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Olympic Athletes Used As Pawns    

  By: Katie Petrick
   Published : February 20, 2018

The 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang is quickly wrapping up, but not before capturing some surely spectacular athletic feats. While the overall medal count has not been in America's favor, individual athletes shone through.

Shaun White, 31, won his third Olympic gold on the final run of the snowboarding halfpipe, which cemented his legacy as the best in snowboarding, though it be a short history of the sport in the Olympics. And fans absolutely went crazy after seeing his run, which caused White to reflect on his achievement and his storied career. And then there was 17-year-old Red Gerard who won USA's first gold of these Games in the event of men's slopestyle snowboarding. Until he stood atop that podium, he did not realize the enormity of his achievement.

Not to be outdone, 17-year-old Chloe Kim earned gold in the women's snowboarding halfpipe. And then Mirai Nagasu became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics, which you have to see to believe.

These individual athletic performances were beyond anything the rest of us fans could ever imagine even attempting, much less being successful when the pressure and attention are turned on us. But before these athletes demonstrated their skills, hyper-focus was paid to the American athletes who could tick off certain politically-motivated boxes. Athletes were analyzed by their race, sexuality, and whether or not they hate President Trump. If they have the right combination, they win the political gold and were featured on the NBC coverage of athlete stories.

Other media outlets featured focused attention as well. A particularly telling tale was told in two videos produced by the Al Jazeera Media Network, the same Al Jazeera company which is owned by the government of Qatar. Just three days into the Games, the company released a video entitled, "It's a White Winter Olympics." The video addresses how the Winter Olympics are so white in skin tone. As addressed in a previous Healthy Republic article, the American team is the most diverse it has been since joining the first winter games in 1924. But the video brushes past this to assert that winter sports are expensive, implying to the viewer that only white people can participate in winter sports because white people are rich. But they highlight several black athletes and Asian heritage athletes. Are these athletes also rich, or is just the white ones?

The video completely fails to address geographical differences and the effect this has on participation. Look at Norway, Finland, Sweden, or Denmark. These Socialistic countries have large teams of athletes, and they are primarily white. These countries are also located closer to the North Pole than the Equator. Now compare this to the Summer Olympics and the high participation of runners from African countries. No one is claiming racism on any of these countries when their athletes dominate the track and field events.

Al Jazeera released a second video called Immigration Makes Team USA Great. This video has been viewed more than four million times with a description that says "Team USA represents the best athletes in the country - and the team has immigration to thank for that."

And again the company fails to go the extra step to provide full explanation. The video emphasizes the parents of the athletes coming to America, but it lacks any attempt at explaining why these families came from South Korea, Ghana, Japan, and China. The video fails to recognize the families as wanting to have better lives, and that they all decided it was in America that this better life would be found, the same America we keep being told is so oppressive.

Al Jazeera should have asked Kweku Biney, father of Maame Biney, the American short track speed skater who immigrated from Ghana when she was five years old. Mr. Biney told his daughter America made it possible for her to be an Olympian and that he doesn't want his her to be a pawn in somebody's politics around immigration. In his words, "Sports, school, God -- that's it. No politics."

But now we are in national debate about allowing anyone from anywhere walk through the front door of the country. Al Jazeera's video on the surface seems quite positive, but this is the same company that days earlier put out a video explaining "How Undocumented Workers are Superheroes." What they are doing is making Olympic athletes political pawns to stir up politics.

The talent, sacrifice, dedication, and hard work is what should be on display at the Olympics. Leave the politics for another arena.

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