Like many people, I love the Olympics. I enjoy nothing more than sitting around a TV and watching competitive events like curling and bobsledding that I would normally never see anywhere else.
But while thousands of athletes arrive in multimillion dollar arenas to perform on the greatest stage in all of sport, an elephant sits in the room — Sochi, Russia, has been surrounded by potential acts of terrorism, anti-gay sentiments and various other social unrest.
In response to the political controversies, a number of world leaders — including President Barack Obama — did not attend the opening ceremony. Their absence was awkward. Obama blamed schedule conflicts, but others have questioned whether his absence is one of protest coming amid escalating tension between the United States and Russia.
That leads to a question: Should political expression have a role in the Olympics?
A recent CBS Poll revealed 82 percent of those who responded do not believe political expression should have a role in the Olympics.
I've heard whining and much chagrin from my high school and college friends on social media complaining about the politics. Many say the game should be about the sports and not the politicking and activism.
One tweet I read proclaimed how “annoying and stupid” it was to bring up social issues when we should be watching sports.
But why not bring up these issues? It’s the grandest stage in the world where potentially billions are watching. If done right, it’s the perfect grounds to make a political statement.
This is nothing new to the Olympics. It has led to innovation in the past.
In the Mexico City Summer Olympics in 1968, American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos famously wore beads to honor lynching victims, and as the national anthem was played they hung their heads and raised their fists in salute, bringing awareness to the lack of equality African Americans faced.
In 2008, Smith and Carlos were awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at the ESPY’s to a standing ovation.
In 2012, Saudi Arabia had its first female athletes attend the Olympics. The 1972 “Miracle on Ice” was surrounded by Cold War talk and debate.
The social issue dominating talks in Sochi is gay rights, among many topics. Activist groups continue to protesting the Olympics from outside Russia and around the world.
Is it really that annoying? Thirty, maybe 40, years down the line we could look back and be talking about those who stood up for various political agendas at this year’s games.
We might look back and think how silly it was to have ever lived any differently.
But until then, like most of the world, I’ll be watching. The Olympics are a special event that brings people together to watch four men cram into a bobsled or ski down a mountain, all chasing gold.
I’ll also be listening to what protesters have to say and will remain open to what they have to say. Because the Olympics are more than just a game.