Monday, October 15, 2007

Preposterous L.A. Times Editorial On Olympics

Along with the distasteful wrap-around advertisement obscuring Page 1 this morning, the L.A. Times, under the damn fool publisher David Hiller, has disgraced itself once again by two nonsensical pie-in-the-sky editorials in the last two days.

Today, the Times advocates that we all eat less meat as a means of combating global warming. Yesterday, the Times advocated "a more modest, openly professional Olympics."

Since I was the Times' lead Olympic correspondent for eight years surrounding the preparations and aftermath of the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, the Olympics editorial disappointed me the most. It showed a complete misunderstanding of what the Olympics are all about, ignored the most significant history of the Olympic movement, and besmirched the Times' long record of supporting and extensively covering the Olympics. Once again, in this matter as in so many others, the Times under Tribune Co. ownership seems greatly desirous of cutting its own throat.

The Olympics, since its modern revival under the Baron Pierre de Coubertin in 1896, has built its immense success fundamentally on a tradition of youth and excellence. The greatest stories of the modern Olympics revolve around personalities like the four-time Olympic discus gold-metalist, Al Oerter, who died last month, and the miracle American ice hockey championships of 1960 and 1980. In track and field, the U.S. Olympic Committee's Olympic trials have brought forth, in Olympics after Olympics, fresh, young faces out of nowhere who became, in the Games, Olympic champions and popular heroes.

Yes, there has been a trend in recent years, under the ill-conceived policies of the International Olympic Committee president, Juan Antonio Samaranch, toward more participation in certain Olympic sports, such as basketball, by professionals. But despite this, the greatest Olympic champions, such as the epic middle-distance runner Sebastian Coe in the 1980 Moscow Games, were amateurs when they won their medals.

So, to advocate a professional Olympics is to go along with a perversion that would do the Games no good. The Games fundamentally must mainly remain the preserve of nonprofessionals.

The editorial in the Times Sunday also cataloged a long and sordid history of drug abuse among some Olympic athletes, such as Marion Jones, the winner of five gold metals in the 2000 games, who has now had to return her medals after she was caught lying about the use of steroids.

However, the fact is that the international Olympic movement has done more by far to combat illicit drug use by athletes than American professional sports -- baseball, basketball and football -- have ever done.

The hypocrisy in the Times editorial can be seen in the fact that the Times has now gone after the Olympics on this score, while ignoring the tremendous corruption in popular American professional sports. Just recently, the Times said little or nothing when Barry Bonds made a new all-time home run record in major league baseball, based, by much evidence, on his use of steroids. The Times may know enough not to take on the NFL, the NBA and major league baseball head-on. Rather, it thinks it can pick on the Olympics.

Sunday's ill-tempered editorial went after every excess of Olympic history the writer could think of, while proclaiming grandiloquently, "that the Olympics never had a period of innocence."

This is utterly wrong, as the great Olympic films of Bud Greenspan, and the coverage of the great late Times sports columnist, Jim Murray, have proved time and time again. For every low moment, the Olympics have had, there have been a host of well-documented heroic moments, and all the attention lavished on the Olympic Games by longtime Times sports editor Bill Dwyre amply demonstrates that over all glorious record. Dwyre, I will speculate, must have been chagrined by yesterday's editorial.

I found, when I covered the Olympics, that there were a great many people who loved to pick on the Games for their imperfections, or the supposed aristocracy of the International Olympic Committee, and among the most common complaints were that the Games were too nationalistic, too often an inappropriate part of world power politics, and so on. There were many suggestions, such as made again by the Times editorial Sunday, that "national medal counting" was a bad thing.

But the fact is that national pride cannot easily be dispensed with at any Olympic Games. There were suggestions, during the Jimmy Carter-led American boycott of the 1980 Moscow Games that national medal counting be done away with. They never received any backing to speak of in Olympic circles, and so much of Olympic tradition centers around the opening ceremonies, the parade of nations, and the playing of national anthems for the medalists, that it is virtually unthinkable that these will be done away with any time in the foreseeable future.

I readily concede that I suggested in this blog in recent weeks, that some pressure be put on China, host of the forthcoming 2008 Beijing Olympics, to become more humane in its dealings with tyrannical regimes, such as the one in Burma, in conjunction with the Olympics. I did so, because I thought there was a reasonable chance the Chinese would bow to such pressure.

This is all part of the Olympics. I found, while covering both the American boycott of the Moscow Games, and, then, the Russian boycott of the Los Angeles Games, that separating politics from the Olympics is well-nigh impossible. (It was not pure coincidence that in the first years I covered the preparations for the Los Angeles Games of 1984 I bore the title of "political writer.)"

But the presence of politics in the Olympics does not mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. The Olympics bring too much in peaceful aspirations and international solidarity and idealism to be sacrificed because they also are prone to being used politically.

I really do not understand the Times editorial. California has distinguished itself so many times in the Olympics. Californians win more medals than citizens of any other of the United States. Los Angeles has been the site of two Olympic Games and the Sierra resort of Squaw Valley the site of one other. This state has a high stake in the success of the Olympics and, indeed, Los Angeles is actively bidding for a future Games.

So to write the kind of editorial that appeared in the L.A. Times Sunday provides only further proof that under the Tribune Co., the Times is no longer really a California newspaper. The foolish David Hiller is not a Californian, but that does not mean that the rest of us should forget our great state, or the vital role it has played in the history of the modern Olympics. One day, the Times too, when Hiller is long gone, will again honor that tradition.



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