The Olympics Doesn’t Build Character, It Reveals It

Solo

A person with character exemplifies constraint and self-control.  How one behaves on a big stage says a lot about a person. Whether it’s Donald Trump, U.S. Olympic soccer goalie Hope Solo, or African-American swimmer Simone Manuel, character matters.

Women’s soccer, especially the United States National Team, is a big deal in our house. My youngest daughter, now 15-years old, has been playing and watching since elementary school.  We were thus very disappointed with Hope Solo’s comments about the Swedish team that knocked the U.S. out of the Olympic soccer competition.

We are also big swim fans.  Simone Manuel’s victory in the 100 freestyle, the first win in an individual event for an African-American woman, was a great opportunity for all of us to learn a bit more about the history of racial segregation, especially as it related to community swimming pools.

As sportswriter Bill Plaschke reminds us all in his recent LA Times column, the Olympics does not build character, it reveals it.

Here is a taste:

In a stadium far north of the Olympic heart, a goalkeeper spewed ugly.

“We played a bunch of cowards,” Hope Solo said. “The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that.”

In a news conference room in the center of the Olympic soul, a mom spread grace.

“We started talking to [Simone] about how swimming isn’t just going to be about her,” said Sharron Manuel, the mother of the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal in swimming for the United States.  “She will have to share that gift with the world and it will carry a message”

In the stadium, the goalkeeper reacted to the U.S. women’s soccer team’s stunning Friday afternoon shootout loss to Sweden by epitomizing the word she had assigned the Swedes. Hope Solo ran from responsibility and accountability like a coward.

“Sweden dropped off, they didn’t want to open play, they didn’t want to pass the ball,” Solo said. “I don’t think they’re going to make it far in the tournament.”

In the news conference room, the mom reacted to daughter Simone’s historic gold medal in the 100-meter freestyle the previous night by epitomizing wisdom and grace. Sharron explained how she had spent years preparing Simone for this milestone moment.

“As an 11-year-old she did come to me asking . . . why she had not seen many others like herself in a sport of swimming,’’ Sharron said. “I said . . . I don’t know, let’s look it up, so we got on the Internet. . . . That was the moment she realized she had a bigger role to play in what she was doing in the sport of swimming.”

Like the sports it celebrates, the Olympics doesn’t build character, it reveals it. In an illuminating few moments about 600 miles apart Friday, the world saw America at its best and worst.

Read the rest here.

Rowdy Gaines: Gold Medalist, Olympic Commentator, and Tweeter

Rowdy_Gaines_LEAD_sm_t640

A lot of great things happened last night in the Olympic swimming pool.  I got pretty excited about it:

On that last tweet about Ledecky, check out our post from this morning.

And yes, I am aware that I misspelled Anthony Ervin’s last name in these tweets.

After this initial flurry of swimming tweets, things got even better.  NBC commentator and former Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines jumped into the conversation. He “liked” my tweet about Ervin sleeping on his coach.

I responded:

Then came this:

I responded as a total fanboy:

And then came another “like” from Rowdy.

Made my night!  And yes, I am a middle-aged man with a Ph.D who makes a living as a college professor.

Katie Ledecky: Springsteen Fan

Katie-Ledecky

I was thrilled to learn that Katie Ledecky is a Bruce Springsteen fan!  See her interview with Bob Costas here.  I am hoping that the Boss will invite her to one of his upcoming stadium tours!

Ledecky told Costas that her father first introduced her to Springsteen when she was six-years-old.  They would play the Boss on their drives to and from swimming practices.  As some of you know, I have a daughter, Allyson, who is a year younger than Ledecky.  She is a volleyball player and we have spent a lot of time over the years on long car drives to volleyball practices and tournaments cranking the music of Bruce Springsteen and singing together at the top of our lungs. When our throat got sore I would stop the CD and explain to her the meaning of the songs we just heard.  I have no idea if anything I said during these mini-lectures actually sunk in, but I definitely think these experiences taught her patience! 🙂

My daughter is about to leave home. Her first college volleyball preseason starts in a few days, and classes begin at the end of the month.  So I must admit that I got a bit emotional when I heard about the way Ledecky bonded with her father through the music of Springsteen.  I loved the look on her father’s face when the camera panned to the Ledecky family standing off stage. I could relate.

