by Daniel LeBaron
Something resonates about the Olympic games. If we assume that threads of Mormon values are reflected in them, Latter-day Saints will glean something in this international event. (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865659081/Local-athletes-prepare-to-represent-the-US-and-Utah-in-the-2016-Summer-Games-this-month.html). We celebrate when anyone emerges victorious, but a Latter-day Saint winner places us in the celebration circle of a world community. (http://www.deseretnews.com/article/865659391/Mormons-in-Rio-Who-to-watch-for-this-Olympics.html) This, despite the fact that Bob Costas and the NBC operation brought us the same dull commentary. Costas summarizes the day, a video of the winner is played, and then the interview. Hardly anything about the countries of non-American competitors. The chance to learn of other cultures is squandered. Social media, however, holds promise for a more fulfilling experience, as I share in this review.
But The Olympics is more than sporting events–they compel families who normally could care less about sports to watch. So what is it about the Olympic spirit that captures our hearts?
Perhaps it is the familiar–memories of watching with our families. Or is it the sense that even though we are competing with other countries, that we’re connected to the larger world, whom we regard as brothers and sisters. We glimpse a hope of what could be. Even when the feeling of unity is numbed by politics or economics, a spirit of respect and cooperation remains. For me, this time around, I felt the Olympics paralleled our beliefs and placed them in the context of global experience, but through traditional news coverage.
This year my viewing experience was different given I don’t own a television, thus my exposure to official NBC coverage was limited. Most of what I saw and heard was through social media. This organic and authentic portrayal of what my friends were resonating with was instructive. It also brought up questions of who has been shaping my view of the Olympics–this year I was able to see them through a much wider perspective (beyond Bob Costas) as a result of getting information from friends with connections and sources around the world. Social media may well show how the spirit in the games affects the everyday person.
I’m not alone in the online world of the Olympics. Josef Adalian of New York Magazine noted that “Part of [their] problem is big defections among millennial audiences….among adults aged 18 to 34, it looks like Friday’s opening was down around 43 percent compared to London….” (http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2016/08/rio-olympics-ratings-are-the-worst-theyve-been-in-years.html) Moreover, NBC itself has seen a large shift of viewers from television to digital consumption.(http://www.sltrib.com/home/4216100-155/nbc-says-rio-olympic-viewership-reaches)
Combined with what my friends were sharing, I saw what was trending across sites as a whole. There were posts tied to current political issues; this is the power of discourse. As with many things on the Internet there was the superficial, or content meant for quick entertainment and humor. Nevertheless, on the whole, I saw the inspirational. There were stories of athletes falling down during their race, rising again, and achieving gold; of helping each other to reach the finish line; of showing true-sportsmanship. There were stories that showed the joy of a Chinese swimmer as she heard the news that she had exceeded her personal best, or the refugee who once swam to safety in her country–then swam to lead in her heat. Some of the most poignant moments for me were seeing a friends’ self-concepts beaming as their home-nations obtained their first medals.
At the core of these stories, is the belief that we can act in greatness in the face of hardship and seemingly unsurmountable hurdles (no pun intended). In this, our quest for something higher, we believe that perseverence is possible; that despite winners and losers we can all choose to succeed. It didn’t matter where the athlete was from, my friends shared these stories with me. Maybe the spirit in the games is the influence of the Holy Spirit teaching us to have joy in others’ successes and learn of the truth that we can participate in and achieve something wonderful with the rest of our brothers and sisters alongside us.