The USOC was sorry — so very sorry — that its band of cyclists embarrassed China by arriving at the Beijing airport wearing black pollution masks that made them look like stage-coach robbers.
“It wasn’t the best judgment,” said Jim Scherr, CEO of the USOC. “The athletes understand that now.”
You can understand the athletes’ confusion, though. The USOC did design the filter masks, distribute 200 of them to athletes and, by simple math, surely knew a few of them might wear them. Just not at the airport, in front of cameras.
The USOC made sure the cyclists understood this breach of guest etiquette by scolding them to tears, eliciting an official apology from Michael Friedman, Sarah Hammer, Bobby Lea and Jennie Reed: “Following our arrival on Tuesday, we offer our sincere apologies to BOCOG, the city of Beijing, and the people of China if our actions were in any way offensive. That was not our intent. … We deeply regret the nature of our choices. Our decision was not intended to insult BOCOG or countless others who have put forth a tremendous amount of effort to improve the air quality in Beijing.”
Why did the cyclists’ sorrow sound like a confessional coerced beneath a naked light bulb? In playing by China’s rules the USOC acted as if it had adopted the host nation’s rigid mores, its inflexible ethos. “We accepted an invitation,” said Ueberroth. “We have the ability not to go.”
That’s Peter Ueberroth, chairman of the USOC. Ueberroth grew up here in the Bay Area, became a successful business excutive; organized the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles; was commissioner of Major League Baseball for five years; and ran a brief campaign for governor during the 2003 recall (coming in 6th despite having withdrawn from the race a month before the election).
And now, apparently, he’s a shill for a repressive, authoritarian Chinese regime.
Think about it: The USOC made those masks and gave them to athletes to protect them from Beijing’s toxic smog, and now it comes down like a ton of bricks on several who dared to wear the masks where they could be seen. It’s hypocrisy of the worst sort. Participating in the Olympics and respecting the host nation doesn’t extend to becoming that nation’s ministers of propaganda.
Shame on the USOC and Ueberroth for putting public relations ahead of the well-being of the athletes they’re supposed to nurture, protect and elevate.