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Olympic Games Offer Mixed Messages for Kids

In Children and Family, Education, Entertainment, National News, Opinion, Politics, sociology, Sports News, Uncategorized on August 3, 2012 at 8:22 am

I recently read an article composed by a local non-profit about the lessons that could be learned by children from the Summer Olympic Games. The story encouraged parents to watch the events with their kids and discuss the nature of competition, good sportsmanship, hard work, and so on.

As they grow up, we try to teach children the value of good sportsmanship, hosing them down with gooey sentiments like, “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game that counts.” But even in that very statement there is hypocrisy and an absence of reality.

Coming in first is, and always will be, the ultimate purpose behind Olympic competition. The quest for the center platform has driven countries and individuals to outrageous behavior. Figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed in the leg at the 1994 Winter Olympics, causing her severe injury. Intended to knock Kerrigan out of the contest, the attack was arranged by Jeff  Gillooly, the ex-husband of one of her competitors, Tonya Harding.

In the days of the Cold War, the fierce competition between the United States and the Soviet Union was fueled by precarious diplomatic relations and the massive egos of the world’s two super powers. Winning was not only imperative, it was a matter of life and death for some. However anecdotal, failed Russian athletes were said to have been exiled, tortured and jailed if they were outperformed by Americans.

Sometimes the motivation behind Olympic participation is not a gold medal, but gold itself – in the form of money. Like it or not, the Olympics is a business – for the sponsors and the competing countries.

Every four years, billions of dollars are spent by the nations of the world to send teams of athletes to the summer Olympic Games. Countless corporations spend billions more trying trump the advertising bids of their competition for the honor of being “official” sponsors. Exposure on the world stage can boost a company’s recognition a thousand fold. Recognition translates to sales.

There is money to be made, a lot of money, not to mention the bragging rights for bringing home the most gold. In fact, just to host the Olympic Games, London spent more than $18 million, which has the British Parliament debating even as the event proceeds.

In the end our kids are getting, at best, a mixed message. They see it on television, and in the stands at the local little league game whenever parents get into fist-fights over a bad call. So parents are just as much to blame as the media.

We grow up being told that sportsmanship, honor and diligence is the ultimate goal of athletic competition, but the truth is a bit more obvious and children are smarter than most people give them credit.

Even a kid understands that no one goes to the Olympics hoping for a bronze medal or wishing to be in fifth place. Their eye is on the gold. A gold medal means recognition, money, fifteen minutes of fame, and the cover of Sports Illustrated.

As for, “how you play the game,” well, that’s a distorted idea as well. Olympic athletes are constantly monitored for illegal use of steroids and other enhancement drugs. The threat of cheating looms heavy over the excitement of the arena. Clearly, winning is the most important objective. After all, if winning doesn’t matter, why keep score?