Needless to say, I am looking forward to more father-daughter bonding on some of the long car rides from Harrisburg, PA to Grand Rapids, MI.

Fea ladies

The Fea ladies enjoying a Springsteen concert at Hershey, PA in 2014

And now for a full confession.  I went to bed last night just before the Costas interview with Ledecky.  As I climbed under the covers I got some texts from Allyson, who was at a friend’s house. Here was part of our exchange:

Ally: Dad, OMG, ARE YOU HEARING THIS?

Ally: DAD ARE YOU HEARING THIS

Me: No, I’m getting in bed

Ally: SHE LOVES SPRINGSTEEN

Me: Who?

Ally: KATIE LEDECKY

Ally: SHE LOVES SPRINGSTEEN

Me: Awesome

Ally: HER DAD PLAYS IT IN THE CAR FOR HER ON THE WAY TO EVERY PRACTICE AND RACE!

Ally: SINCE SHE WAS SIX YEARS OLD!

Me: Wow!

Ally: THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT “GLORY DAYS”

Ally: HER FAMILY LOVES THE BOSS!

Me: It’s a sign of YOUR future Olympic glory!

Ally:  And she’s also 6’2

Me: Yup–there you go.

Ally: Hahahahahahahahahaha!

OK–with the emotional father-daughter stuff out of the way I will now write the rest of this post as a serious Springsteen aficionado.

If you watch the end of the interview, Costas says that Springsteen’s song “Glory Days” should now be on the top of Ledecky’s playlist.  Obviously, Costas has never listened to the lyrics of “Glory Days.”  It is a song about a guy who was a good high school baseball player but never really made it.  Now he sits around as “time slips away” sharing his “boring stories” of Glory Days.

Hardly the song that Ledecky wants on her playlist right now.  Somehow I also doubt that it is a song she will relate to thirty years from now.  “Time” will definitely “slip away,” but the stories she tells her kids, her grandchildren, and the people she meets in bars will hardly be “boring.”

 To put it differently, I doubt Katie Ledecky will become another Uncle Rico:

Simone Manuel’s Accomplishment in Historical Context

Simone

With her stunning and surprise co-victory in the 100 freestyle last night (take THAT, Australia!) Simone Manuel became the first African-American female swimmer to win an individual Olympic gold medal.

After watching Manuel swim my mind eventually went back to a piece I heard on National Public Radio in 2008 about the history of segregated swimming pools in the United States. I did a quick Google search and found Rachel Martin’s interview with Jeff Wiltse, a history professor at the University of Montana and author of Contested Waters: A Social History of Swimming Pools in America.

Here is a taste of that interview:

MARTIN: So, Jeff, you wrote that, in the late 19th century and early 20th, municipal pools, city pools, weren’t built, just weren’t built in African-American neighborhoods in the same way, or at the same rate that they were in other neighborhoods. Then things seemed to shift in the ’20s and ’30s. Pools were segregated, but separate-but-equal wasn’t really equal. Right? Talk about how those pools varied. What were the differences?

Dr. WILTSE: OK, well, first let me address what you brought up initially, which is that, during the late 19th and early 20th century, cities throughout the northern United States built lots of pools in poor, immigrant, working-class-white neighborhoods, but conspicuously avoided building pools in neighborhoods inhabited predominately by black Americans.

And then in the 1920s and 1930s, there was a pool-building spree in the United States. And there were thousands, literally thousands and thousands of pools that were opened up in the 1920s and 1930s, and many of them were large, leisure-resort pools. They were – some of them – larger than football fields. They were surrounded by grassy lawns, and concrete sundecks, andContested they attracted literally millions and millions of swimmers.

And yet, it was at that point in time that cities began to racially segregate pools throughout the north, and it then extended, obviously, all throughout the United States. And black Americans were typically relegated, if a pool was provided at all, to a small indoor pool that wasn’t nearly as appealing as the large, outdoor resort pools that were provided for whites.

And so, take the city of St. Louis. In St. Louis, black Americans represented 15 percent of the population in the mid-1930s. But they only took one-and-a-half percent of the number of swims because they were only allocated one small indoor pool, whereas white residents of St. Louis had access to nine pools. Two of them were the large resort pools that I’ve been describing.

