Oliver North

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- You can't watch television these days without seeing a story about Kobe Bryant and the allegations that he sexually assaulted a 19-year old woman in a Colorado hotel. Bryant is yet another in a long list of athletes who can't seem to keep themselves out of trouble and who have contributed to the demise of professional and amateur athletics. It is a sad commentary that the most admired athlete in America today is Seabiscuit -- a horse that has been dead for 56 years.

Last week's untimely death of hockey coach Herb Brooks is a reminder of how society once found heroes in sports and how great athletic achievements can renew pride in a city, or even a nation. Herb Brooks was the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey coach for a team that was given little chance of success -- by anyone except their coach. Brooks demanded excellence because he believed in his team. They responded by beating the unbeatable and capturing the gold.

To understand their victory, and how it inspired the nation, we must remember the time.

In the summer of 1979, the nation was still licking its wounds from Vietnam, and Jimmy Carter's economic policies caused an energy crisis and long lines at the gas pumps. Unemployment and inflation were skyrocketing, and Carter's response was to blame the American people.

On July 15, 1979, Carter addressed the nation with what came to be known as the "Malaise Speech." In it, he said America was suffering a "crisis of confidence" and a state of "paralysis, stagnation and drift." He berated Americans for being too greedy, keeping their thermostats too high and taking vacations. After the speech bombed, he turned on his Cabinet and demanded resignations from them all.

Internationally, the world was a much different place. What is now Russia and over a dozen independent countries was then the behemoth Soviet Union. Germany was two countries -- East and West -- with a wall dividing the oppressed from the free. Poland and Hungary, today part of NATO, were at that time members of the Warsaw Pact. The Cold War was at its height, and Carter's naivete toward the communists gave Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev an opportunity he seized.

Two days after his Malaise Speech, Marxists launched a coup in Nicaragua and, on July 19, declared themselves the ruling power. On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian militants seized the U.S. embassy in Teheran and took 66 Americans hostage, 52 of whom would be held for the next 444 days. On Dec. 27, 1979, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, shocking an already overwhelmed president.

Oliver North

Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.