It’s a common historical misconception that politics were totally put aside for the Olympic games in ancient Greece. In fact, politics were present, but of the peacemaking variety.
For example, Herodotus’ “Histories” notes the case of Cimon, an Olympian who was exiled from Athens by the tyrant Pisistratus. When Cimon ceded his Olympic victory to Pisistratus as a sign of peace, he was allowed back into the city by the mercurial ruler.
On the other hand, Herodotus noted that after another victory in the ancient games, Cimon was murdered by Pisistratus’ sons. Let that be a sound augury in modern times: Don’t completely trust any sort of facile peace offering made at an Olympiad. Looking at you, North Korea.
Then again, there weren’t a whole lot of peace offerings in the spirit of the Olympics this year, at least not among the members of the U.S. team. That’s because we live in a time and place where no platform — particularly those that involve the sporting life — is considered apolitical enough to preempt a conspicuous, confrontational statement on politics from people who I typically wouldn’t consult for political wisdom. Pisistratus’ magnanimity may have been temporary, but at least it was there. In Pyeongchang, there were a lot of American Olympians who couldn’t even clear the low bar set by an Athenian tyrant in the days of yore.
However, in the midst of all of this acrimony, there was one Olympian who was willing to break the liberal narrative: bobsled brakewoman Lauren Gibbs.
It was hard to notice Gibbs over all of the political insults. In fact, on the American side, the 23rd Winter Olympiad was pretty much book-ended by political controversies.
After the flag-bearer for the opening ceremony in Pyeongchang was chosen by coin toss, African-American speed skater and coin toss loser Shani Davis went on Twitter to complain that it was “dishonorably” done and intimated — via the hashtag #BlackHistoryMonth2018 — and that the coin toss to decide the flag-bearer was racist. Or maybe it was the coin itself. After all, tails only fails when a person of color picks it. Coincidence? I doubt it.
Meanwhile, at the closing ceremony, freestyle skier Gus Kenworthy decided it was high time to throw shade at Ivanka Trump’s presence, because what better way to celebrate the closure of what’s supposed to represent two weeks of unity through sport than letting the world know you don’t like your president or his daughter?
Oh, and Kenworthy also took to Twitter to make a sorta-kinda-homophobic joke about gay figure skater Adam Rippon; Rippon himself has made headlines for derogatory comments slamming Vice President Pence — who led the American delegation in South Korea — for his religious beliefs on homosexuality.
In their own way, Kenworthy’s tweets come across as mostly thoughtless politicking. Say what you will about Tommie Smith and John Carlos, at least they weren’t whining about coin tosses, Christianity and presidential daughters they didn’t like.
And that’s where we get to Lauren Gibbs. In the midst of a political whirlwind playing out in 280 characters or less, Gibbs made a surprising stand for unity when she met with Ivanka Trump and White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
“It’s important to remember that we don’t have to agree on everything to get along, be civil to each other and enjoy each others company,” Gibbs wrote in a since-deleted tweet, along with the hashtag
#itsforamerica and a note that “it was a pleasure to meet you both!”
According to KDVR, Gibbs even let Ivanka try on her silver medal, and the first daughter said she felt it was “almost like trying on someone’s wedding band.”
Gibbs got plenty of Twitter backlash for daring to not only meet with the daughter of her country’s president and the president’s press secretary, but for not complaining about it.
Gibbs, however, fought back. When one user tweeted that Ivanka and Sanders “can appear nice in person butt (sic) get support someone (sic) who is racist and taking away rights and healthcare so don’t fall for it,” Gibbs defended herself.
“I am not falling for anything,” Gibbs said, adding that “being nasty to them would not solve the issue…and don’t get me wrong there are many issues”
From her tweets, we can pretty much glean that Gibbs probably doesn’t view the Trump administration with unalloyed glee. This said, she decided that being a representative of her country was more important than being a beacon of her own political ideology.
Though Gibbs eventually deleted her original tweet, posts from Ivanka and Sanders remained up for the world to see.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is what love for country looks like. It’s a truism to say that everyone has a right to their political beliefs, but when an event is designed specifically to facilitate unity and peace, airing the quarrels of American political life specifically to sow division isn’t a particularly good look for athletes.
Pyeongchang is hardly the only sports venue that’s been re-purposed as a platform for the airing of divisive grievances. Of course, these pages have extensively documented the national anthem protests in the NFL (and the subsequent backlash they engendered).
Say what you will about the NFL, but there’s nothing in the league’s charter that specifically mentions the goal of the league is to engender peace. That’s not the case when it comes to the Olympics; the IOC’s Olympics charter states that the “goal of Olympism is to place sport at the service of the harmonious development of humankind, with a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity.”
There is no measure “harmonious development of human kind” in implying coin tosses are racist, nor any promotion of “a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity” when the vice president is besmirched because an Olympian finds his Christian beliefs unacceptable. If they wished to spend their time representing their country behaving as a self-facilitating political node, they could have just as easily stayed home and done it. In fact, boycotting the Olympics because of their outrage against the Trump administration not only would have been the proper manner of protest given the spirit of the Olympics, it also would have lent more attention and gravity to their beliefs.
Funny thing, though — none of the athletes seemed terribly interested in pursuing this route.
In 2018, Lauren Gibb is a rara avis, someone who is willing to put aside political disagreements for the sake of her country. We not only salute her, we would also like to let her know that if she wants to build bridges to other conservatives by letting them try on her silver medal, our office doors are always open. You don’t even need a visitor’s pass. Just flash your medal down at the front desk and you’ll be good.
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