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No one wants to watch Olympic athletes who aren’t proud of America

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It is good that Mediate’s John Ziegler acknowledges the negative impact that woke politics have had on the NBC’s ratings for Olympic coverage, which are a disaster — down 40 percent from the 2016 summer games and more than 50 percent from 2012. But he underestimates it nonetheless.

Ziegler points out that, while NBA and NFL ratings have declined, there has not been “nearly the same dramatic impact” as we’re seeing in the collapse of Olympic viewership, “despite both leagues now effectively being part of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party.” Therefore, he concludes that the effect of woke politics is overstated on the right. 

This misses some salient points.

First, the ratings drop for pro basketball and pro football has been significant, even if it’s not the bottom-falling-out catastrophe of the Olympics. Forbes reports that the NFL’s decline is about 7 percent. For the country’s most popular sport, at least as a spectacle, that is a significant drop (lowest average audience since 2017). Pro basketball’s decline is nearly four times that — Sportico, relying on Nielsen data, estimates that the NBA has lost about a fourth of its audience. 

“Dramatic” is in the eye of the beholder, to be sure, but this seems pretty dramatic to me. It also seems correct. 

I grew up an ardent sports fan and have remained one through the decades. But I’ve lost tolerance for the intrusion of leftwing politics — as well as for the other thing that’s killing sports for many lifelong fans, the omnipresence of advertising for and encouragement of gambling (something big-time sports, for nearly a century, prudently walled off for integrity’s sake). I don’t boycott the NFL, but I watch far less (when I used to arrange my weekends around the games). I’ve stopped watching the NBA (I still watch college hoops, but much less than before). And while I’m too in love with baseball to tear myself away, I haven’t spent a dime on it since MLB absurdly pulled the All-Star Game out of Atlanta over Georgia’s completely sensible, not remotely unconstitutional (much less racist) voting reform law — and I used to buy tickets for five-to-10 games a year.

All that said, there are some obvious differences between these sports and the Olympics. 

Fans spend years growing intimate attachments to their teams. It is hard to give up the habits of a lifetime. Plus, it isn’t just that the average fan’s emotional tie to his team is unrelated to politics; for many the games are an escape from politics and all its divisiveness. Your football team, for example, plays only once a week. Much as people grouse about the anthem protests and social-justice exhibitionism, most figure they can tune it out and enjoy the game with family and friends for a few hours. It can still be an oasis from politics.

But politics is never far from the Olympics, which are seen as competitions between countries. We don’t have the same kind of attachment to our Olympic team, with its dozens of athletes we don’t know participating in a dizzying array of sports we nearly never watch. Our real attachment comes from the fact that it is the United States team. It is a source of patriotic pride. Most of us would not watch canoe/kayak slalom, but we watch it in the Olympics — or we used to — with the hope that the American team wins.

That patriotic attachment is eviscerated, however, if the athletes are not patriotic. 

If the price of voluntarily sitting through this programming is to listen to or watch statements and gestures of protest, along the lines of “the country sucks, it is systemically racist, the flag and anthem are vestiges of imperialism, etc., etc.,” why do I need the Olympics? 

I get that claptrap from the news, the politics, the schools, the increasingly woke corporations, and other things I have little choice but to deal with. I don’t question the athletes’ right to believe whatever nonsense they want to believe. But I’m not going to subject myself to anti-American harangues in order to watch … fencing, which I wouldn’t ordinarily watch, and as to which my interest (beyond perhaps a few minutes of admiring the skill of the athletes) lies in hoping the American prevails — you know, so they can raise the imperialist flag and play the imperialist anthem.

It is getting harder to do, but you can still largely ignore the politicization of pro sports. Or at least you can rationalize (especially if you use the mute button) that injection of woke politics is just a nuisance, outweighed by your longstanding attachment to teams and players. 

The Olympic Games, to the contrary, are innately political. During the Cold War, famously, they were an extension of the twilight struggle between the free West and the Communist bloc. The athletes were unabashedly proud of whose side they were on, and the country loved them for it. 

The spirit of those Olympics is gone. That’s why no one wants to watch them.

Former federal prosecutor Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at National Review Institute, a contributing editor at National Review, and a Fox News contributor. His latest book is “Ball of Collusion.” Follow him on Twitter @AndrewCMcCarthy.

Tags Anti-Americanism Olympic Games Summer Olympics U.S. national anthem protests

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