By MIKE HERNDON
The Olympics are supposed to be one of those things that bring us all together as Americans — a chance to pull for the same team, to cheer for the young men and women in the red, white and blue. But when American skier Lindsey Vonn failed to medal in the Super G at the Winter Olympics this week, she found an altogether different reaction from many of her fellow Americans on social media.
Serves you right, they said. Karma’s a bitch.
What had Vonn, who’d hoped to honor her late grandfather’s memory with a medal, done to elicit this vitriol? She’d had the audacity to say she wouldn’t visit the White House if she won gold.
To be fair, there were also many encouraging responses after her sixth-place finish (and let’s not overlook the amazing story around the gold medalist, Czech snowboarder Ester Ledecka, who had to borrow a pair of skis to compete in the event). But the ones that weren’t so nice stuck out in their vehemence.
That’s what you get for disrespecting your president, they said. That’s what happens when you “spit on your country.”
All because she shared an opinion, because she shared a personal decision. Athletes skip White House invitations all the time, Democrats and Republicans. Who cares? But these people who bray the rest of the year about “snowflakes” were offended, bless their hearts.
How many of them are Russian bots? Some, perhaps. But I no longer have sufficient faith in the intelligence or decorum of my countrymen to believe that all of them were, or even most of them.
Then came Laura Ingraham, who sought to remind us all of her existence by admonishing NBA star Lebron James to keep his political opinions to himself and “shut up and dribble.”
That would be the same Lebron James who has pledged more than $40 million through his foundation to pay for more than 1,000 middle-schoolers to go to college upon graduation. That, I suspect, is about $40 million more than Ingraham, who got exactly what she wanted out of the whole thing – a bunch of people talking about her.
James responded by thanking Ingraham for giving him another opportunity to speak out on social injustice. “Thank you, whatever her name is,” James said.
It’s not just sports. How many times have we heard someone complain about an actor or actress sharing a political view – whether it be a liberal like George Clooney or a conservative like Clint Eastwood? How many times have we heard people whine about a musician making a political statement during a concert?
A friend told me he recently saw a man get up and walk out of a Jason Isbell concert when Isbell played “White Man’s World,” which decries our tacit acceptance of racism. Isbell has never been bashful with his lyrics, many of which carry overt political themes, or his Twitter feed, and he often catches hell for it. Had this guy never heard a Jason Isbell song before? Or was he stupid enough to pay money to attend a concert just to make a statement that his intended audience was unlikely to ever see?
It’s not just political opinions, either. Tim Tebow, Tony Dungy and other athletes and commentators have been raked over the coals in the past for referring to their Christian faith, or that of others. Like Isbell, Tebow and Dungy have never hidden who they are or what they believe. So why do people feel the need to comment, to argue, to even berate, when they profess their Christianity?
Let me say this loudly and clearly for the people in back: Lebron James is a grown man. Lindsey Vonn is a grown woman. If you don’t like what they have to say, you don’t have root for them. You don’t have to watch their games or competitions. If you don’t like Jason Isbell’s lyrics, you don’t have to buy his records or go to his concerts. We all make those types of decisions every day, for any number of reasons.
But for the love of all that is good and holy, shut the hell up about it. If you really believe in freedom, why do you find it so offensive when someone exercises it? They have as much right as you or Laura Ingraham or anybody else to say what they think. And much of the time – certainly in the case of athletes – they only did so because they were asked about it in an interview.
I understand some people just want a respite from political opinions of any kind. Most of those people simply change the channel, or take the opportunity to step out into the concourse for a bathroom break or another beer.
But as we saw with Vonn, there is also an epidemic of keyboard-warrior trolls who spend hours of each day spewing their own inane opinions online, only to explode in unrighteous indignation when someone else shares an opposing view. They are some of the same people who tweet insults at college football prospects who don’t choose their favorite school, who invent conspiracy theories about “false flags” and “crisis actors,” who feel the need to share every shred of misbegotten garbage that floats through the empty space between their ears.
To them, I must ask a favor, or perhaps just share a bit of advice: The next time you feel the urge to fire back at an athlete or an entertainer who shared an opinion, or run down a teenager on social media, or type the words “stick to sports” in a Twitter response, go to the nearest toilet, stick your head in it and flush. Then flush again. And don’t stop until you get all the crap out.
(Photo by Christian Jansky/Wikimedia Commons)
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