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Are the Olympics Still Relevant?

Black America Web.com , Commentary, Ayinde Waring Posted: Aug 12, 2008

In a brilliant display of tradition, culture, and technology, the 29th Olympiad began with a bang in Beijing, China on Friday. Following what can only be described as simply the most extravagant and breathtaking opening ceremonies ever, the parade of nations got underway.

As the U.S. Olympic squads began to make their way around the track to greet the crowd, it was apparent that this mighty team represented and collectively personified a change and shift in old ways of thinking. African-American athletes were everywhere and part of many teams -- not just basketball, track and field or boxing -- but do black people care?

In fact, are the Olympics still even relevant in black America?

Since the 1904 Olympics, when George Poage and Joseph Stadler became the first two African-American Olympians and medalists (Poage won bronze for the 440 hurdles, Stadler won silver for the standing broad jump), black people have played a prominent role on U.S. Olympic teams. From Jesse Owens four gold medals in Berlin in 1936, where he famously destroyed Hitlers notions of a superior race, to Wilma Rudolphs historic three gold medals in Rome in 1960 -- coincidentally the same year a young kid from Louisville, Kentucky won gold in the light-heavyweight division of boxing and would later become known as The Greatest of All Time -- these accomplishments represented another step forward for African-Americans, a chance for equality and an opportunity to increase racial pride and disprove the myths and stereotypes.

The images of Tommie Smith and John Carlos with clenched fists held high on the medal stand in Mexico City in 1968, during the civil rights movement, sent a message to the world that Black Power and justice was undeniable. Today, however, with a shifting social climate where this nation may soon see its first black president, it appears questionable whether African-Americans even care about the Olympics anymore.

Social and political platforms have moved from domestic civil rights issues to subjects like the Darfur genocide, repression in Tibet and global warming. Many of today's Olympic athletes are millionaires who are no longer on the forefront of the black struggle. And maybe no ones watching because no ones talking to the community anymore.

The Olympics are relevant in the African-American community, cites Christopher Fullwood, a computer program specialist in Summit, New Jersey, but mostly in fast-twitch muscle sports ... track, basketball. Fullwood, whose a father and originally from a small town in South Carolina, is quick to add that growing up where I did forced us to think locally. But when my children get older, I want them to see the Olympics. I want them to know that its the pinnacle of your achievement. This gives them something to strive for. Not just in athletics, but in life. A way of thinking.

Fullwoods point is that the Olympics have and will always be relevant. For anyone working in a professional environment, it is important to stay abreast to whats happening in the world," he says. "So most of my African-American friends who are professionals will tune in. They will care and know at least some of whats happening.

Jamahl Green, a human resources manager at a Fortune 500 company, sees something even deeper. The native of Jamaica and U.S. citizen of the says, As a youth growing up in Jamaica, I couldnt wait for the Olympics. It was a matter of national pride."

Most of my friends will watch," Green adds, "primarily basketball. Im looking forward to it all, especially the soccer. In Jamaica, he says, everyone is watching. Men and women. They can tell you about different events throughout the day.

The way Green sees it, the Olympics will always be relevant on a world stage. Its just that sometimes in the United States as a whole, people dont always pay attention to the Games.

Both Fullwood and Green make one point: The Olympics must stay relevant for black America if it wants to maintain and strengthen its place in the world.

As an added bonus, in past Olympics, African-Americans primarily competed in track and field events, but this year will see new evidence of black athletes and the black communitys growth in America. Aside from basketball, boxing, and track and field, African-Americans will compete on the U.S. Olympic, baseball, softball, volleyball, wrestling, and soccer teams. Venus and Serena Williams captain the tennis squad and are joined by James Blake. Additionally, Cullen Jones was an integral part of the U.S. 4X100 meter freestyle relay team and its gold medal win. Taraje Williams-Murray and Adler Volmer will compete in Judo. Darren Banks will be a part of the rowing competition, while Kendrick Farris will attempt to capture a medal in weightlifting. And if thats not enough, Randi Miller will compete in wrestling for the U.S. womens team.

With these expansions into other sports, black audiences can expand their scope as well and see their able athletes compete. Says Ben Green (no relation to Jamahl), a manager with the South Carolina Department of Commerce, Im gong to watch mens soccer for sure, some basketball, some beach volleyball. Most of the finals.

Green, who spent the last six years working in sales in Asia, perhaps understands the importance of these Olympic Games on a world scale more than most.

This is a chance for the world to see what China has to offer" he said. "Chinese companies are seeking to expand globally. This will only increase business opportunities in the future.

And apparently the country is catching on.

According to NBC, Nielsen ratings for the opening ceremonies were up 35 percent than what they were in 2004 from Athens. Close to 32 million American homes tuned in to watch the Chinese put on their incredible display. And of this number, it is safe to surmise that a significant number of African-Americans were tuned in.

It is true that there may never be an opportunity for another Jesse Owens moment, when racial politics and white supremacist lies collided while the world watched, but that assertion itself may be the biggest testament to the Olympics' power to affect change. Indeed, the games are a necessary and important part of world events.

So are the Olympics still relevant in the black community? Absolutely!

Related Articles:

African Soccer Shines at Beijing Olympics

Indian-American Medal Hopes at the Olympics

China Olympics Human Rights Act Passed in Congress

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