Jonah Goldberg

Another important distinction is that this was 1968, not 1938. By the end of the 1960s, America had seen two decades of steady - if too slow - racial progress. The black power vision of an irredeemably "racist Amerikkka" was all but blind to the desegregation of the military, the accomplishments of Owens and Robinson, and the civil rights acts of 1957, 1960, 1964 and even 1968. One hopes ESPN disagrees with those views as well.

There's also the fact that the black power salute amounted to an obscene gesture aimed directly at the Olympic ideal. "The Olympic Games as an ideal of brotherhood and world community is passe," declared radical black sociologist Harry Edwards in 1968. Edwards organized the OPHR and pushed for the Olympic boycott. "The Olympics is so obviously hypocritical that even the Neanderthals watching TV know what they're seeing can't be true."

In a sense, Edwards was right then - and now. The Olympic ideal of putting politics aside and celebrating pure athleticism has always been exactly that, an ideal. And all ideals are ultimately unachievable. China is using the Olympics to paper over the brutality of its repressive regime, just as Hitler did in 1936. In 1972, Palestinian terrorists - grateful for 1968's lesson in the propaganda value of Olympics media attention - slaughtered Israeli athletes. Nations are political entities, so you can't take the politics out of national rivalries.

The question is not, and never has been, whether the Olympic ideal can be achieved, but whether it should be pursued. By embracing those who spat on that idea, it seems ESPN thinks the answer is no. That is assuming ESPN gave much thought to the question in the first place.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the forthcoming book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
 
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