Everyone Hates Being Lectured. Especially by Athletes.

People really dislike being lectured. Except when they don’t.

We’re awash in people telling us our business. It starts young, and goes on until you die. One of the more striking things in the movie Boyhood is how much advice we see the kid receiving.

But there are, seemingly, degrees of acceptable when it comes to someone telling you things. It’s one thing to go to a house of worship, or school, or rally, or watch, listen, or read professionals lecturing you. It’s another thing when it comes from somebody in another lane.

A homeless guy. Well, he’s crazy. We’re told that rich people earned the right, or at least that’s the way they’re treated when they opine, though it’s clearly better to be a rich man than a rich woman. Between the unwashed and unkempt yelling at you or no one in particular on the corner and the plutocrat, society seems to suggest there are varying degrees of acceptable.

It seems that for the public, the worst is when artists and athletes do it. They get scorn like no other group.

Opinion writers are often the first to object. They can’t stand it. It’s their job to lecture others. It’s hard work. No one else can render opinions like they can. No one else should.

That untrained civilians dare opine is an affront to not only the profession, but the entire enterprise of opining. Yes, websites, blogs and social media have chipped away at the fortress of opiniondom, but for the most part, those amateurs aren’t a threat.

All goes to hell, when an untrained famous person dares judge from a public place. It is wrong, wrong, wrong, when an actor, musician, or athlete dares speak up. This amateur opinion waving will not stand.

Luckily, the commentariat gets backup when these unwashed, undeserving folk dare opine. Just because the undeserving have skill–saying a line, writing a song, or throwing a ball–doesn’t mean they know anything about anything. And if they do, they should just shutthefuckup because nobody wants to hear it, except when the unwashed and undeserving agree with the opinionists.

That’s why the talking and writing heads were exultant when Ricky Gervais lazily criticized Hollywood as master of ceremonies at the Golden Globe Awards the other week.

And now, they’re getting help from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), which is now forbidding protests or speaking out in any form during the games.

Gotta love a corporate entity that profits from corruption, works with regimes both autocratic and democratic, and enables private-sector greed when they lay down the law because of “the international unity and harmony that the Olympic Movement seeks to advance.”

I guess this is because athletes exist only to be fodder for other people’s narratives, other people’s opinions. The IOC wants everyone to be talking about the sports, not the athletes. It’s ok that politicians use athletes to further their own goals by burnishing images in association or seeming to exemplify national traits they want to praise. It’s ok that companies use athletes to push products and whitewash reputations and unsavory history. Those are merely the ways of the world.

I guess it’s irrelevant that commercial interests have been using sports to sell product and that the Olympic movement itself works overtime to turn sports into cash. It’s not like the IOC has a stake in keeping controversy away from their product to help sponsors and hosts look good.

Artists and athletes seem to be in the same space as waiters when it comes to having an opinion. We want them to bring our food, but we don’t want them to exist beyond that. Except when we criticize them. Anyone who has bought a ticket, experienced a performance, watched a game, is expert enough to take performers to task. Yet when those athletes do the same looking out of their world, it’s beyond good taste and arguably uncivil.

Artists certainly have a point when they posit that art is political. It is. Not just Birth Of A Nation and Capitalism: A Love Story, but everything. Comedy might seem to be about making people laugh, but who and what are made fun of say something. Paintings can seem neutral, but art is often about the patrons who pay for the work, something easily forgotten when a work is 500 years old.

Sports are political. Not so much that ground outs are democratic and strikeouts are fascist, but in that it’s a human pursuit, humans are political, and thus it is inevitable that politics are involved in the games, in the rules and governance of those games, and who runs those games and where they have them. You can see politics in which athletes are celebrated and which are hated, who gets the sponsorship deals, and who gets on the teams.

Athletes know this all too well. Organizers and fans can call what athletes do games for various ends, but anyone who has competed knows that to make it to an international competition, the pursuit is disciplined to the point of being well beyond a job. And like job, there are office politics to negotiate. It’s easy to pretend that sports are somehow not like other walks of life, that it’s more innocent, but any breeze reveals this facade is wishful thinking at best.

The IOC, as is their want, created a mess, and the point is pretty obvious. The decree is vague enough to give them lots of wiggle room to threaten all participating athletes.

I don’t really care to tune in to what athletes at the Olympics have to say. Many, when a microphone is stuck in their face, seem incredibly selfish, an ugly mix of ego and nationalism sometimes topped off with religiosity for good measure. But somehow, those utterances pass IOC muster because they don’t directly address politics. All the same, the athletes have been given an opportunity to speak and whether they come across as sincerely concerned about the fate of the world or an ass pimping himself, they have earned the time. People say dumb stuff every day, no reason athletes should be singled out for special treatment. That it is unknown adds excitement, though the payoff doesn’t always feel worth it.

If the IOC was really interested in keeping the games pure, there are plenty of other things they can do. I’d start with getting rid of corporate logos. Those are far more vulgar than anything I’ve heard an athlete say. If they want the Olympic games to be games, they could figure out a way to emphasize the playing and the journey, and not the results. I’m sure there’s much more.


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