Ibtihaj is an American-born woman from New Jersey who has the right to practice her religion like anyone else. However, her faith causes her to be perceived as foreign, and even as a threat.
Embracing diversity means we go beyond questioning who is considered an American and no longer let discrimination create separation and uncertainty. Thomas Bach, IOC president, in his speech during the opening ceremony said, “We are living in a world of crisis, mistrust, and uncertainty. Here is our Olympic answer. The 10,000 best athletes in the world competing with each other and at the same time living peacefully together, sharing their meals, and their emotions.”
The universal rule of the Olympics for everybody is that “we are all equal”. While addressing the refugee team, he said that the refugees were sending a message of hope to other refugees around the world.
“In this Olympic world we do not just tolerate diversity, we welcome it as enrichment to our unity and diversity”. With the images of the American athletes in my mind, I am inspired to dream of an America that can live up to the Olympic ideals of equality and peaceful coexistence.
That’s why I chose to have an Olympic dream for all American athletes. To be embraced, accepted, and validated as valuable American citizens beyond their athletic achievement where their Americanism never comes into question. And my Olympic dream continues, that as a society we are able to understand that in true diversity there is true possibility, success, and peace.