The Olympic Conundrum Between Black Excellence and Humanity

Image: Ryan Pierse/Getty Images

With short-cropped hair that’s half green and half purple, Team USA shot-putter Raven Saunders stands out wherever she goes. But these days, she stands out in large part because of her undeniably authentic stance on many societal issues of the day.

Shortly after winning a silver medal in shot put, Saunders held her arms up and formed an “X” which, not surprisingly, got the attention of many who have wondered if athletes who have used their various platforms recently to bring attention to a multitude of social justice issues, would do so at the Olympics despite its archaic rules that tend to muzzle rather than magnify efforts to speak out on inequities in our society.

When asked about what her gesture symbolized, Saunders said, “It’s the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”

As a Black woman who is also part of the LGBTQ+ community, Saunders’ support base is strong which certainly helps at a time like this when her mother, Clarissa Saunders, passed away just days after her silver medal-winning performance.

Like most athletes competing at the Olympics, Saunders arrived in Tokyo fighting for more than just medals.

The Olympics have long since tried to keep politics and Olympic participation of the athletes in two separate landfills; each with its own level of toxicity. But the stench, sooner or later, becomes too much to bear.

That’s where we are, folks.

The hypocritical ways of the Olympics have gone on long enough.

Black athletes have seen too many times, the one-sided treatment and the two-faced ways of Olympic leadership.

They have no problem keeping Sha’Carri Richardson from competing at the Olympics because she tested positive for marijuana.

And yet, after multiple investigations show that Russia has cheated repeatedly—repeatedly—over an extended period of time, they don’t see a problem with Russia snubbing its nose at their “punishments” to then send Russian athletes to the Olympic games under a new “banner”—the Russian Organizing Committee—and compete against other countries whose past and present aren’t nearly as nefarious.

When Russians have won gold medals at this Olympic games, there is no Russian national anthem played. Instead, you hear the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1. And their victories are celebrated by the Russian government through social media, a clear indication of how connected Russia, the country, and the R.O.C. are.

No surprise that Olympic officials were quick to comment on potential sanctions and/or punishments for Saunders.

“We are in contact with the United States Olympic and Paralympic committee,” International Olympic Committee spokesman Mark Adams told reporters. “We are looking into the matter and will now consider our next step.”

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The Games will continue to go on with Black Excellence remaining very much alive and well. The performances will indeed be impressive, even more so when you consider their exceptional play comes at a time when the Olympic Games’ leaders would much rather muzzle their voices when it comes to social justice. It serves as a reminder of how tone death Olympic game leadership is when it comes to what should really count when you have a global event such as the Olympic games—humanity.

The creed that the Olympic games are supposed to live by, came from French educator and historian Pierre de Coubertin, who is also considered the father of the modern Olympic games.

“The important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win, but to take part,” said de Coubertin. “The important thing in life is not triumph, but the struggle; the essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well. To spread these principles is to build up a strong and more valiant and, above all, more scrupulous and more generous humanity.”

You won’t find the latter sentence mentioned much, if at all, when talking about the Olympic creed.

The values that the Games were based on, such as fair competition to build a stronger base for humanity, no longer exist.

Much like the moral compass that should guide the decisions made by Olympic leadership, that part of the Olympic creed has also been easily discarded which has left many athletes with little choice but to magnify their voices rather than be muzzled.

Doing so brings the Olympic games closer to what its founder de Coubertin was in pursuit of all along—a more generous humanity through competition.

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