By Contributor on February 22, 2006

It's not unusual to hear the word "race" during the Olympic Games. But the term has taken on a particular sharp edge during the 2006 Winter Games.

Long-time news and sports journalist Bryant Gumbel shocked many viewers when he offered a terse dismissal of the Winter Olympics during a commentary at the end of the February edition of his HBO program, "Real Sports." He said: "Count me among those who don't care about them and won't watch them," expressing annoyance at everything from ice skating's "kiss and cry" area to the lack of connection the winter games have to original Greek competitions.

But Gumbel really raised some eyebrows when he added, "Try not to laugh when someone says these are the world's greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention."

Conservative commentators and bloggers responded at record-breaking speed, calling Gumbel a racist and arguing that the games are open to anyone who works to make their Olympic dream a reality. Unfortunately, few managed to look at the truth behind Gumbel's claim.

Unlike the Summer Games, which brings together athletes from 200 nations around the globe, the Winter Olympics spotlights a much smaller slice of the planet. With only 87 nations currently participating -- the most of any Winter Games -- 57 percent of the countries of the world are left out in the cold.

You might think that the American melting pot would thaw some of that ice, and indeed the United States sent its most multiracial team ever to this year's competitions in Turin, Italy.

Unfortunately, that increased diversity still only equals about 10 percent of the 211-member Team USA.

There are likely many young athletes of color who could be successful at winter sports if the equipment and training were available to them. Imagine being a parent with limited resources trying to compare the cost of a pair of running shoes or a tennis racket with that of ski equipment or a bobsled.

There's also the issue of limited training opportunities for winter athletes. Not everyone can afford to live in, or move to, a ski resort.

And there's the subtle but weighty issue of representation. If young people of color don't see themselves reflected in the culture of a particular area of sports or business, they're more likely to question whether or not they even belong in that area.

The International and United States Olympic Committees and the related governing bodies of Olympic winter sports say that they are committed to diversifying the Games.

Recruiters have had some success with outreach efforts in communities that have traditionally not been connected to winter sports.

Ironically, the powers-that-be didn't make the connection between the popular summer sport of inline skating and speedskating on ice until skating enthusiasts began to make the transition themselves. Team USA members Derek Parra, Jennifer Rodriguez and Shani Davis (the first African-American male to win an individual medal at the winter games) are all former inline skaters.

Unfortunately, Davis' historic speedskating victory at the Torino Olympics in the 1,000 meters was marred by the criticism he received from the media and from fellow team member Chad Hedrick for declining to take part in the team pursuit.

"I worked to be here. None of my teammates worked to get me here," Davis told the press. "I've been skating since I was 6. This is the fruit for all the labor I put in for years. It's my choice, and I choose not to."

Davis' Web site soon received several hate e-mails, including a number that used racial epithets.

Davis, Parra, Vonetta Flowers and other successful Winter Olympic athletes of color have overcome the odds against them.

If the Olympics want to build attendance at winter events and attract audience for its televised coverage of the Games, they'll need to expand their support for athletes in the communities that have traditionally been left out of the competition.

Otherwise, Bryant Gumbel won't be the only sports fan who continues to tune out.

Andrea Lewis is a San Francisco-based journalist and co-host of "The Morning Show" on KPFA Radio in Berkeley, Calif. She can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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