What happened to Team USA?

Feb 232006
Authors: Jenna Lynn Ellis

Much controversy has surrounded the Olympic Winter Games in Turino, specifically the attitudes and actions of the USA men's speed skating team.

Team USA athletes Shani Davis and Chad Hedrick are reportedly feuding, culminating in Davis' decision to not participate in the men's team race in order to focus on his own individual event.

Hedrick was angry at Davis for opting out (thereby removing his considerable talent from benefiting the team), and Davis is being called "unpatriotic" and "selfish" among other even less flattering terms. Then, when Davis won his individual event, he said in a press conference that Hedrick should have congratulated him. Both men were arrogant and rude to reporters during the interview.

Did we send 3-year-old athletes? This sounds like a petty fistfight mothers usually break up between their toddler playmates.

What happened to team spirit, good sportsmanship and the value of regarding the interests of the team as more important than your own?

I remember watching Olympic athletes in past years who encouraged each other and united together as Team USA, even when they weren't competing in the same sport.

I remember the Athens Summer Games in 2004 when Michael Phelps gave up his spot on the men's swim relay race to his teammate, who had battled an illness and lost his individual race because of it.

Phelps didn't give up his spot on the swim team because he thought he could do better in his individual events like Davis did, but gave up a gold medal spot out of compassion and sportsmanship for a fellow teammate.

What happened to these encouraging stories of decency, friendship and kindness? The spirit of arrogance and selfishness has pervaded the United States and is showing its true ugly colors at the Winter Games, now that your and my generation is representing "Team" USA.

Our culture has taught us to value individualism and our own self-interests and opinions above the values of old: respect for others, community, teamwork and necessary social dependence on each other.

We're taught that we should "look out for Number One" and build our own careers and dreams, regardless of the cost to anyone else.

"Black America Web" posted a commentary on Shani Davis arguing that because he is black in the midst of white teammates and has reportedly endured criticism for his skating style, "It is hardly surprising that Shani Davis wasn't feeling the team thing, and it's certainly not right that he should be blamed for it" and "besides, where did all this camaraderie suddenly come from?" (http://www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/sayitloud/mathis220, accessed Feb. 22, 2006).

No, the question is: where did this individualism suddenly come from? When did it become acceptable to disregard camaraderie and teamwork for individual reasons, such as race, personal goals or emotional response to criticism?

The USA athletes' representation in attitude at the Winter Games has been disappointing, and frankly, embarrassing.

Davis and Hedrick are unfortunate followers and believers in the American ideal of "individualism." This and many other examples during these Games from our athletes are only a sample of the selfishness and egocentric attitudes of our generation. It's a forecast of more to come if we don't take a serious look at our culture and ourselves.

Jenna Lynn Ellis is a junior technical journalism major. Her column runs every Friday in the Collegian.

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