Well, there's things that never will be right I know,
And things need changin' everywhere you go,
But 'til we start to make a move to make a few things right,
You'll never see me wear a suit of white.
Ah, I'd love to wear a rainbow every day,
And tell the world that everything's OK,
But I'll try to carry off a little darkness on my back,
'Till things are brighter, I'm the Man In Black
Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth didn’t have to care. Nobody asked Whizzer White or Sammy Baugh if they had an opinion.
In 1936, in Berlin, the Olympics were Nazi Germany’s crowning achievement, a chance to show the world how wonderful Deutschland could be. Even more, it was an opportunity for Adolf Hitler to demonstrate to his populace the magnificence of the Third Reich, how he had thrown off the shackles of the ignominy of World War I and restored the Fatherland to its rightful place among the elite of the world’s nations.
Nobody asked Gehrig, Ruth, Baugh or White because they had nothing to do with the Olympics, because no one had yet figured out that bastardizing every principle the Olympics stood for could be financially rewarding. So amateurs toddled off to Berlin – despite evidence showing that almost 50% of the populace wanted a boycott – and Hitler had another moment in the sun before the devil summoned him back home.
2008 is not 1936, though, not by a long shot. It is plainly evident that China – a nation that kills monks for speaking out, that detains dissenters for decades in work gangs when it’s not killing them, that executes thousands of people every year in stadiums, that backs the hideous government of Sudan in the brutal murders of hundreds of thousands of Africans in Darfur – is well aware that the Olympics is a stage from which the host country can advertise its magnificence to the rest of the world.
Even Steven Spielberg, never shy about making a buck, pulled out of orchestrating the opening ceremonies. “At this point, my time and energy must be spent not on Olympic ceremonies,” Spielberg said, “but on doing all I can to help bring an end to the unspeakable crimes against humanity that continue to be committed in Darfur."
Not everyone gets it, though.
"We believe, however, naively, ... that sports has something enormous to offer the world," David Stern said recently to the Associated Press. "And we also believe that the Olympics is a sporting event, and indeed, has a history in ancient times of being a time when war stopped so that people could play together."
The “naive” Stern is not alone. Dwyane Wade has spent the better part of this season resting up from injury in order to be better prepared for the Olympics. He echoed his commissioner right down the line.
“My job is to play basketball, to worry about the game. We'll let the Olympic Committee worry about everything else,” Wade told the AP.
I wonder, would Stern, a Jew, feel comfortable about sending his athletes to compete in Nazi Germany, knowing that the profits from the Olympics were being used to build gas chambers? Would he continue to spout inanities about the Olympics being a “sporting event”?
Or, rather, in this hypothetical world of 1936, would he grow a conscience and take a stance on the side of humanity rather than money? Decide that the large amounts of money to be made by the NBA in expanding to the lucrative German market were not worth the bloodshed?
Part of me hopes that people are capable of seeing depravity and evil in their own time, rather than only with the hindsight gained from history books. Part of me hopes that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James would say, no, we don’t want any part of a two-week festival honoring a country that forces women to abort their children and sells the organs of executed political prisoners.
But most of me knows that a blindfold sewn from a billion Chinese Yuan covers David Stern’s eyes.
Naive? Not me.