I’m watching the current events in the political world the best that I can in real-time, watching the debate as strong sentiments from both sides go back and forth in a never-ending parry and thrust.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit worried; the pace, the sheer volume of things being overturned, the cacophony surrounding it all in a news cycle that is almost minute-to-minute.
People wanted change, and change won. This is the brick through the windows America needed to throw, and like it or not, change is what we’ve got.
Through it all I still try and keep focus on the people. This morning I read a story from U24 Team USA member Luis Beteta that reported Iran had banned Team USA from attending an upcoming wrestling tournament in Iran over the events of the last week.
Such a political move does nothing to change a policy or tone, but rather takes athletes that have done nothing wrong, and tears away the one thing that matters to them. Like the US in 1980, and the USSR in 1984, nothing changes…unless you count dreams that took years to build, they disappear in the stroke of a bureaucrat’s pen.
I have had the privilege to wear the uniform of the United States in three World Championships for Dragon Boat, in 2011, 2013, and 2015. I will be trying again this spring to make the team destined to race in October 2017, in China. Hopefully, whomever makes the team will still have the chance to go, and based on that same rhetoric mentioned above, who can tell how the world will look in eight months, let alone eight weeks, or even eight hours.
When you wear the uniform, you feel it. You are an ambassador whether you want to be or not. You are the nation, even if you don’t know it. When the racing is over, people will come up and ask to trade with you so they can take the USA kit home.
I have never had a problem trading mine away. I have traded with Australia, China, Russia, Germany, Italy, Japan.
But in 2013 was probably the coolest moment I’ve ever had in regards to being there and representing. During the opening ceremonies in Szeged, Hungary, the team from Iran came over to us. There were just 12 of them (racing in the 10-seat division), but they walked right into the middle of the 300+ member US delegation.
Their Team Captain walked up to our flag, asked for it, and then he unrolled the Iran flag right beside it. He held them up overhead, yelled out, and then waved them together in a huge, flowing, figure-8.
His teammates started giving out wristbands with the Iran flag colors on them; when one came to me, the gent took my wrist, put it on, and then stamped a flag on my wrist with a little ink pad.
He held my hand and said, “Our President is CRAZY. But we, we are not. We love you, and we love America!”
You will hear all of the bad things, and clearly, there are people out there that wish to do us harm – I’m not stupid. I’m not naive. Life isn’t a Disney movie, and my one moment at a regatta doesn’t make it all better.
But remember as you watch the news, as you watch the posturing, as you line up on one side or another, we are all people on the same rock hurtling through time and space.
We are all people who want to live, love, and know peace in our own way.
There are people just like us on the other side of the world who only know what they’ve been taught, different from you and me simply because of geography, time, and luck. That which is familiar and known is comfortable. Your point of view, experiences, and influences will shape your mind into whether that which is different is just different, or somehow becomes “wrong.” One has to be careful, yet maintain an open mind. In times like these where it’s easy to feel that we are caught in a downpour of never-ending bad news and chaos, it’s pretty much a full-time challenge.
But we can rise above it.
I love sport because it breaks all of that down and reminds us of who we are, and better yet, who we could be.
I’m lucky to have felt that in-person, and hope to share that chance again.
When you get past the rhetoric, the people are all that really matter in the end.
Stay strong, stand tall, and rise above it. Never lose faith that there will always be more good than bad in this world, no matter what you hear.
Our leaders may indeed be crazy, but we, we the people, are not.