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The Summer Olympics Aren’t About Sports, So Don’t Watch


It happens every four years. First, Ralph Lauren rolls out his latest oversized logos. Second, we pretend table tennis and synchronized swimming are actual sports, even ones we enjoy watching, and that seeing our country succeed in either will fill us with national pride.

To which I say balderdash, my fellow Americans, balderdash. Look, table tennis may not be easy to play, but it’s also below darts and eight-ball in terms of enjoyable activities in which to engage while drinking. Taking the drinking out makes them utterly useless. Pretending otherwise would be like having Olympic croquet, which I cannot endorse even as it would offer me a chance to compete on the international stage.

Of course, as with all things, not everyone recognizes these self-evident truths. Some like the Olympics, going so far as to watch them on purpose. My wife is one of these. Maybe she’s got more nationalism coursing through her veins than I do. Should the coverage drift over to women’s beach volleyball and the U.S. team is particularly talented, I may even join her on the couch. I will make this sacrifice even if their talent doesn’t manifest itself in the form of winning.

I draw the line, though, at rhythmic gymnastics, which isn’t a sport. Nor is table tennis. Nor is synchronized swimming or really even sailing, as Christopher Cross can explain. In fact, a solid majority of the activities that make up the Summer Olympics aren’t sports. Some may require skill and training, maybe even some strategy, but no one would pay money to watch them while whooping and hollering, drinking overpriced beers, and waiting for a scantily clad woman to attempt to take one down with a T-shirt cannon. In other words, they’re hobbies paid for by taxpayers.

I’ve Got My Own Kids’ Hobbies to Pay For

Hobbies are great and, honestly, more kids should explore the finer points of dancing with a ribbon on a stick. They should even ride a horse or jump headfirst off a diving board, assuming their local pool allows it. They should be active, head out, and get some balls in their hands. They shouldn’t expect the rest of us to care and cheer them on, though. They definitely shouldn’t demand us to foot the bill.

I mean, really, from a nationalist perspective, it doesn’t offer the satisfaction of a cold war or Rocky beating Drago. This is especially true in 2016, when we’re being reminded of the darker sides of nationalism. Moreover, beating Russia on the trampoline isn’t going to put Vladimir Putin in his place as he holds a cache of emails from one presidential candidate in his left hand and the strings of another candidate in his right. If Putin himself were going to represent Russia in the equestrian events that would be one thing, but the rules committee has a thing about Olympians not competing while shirtless.

This isn’t to say that all the sports are on par with an activity your three-year-old or a college kid on LSD might enjoy. Basketball has a proven track record of drawing in viewers. Hockey does as well. The pentathlon, while requiring some physical capabilities and skills (including the ability to actually run in track-fashion), has less of a track record on drawing viewers. Either that or Big Sport is unfairly repressing what could become a new national pastime. Some things we’ll likely never know.

Get Naked or Go Home

The original Grecian pentathlon—running, jumping, spear-throwing, discus, and wrestling—at least featured one activity, wrestling, that people presently and voluntarily watch outside of the Olympics. Of course, back then the competitors were all nude, as was the fashion at the time. If the Olympics wants to keep it real, perhaps they need to return to those noble, and exposed, roots. They’ll also need a choreographer.

Some of the other sports are just plain wrong. Shooting? Are you kidding me? No, just no. It’s highly problematic. I don’t know what handball is, but it sounds dirty. Weight lifting is awesome on a personal level, but it’s not a truly competitive activity. For cycling, there’s an event called the Tour de France that you may have heard of.

There’s also football, or what is properly called soccer. Soccer, which has halfbacks but no wide receivers, is another event that draws in viewers, though not as many as real football. There’s also the fact that much like rugby, another actual sport in the games, soccer is best enjoyed from the sidelines while encouraging one or some number of your children to kick the shit out of the ball.

Faux Battles in a Garbage Competition

This truth doesn’t dissipate when we discuss the swimming and diving events. While I do not want to face any of those athletes in a dark alley, I, like most people, don’t want to watch them, either. Perhaps one of my kids will decide to take up swimming or diving, in which case I will go to meets, but I’ll never be able to afford to send them to the Olympics, thankfully.

There’s also the fact that when you get a swim parent to let loose with the truth, they’ll tell you they’re very glad smartphones offer them something to do during meets. They may even mention this from the stands of a swim meet. That’s how interested they are.

The same holds true for pretty much all the events I haven’t mentioned, whatever they are. Sure, this statement is disputable, but given that you have to Google before offering your rebuttal, I stand by my assertion. No one has to take to Google to prove baseball is popular.

Nonetheless, the two-year cycle is upon us and it’s time to pretend all these truths are not self-evident. That we don’t scoff when countries with laxer approaches to the rules, even if they keep their shirts on, are winners when they obviously aren’t. That we really care about ribbons and drinking games.

Well, enough is enough. Let us drink deep in our shared pride and declare balderdash. Let us admit that a majority of the games themselves are a farce and the games as a whole are a farce. They’re faux battles in a garbage competition that couldn’t exist without heavy taxpayer subsidies. Sure, there will be backlash. Nationalism, even the tempered variety, demands it. Fortunately, Ralph Lauren’s latest designs are large enough to hide behind.