MARTIN: Hm. And you have written about some specific instances where there was some real violence surrounding these swimming pools, when black people would try to access these white pools. Can you tell us about some of those incidents, specifically in Highland Park?

Dr. WILTSE: Yeah, sure. So, there were two ways in which communities racially-segregated pools at the time. One was through official segregation, and so police officers and city officials would prevent black Americans from entering pools that had been earmarked for whites. The other way of segregating pools was through violence.

And so, a city like Pittsburgh, it did not pass an official policy of racial segregation at its pools. But rather, the police and the city officials allowed, and in some cases encouraged, white swimmers to literally beat black swimmers out of the water, as a means of segregating pools, as a means of intimidating them from trying to access pools. And so there was an instance, well, there was a series of instances over two summers in Highland Park pool, when it was first opened in 1931…

Read the entire interview here.

Will Soccer Catch On In America? I Am Not Optimistic

Will we remember Tim Howard?

I have never watched so much soccer on television in such a short period of time.  As I have written before, I am not a soccer fan.  My interest in the game does not go much beyond my daughter’s 7th grade travel and middle school team and an occasional Messiah College women’s game. But this last few weeks I have been riveted to the television set and even find myself reading about the players online.

Will I continue to watch soccer on television after the World Cop is over?  Probably not.  I approach the World Cup in the same way I approach Olympic swimming. During the Summer Games I do all kinds of research on the U.S. Olympic Swimming Team.  I don’t miss a race.  I watch their video parodies of popular songs.  I go online and explore the history of Olympic swimming and try to remember the Olympic swimmers that I cheered for in past Games.  (Go Gary Hall Jr. and Matt Biondi!)  And when the Olympics are over I take a four-year break from following swimming.  (Although I did follow Rowdy Gaines on Twitter after London).

Over at CNN, sports historian Amy Bass wonders if the enthusiasm for soccer generated by the 2014 World Cup will last after the international competition is over.  She is not optimistic.  

Here is a taste of her piece:

But what happens as the World Cup packs up and moves on? Will broken-hearted Americans still love soccer now?It is easy to link World Cup mania to the popularity of youth soccer in the United States. A 2007 FIFA study concluded that some 25 million American children play soccer, giving the U.S. the largest youth base of any country competing in Brazil right now. But after all, kids playing on a Saturday morning likely doesn’t explain the seeming suddenness of American interest.

And we didn’t see this kind of interest back when the U.S. hosted the tournament back in 1994. We also didn’t see it when the U.S. women won the whole thing in 1991 and 1999 (because, well, you know, women’s sports and all). And we didn’t see it when the U.S. men’s national team reached the quarterfinals in 2002.

So where did all of this frenzy come from? Answer: Americans hate being left behind.

Americans prefer to lead, and until now, they have been the only ones missing this global party, one where the U.S. men have yet to build a winning reputation, something central to American identity. Indeed, some think the intense focus on Brazil has to do with this unfamiliar underdog status.

And here is Bass’s conclusion:

…many sports fans may not have space to add soccer into their seasonal cycle of baseball, football, and so on. Thus, the appeal of the World Cup is not necessarily the game it features, as much as the lure of the United States finally sitting at the big table, qualifying regularly, and even winning a match or two.

It is a situation somewhat akin to the Olympics, in which Americans become fascinated — and sometimes fanatical –with curling and ice dancing and skeleton for the fortnight, but without question don’t think about it again until the next one.

So perhaps unless team USA’s Clint Dempsey and John Brooks get into the next season of “Dancing with the Stars,” it might be four more years before America obsesses about them again.

I am afraid I have to agree.

Can Someone Explain This?

From the Daily Dish:

When 16-year-old Chinese swimmer Ye Shiwen won 400-meter individual medley on Saturday, she set world record by swimming the final 50 meters in 28.93 seconds. Ryan Lochte, who won the men’s event that same day, swam it in 29.10. Apparently, some people questioned how a teenage girl outswam the fastest man and broke a world record without the aid of the special water-slicing swimsuits that were banned after 2008, but we’ll just admire the feat for what it was.