The (Olympic) Games People Play

By: Mickey Z

“What does the billboard say?/Come and play, Come and play/Forget about the movement.”

— Zack de la Rocha

The Great Distraction Machine™ is rolling out yet another Summer Olympic Games — perfectly timed to help keep the growing wave of global uprisings off the mainstream radar.

Of course, beneath all the diversionary talk about how sports unite us and the crucial life lessons we’re about to learn and how many sacrifices the athletes have made, the social conditioning and pursuit of profit perseveres without pause.

For example, as Associated Press dutifully explains, Olympics organizers are “vigilant about protecting the rights of sponsors like McDonald’s, adidas, Cadbury and Coca-Cola, which pay as much as $100 million each to be official sponsors during each Olympic cycle.”

“Our position is very clear,” explains International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Jacques Rogge. “We have to protect the sponsors because otherwise there is no sponsorship and without sponsorship there is no Games.”

Imagine that: No corporate sponsorship, no games. Some call it coincidence…

As a result, the logos of competitors are “banned from venues, and under a special Olympic law passed by the British Parliament, businesses can be barred from using words and phrases — including ‘London 2012’ or even gold, silver and bronze — that suggest an Olympic association.”

Civics Lesson: When a “special” law is needed to “vigilantly” protect corporate profit, it is written and passed — without hesitation.

“I didn’t do what I did as an athlete; I raised my voice in protest as a man.”

— John Carlos

Every now and then, pre-packaged sporting events can provide us with a glimpse of what is possible. Consider what sportswriter Dave Zirin calls, “arguably the most enduring image in sports history“: John Carlos and Tommie Smith, fists raised on the podium at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.

While teammates at San Jose State College, Carlos and Smith were involved in a planned Olympic boycott by amateur black athletes. This action was organized by the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR).

The OPHR founding statement read, in part:

“We must no longer allow this country to use a few so-called Negroes to point out to the world how much progress she has made in solving her racial problems when the oppression of Afro-Americans is greater than it ever was. We must no longer allow the sports world to pat itself on the back as a citadel of racial justice when the racial injustices of the sports world are infamously legendary … any black person who allows himself to be used in the above matter is a traitor because he allows racist whites the luxury of resting assured that those black people in the ghettos are there because that is where they want to be. So we ask why should we run in Mexico only to crawl home?”

The IOC made the gesture of conceding on the third demand — a move that cleverly blunted the threat of a boycott. Carlos and Smith were far from satisfied. Thus, on the second day of the Games, when Smith set a world record in the 200 meters and Carlos placed third, they had a stage on which to stand… barefoot.

“We wanted the world to know that in Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Central Los Angeles, Chicago, that people were still walking back and forth in poverty without even the necessary clothes to live,” says Carlos. “We have kids that don’t have shoes even today. It’s not like the powers that be can’t provide these things. They can send a space ship to the moon, or send a probe to Mars, yet they can’t give shoes? They can’t give health care? I’m just not naive enough to accept that.”

The beads around their necks for “those individuals that were lynched, or killed that no one said a prayer for, that were hung tarred. It was for those thrown off the side of the boats in the Middle Passage.”

The American flag began its ascent up the flagpole and the opening notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” played, Carlos and Smith stood barefoot with heads bowed and fists raised in a black power salute. The photographs of that moment rival any of the pre-staged Iwo Jima flag-raising.

That moment provoked the predictable firestorm as the IOC not only forced the U.S. Olympic Committee to withdraw the two world class sprinters from the upcoming relays, but also had them expelled from the U.S. Olympic team.

“We didn’t come up there with any bombs,” says Carlos. “We were trying to wake the country up and wake the world up, too.”

“Sports play a societal role in engendering jingoist and chauvinist attitudes. They’re designed to organize a community to be committed to their gladiators.”

— Noam Chomsky

For as long as I can remember, I’ve played and watched sports but this hasn’t stopped me from recognizing that only a clever and deceptive form of corporate socialism masquerading as free market capitalism could’ve created this global sports industry — and its requisite heroes (sic).

With our natural instinct to engage in imaginative play co-opted, we’re fed competitive, goal-oriented, and divisive games at predetermined times in predetermined places — for a hefty price.

Overwhelmed by a nationalistic fervor, we become spectators instead of participants — trusting TV announcers to point out what is worth our attention. Programmed to believe ruthless competition builds character, we eagerly shell out big bucks to consume the myriad myths and clichés, re: everything from major league sports to the games we play at home.

If you think “programmed” is too heavy a word choice, consider how some popular American board games can help construct the consensus, e.g. Operation (Western medicine paradigm), Risk (war and conquest), and Monopoly (profit and conquest).

Then, of course, we have the omnipresent video games in which we learn how to “press the right button” from a pre-selected range of choices (just like shopping or voting).

“The desire to play has returned to destroy the hierarchical society which banished it.”

— Raoul Vaneigem

Who needs “professional” sports and games when we can all participate and have fun as “amateurs?”

The root of the word amateur is the Latin “am,” meaning love. Despite the almost derogatory connotation capitalist society has assigned to the word amateur, it is an ideal worth striving for: someone who does anything solely for the love of it.

Engaging in a non-competitive form of no-win play is a healthy outlet for any human being, games founded in equality and assess to all, not hierarchy and elitist notions of who is or isn’t worthy of competing.

Once the focus is returned to participation over spectatorship, the transition can be made away from organized competition to activities where the process counts more than the score.

Competition is not essential to the mastery of athletic skills and has nothing to do with the true concept of play: the imaginative, creative, bond-forming approach chosen naturally by children.

A child’s concept of play is unregulated and not goal-oriented; it’s ever-evolving and bears absolutely no resemblance to competitive sports or gambling or expensive toys or any other form of commodified play.

The simple act of playing games without rules or competition is a subtle form of personal revolution that suggests an alternative from which others can learn.

Mic Check: Why let the powers-that-be distract us with their for-profit conformity games? Instead, let’s team up and play the fastest growing sport on the planet: Revolution.


About the author: Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook.

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