Politics stain Olympic experience

Ken Morse

Ever since I was a little boy, I get weepy-eyed sitting on my couch as they raise the flag of the United States of America at Olympic medal ceremonies. I have some fond memories of the Olympics, the most glorified sporting event in the history of this great country.

I’m reminded of the 1968 Winter Games in Grenoble, France, when Peggy Fleming struck gold; the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists at the podium; the 1976 Winter Games in Montreal when Dorothy Hamill and her Hamill camel won gold; the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid when the U.S. beat Russia in the Miracle on Ice; and all the excitement at Los Angeles 1984, Barcelona 1992, Lillehammer 1994, Atlanta 1996 and Salt Lake City 2002.

But this year’s Olympics in London brought a new face to sport in the name of a political agenda. How sad is that? Weeks prior to the event the media exposed a storyline about Team USA’s Olympic uniforms being made in China. How can that be?

Word broke before the Games that American designer Ralph Lauren had team USA uniforms made in China while millions of Americans are out of work and losing their homes to foreclosure.

The proud statement of the red, white and blue was replaced at the medal podium by grey and black because Nike, the manufacturer of the jackets, thought it looked better on TV.

They do have “United States of America” emblazoned on the back — a perfect place for it with the way these companies have been treating the American worker. To be fair, there is a patch the size of a shirt pocket denoting Team USA on the front but the symbolism that this country grew up with the red, white and blue was nowhere in sight.

I began to do some research on the garment snafu and was startled at what I learned. Uniforms made out of the country hardly began recently. The uniforms for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games were made in Burma.

According to an Associated Press interview with this year’s U.S. Olympic Committee spokesman Patrick Sandusky said, “We’re proud of our partnership with Ralph Lauren.” He later went on to say on Twitter that the outrage over the uniforms was nonsense.

Then there are companies in the United States that continue to grow strong. GK Elite out of Reading, Pa., is a 30-year-old company that provides leotards for the world’s top Olympic gymnasts. In 1989 the company began outfitting U.S. gymnasts that led to a contract for the 1992 Barcelona Games.

Congressmen are up in arms over the uniform dilemma. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) told the Washington Free Beacon, “They should take all the uniforms, put them in a big pile and burn them and start all over.”

Are we using the Olympics as a saving-face mechanism that will skirt the blame but do absolutely nothing in getting this country back to work? Many of the same elected officials that embraced the NAFTA treaty act resulting in millions of Americans losing their jobs to foreign competition are now appalled by the sight of companies going outside our borders to produce uniforms for our athletes.

It just seems too coincidental three months before the presidential election this media frenzy has taken hold of the American public.

To make matters worse the IRS is taxing athletes on the medals they have earned. How long that has been going on is anybody’s guess.

Some politicians have jumped on the bandwagon in response to a bill proposed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio that would make medals exempt from taxes, but it’s a too-little-too-late scenario.

The standard sequence of medals — gold, silver and bronze — was introduced at the 1904 St. Louis Games. I’m fairly sure that the taxation of these medals didn’t begin in 2012.

The main focus of the argument is not the taxation of the prize money (there is none) or endorsements. It is the taxation of the award or trophy itself. And how would they do that?

William Drennen, an associate professor of law at Southern Illinois University, told the Journal Star, “If you are the best swimmer or something and get a cash reward then you should take the legitimate deductions for personal trainers, equipment and that sort of thing.”

Drennen brought up the case of retired baseball star Maury Wills who in 1969 took his tax case to officials in California over the taxation of the 1962 Hickok Belt, awarded to the best professional athlete. Wills was unsuccessful in his fight against the tax laws and introducing a bill to change the laws based on this year’s Olympics would be a futile attempt.

The Olympics were filled with heartwarming stories and amazing feats of athletic achievements. Who will ever forget the South African runner Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee, finishing second in his 400-meter heat? I will certainly add that to my most cherished memories of Olympic glory. It’s a shame that political issues created such a disruption during the Games.

Ken Morse is a contributing writer to the Citizen’s News.