Real Life: The Socioeconomic Disconnect with The WInter Olympics

Ralph Lauren ad with Winter Olympians

I’m entering my 12th year as a sports journalist, and I’ve spent the last four year working for an NBC affiliate. Now I don’t work directly for NBC anymore, and I have had a weird realization as the promotion for the Winter Olympics increased on the network,  that I really don’t care about these games.

But being not just a sports journalist, but a sports fan too, I sat down to watch a few events
on Thursday evening (before the Opening Ceremonies.) It was a women’s snowboarding event. The production value was great, the snow on the Sochi mountains were beautiful in HD and, I admit, it was even cool to watch...for a little bit. It was a less intense version of the X-games. (I’ll get to the X-games point in a bit.) As we come to expect now with these things, you’ll watch a little bit of the competition, and then learn about the athletes in a mini story of their life. One of these stories was of snowboarder Jamie Anderson from South Lake Tahoe.

Jamie grew up as one of eight siblings. In the story she explained her enchanted childhood of not having much, because of the eight siblings, but somehow being fortunate enough through the kindness of the community to acquire hand-me-down snow sports gear to play with. Right then is when I felt the disconnect from her story. There was no doubt in my mind should we compare this “poor’ white family’s situation with a family of color with the same circumstances that the experience would be, lets say, less enchanted. Simply imagine a black  family of 10 trying to make in the mountains of Southern California. First, it’s a tourist area, second it’s nearly 75% white and 1% black, and the median income per household is about $35,000. And those are just the socioeconomic stats.

There is also a misconception that since Southern California is a melting pot, they don’t have racism. As a native of Southern California, I can rattle off a handful of stories I can recall from just my elementary school days. And the racism that me and my siblings experienced escalated as we got older. I digress, and the point is that is the other part to consider when comparing this “poor” white story to a family of color with identical circumstances.

Another reason for the disconnect to these Olympic games has to do with the demographic of the participants. Who is playing? And where do you have to live to play these games? I couldn’t help but notice that you could describe the bulk of these snowboarding beauties in the same way: blondiful and sunkissed. And most of these sports are played in the snow, so count out the parts of the world that are sandy and tropical. Which, by the way, is part of the phenomenon of the Jamaican Bobsled team. Because think about it, if the scenario actually did play out like in the movie “Cool Runnings”, then some white guy comes to the island and has to introduce the sport and then convince these athletes to train for this one-in-a-million chance to win this foreign sport. The second thing is, where are they practice Olympic bobsledding in Jamaica?

A friend of mine said that these games should be called the “WHITER Olympics.” Of course, immediately he was called a racist. But more than just trying to be provocative, there is truth to the title that anyone can observe by simply taking in the big picture of who was represented during Opening Ceremonies. There weren’t many brown folks there. Then when I researched the participating countries and was surprised to see that Bermuda and Zimbabwe had each spent one athlete: Bermuda sent a cross country skiier named Tucker Murphy, who is a white. The sub-Saharan African country of Zimbabwe sent an Alpine skiier Luke Steyn, and yes, he too  is white.

There are some socioeconomic luxuries that you need to play these sports. The mountains, the snow, the ice skating all are very specific activities for particular groups of people. O.K...stuff white people do. And it is stuff they do at country clubs and resorts for fun. Whenever I see the X-games, I imagine the conversation a black boy would have telling his parents that he wants to be a professional skateboarding. That was another “I can’t relate to your life” experience I had when covering a NASCAR event and meeting Travis and Lin-Z Pastrana who travel the world X-gaming for a living. It’s the same message to me with these Olympic games.

I also must add that there aren’t too many of us migrating to the snow if there is an option to be warm, and not to forget that African American also have a deeply embedded fear hanging out in forests that stems from the days of slavery.

Finally, it struck me funny when I saw the NBC Olympic poster having the one black guy, speed skater Shani Davis on it. It struck me funny because it is not a true representation of the games’ demographics. One out of every 5 athletes are NOT black. But, if they chose him for the poster because he is a two-time, American, Olympic Gold Medalist...then, that’s alright with me.

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  1. You aren't the only one who feels this way. Way to go and say something!

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