America loves an underdog.
And if you’ve been watching the soap opera masquerading as Olympics coverage on NBC over the last two weeks, you might have been duped into thinking you’ve been rooting for one.
But you haven’t been. Because the team in Red, White and Blue is anything but an underdog. No matter how many montages you’ve seen about single parents, rough neighborhoods and — God forbid! — the challenges of balancing parenting with high-level training, we are the Evil Empire of the Olympics. Steinbrenner’s Yankees. Jordan’s Bulls. Belichick’s Patriots. Holders of — count ‘em — 100 medals in Rio as of this writing, a whopping 42 more than second place China.
We win at everything: swimming, track, gymnastics, basketball, guns (obviously guns). We win alone. We win in teams. Sometimes we even win so hard that no one else is allowed on the podium.
And nobody likes the guy who wins all the time.
But it’s not just winning that makes us de facto Olympic villains. It’s how we win.
We strut. We flex (shirtlessly, at times). We wag fingers and cast vaguely Cold War-themed aspersions at our opponents. And why wouldn’t we? Over the last half century, our most dominant athletes have been a guy who called himself the Greatest, a guy who spent the entirety of his Hall of Fame speech eviscerating his opponents one final time, and an anti-social golfer with a sex addiction. Winning ungraciously is in our athletic bloodlines.
And that’s before you even get to the two ne’erdowells bearing the torch of our Olympic pomposity: sore loser nonpareil Hope Solo and gold-medalist in at-large douchebaggery Ryan Lochte.
You remember the Edina Hawks in The Mighty Ducks, with their slicked back hair and black jerseys and chiseled jawlines and inability to properly defend Gordon Bombay’s desperate third-period Flying V? That’s us.
So what do we do about this? Do we need a national referendum on sportsmanship?
Of course not. Exceptionalism is part of the American experience. But rather than trying to claim a role we have no business claiming — that of the sympathetic, adversity-thwarting dark horse —, let’s embrace our real role at the Olympiad: its resident Cruella, coolly steepling fingers as her neck grows heavy with silver and gold.