Let’s Do This The Right Way

As we sat in a restaurant eating lunch a couple of weekends ago, I glanced at the television over the bar and saw track and field events. In this country, that can only mean one thing: the Olympics are coming soon. Just think about it- for over two weeks next August, we’ll witness, in the famous words of Wide World of Sports,

“…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat; the human drama of athletic competition…”

Of course, the United States only cares for the thrill of victory. We spearheaded the effort to include professional athletes in the Games, because in the early ’90s, it wasn’t enough to win the gold medal in basketball. We had to win every game in 1992 in Barcelona by an embarrassing margin.

 

6 OCT 1992: USA BASKETBALL TEAM MEMBERS MICHAEL JORDAN (MIDDLE) SCOTTIE PIPPEN (LEFT) AND CLIDE DREXLER (RIGHT) ACKNOWLEDGE THE CROWD AFTER RECEIVING THEIR GOLD MEDALAS MEMBERS OF THE DREAM TEAM DURING THE 1992 BARCELONA OLYMPICS IN BARCELONA, SPAIN. Man

By the way, I don’t mean embarrassing for the opponent. I mean for the concept of sportsmanship. Over Angola by 68 points? Over Lithuania by 51? In fact the smallest margin of victory was beating Croatia by 32 in the gold medal game.

This utter arrogance resonates well with fans. Thus, in addition to the above, we see images such as this

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or this

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whenever an American wins anything.

“What’s wrong with those?” you’re no doubt asking. “That’s national pride, not arrogance.”

It’s the same thing that’s wrong with this

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and this

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and this.

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That’s right. I’m going to call out American athletic icons because what each one is doing is ILLEGAL.

Public Law 829, Chapter 806 added the Flag Code to United States law. Sections 173-178 of U. S. Code Title 36 provide the rules for the display and handling of the flag, and Section 176 spells out how to treat the flag respectfully. Let’s match the violator with the offense.

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6 OCT 1992: USA BASKETBALL TEAM MEMBERS MICHAEL JORDAN (MIDDLE) SCOTTIE PIPPEN (LEFT) AND CLIDE DREXLER (RIGHT) ACKNOWLEDGE THE CROWD AFTER RECEIVING THEIR GOLD MEDALAS MEMBERS OF THE DREAM TEAM DURING THE 1992 BARCELONA OLYMPICS IN BARCELONA, SPAIN. Man

Subsection (d): The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding or drapery.

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Subsection (j): No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.

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Subsection (b): The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

and (multiple violations, Mr. Craig!)

Subsection (d): It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.

You can view the entire Flag Code here, and it makes for fascinating reading. Subsection (j) provides the philosophy for the code:

The flag represents a living country and is itself considered a living thing.

Hence the need to treat the flag well, with the utmost respect.

I understand that the athletes, being consumed as they are with the practice of their sports, are probably quite ignorant of this law and the expectations for handling and display of the flag. And, obviously, Mary Lou Retton did not design the 1984 gymnastics uniform. But the United States Olympic Committee should counsel all of the athletes that represent this country on just what it is they are doing at the Olympics.

They should give their best in the arena of competition in order to glorify their country. If and when they win, so much the better. Incidentally, that’s why cheating to obtain victory is such a disgrace.

However, when an athlete wraps the flag around his sweaty shoulders after a win, that indicates he thinks the flag is there to glorify HIM. Nothing could be further from the truth, or more contrary to the spirit of the Flag Code. That’s why I began by accusing the flag-drapers of arrogance.

The Flag Code does not spell out any penalties for violating its stipulations, leaving this to the states. However, it is a mistake to believe that an action is acceptable if the perpetrator does not receive punishment. Everyone in this country should feel shame when our representatives feel the need for victory at any cost and then use living symbols to congratulate themselves. Fans should not plaster Pinterest with pictures of US Flag Code violations labeled “Pride.”

I’m not just complaining, either. In the Sochi Olympics, I witnessed a positive example. Unfortunately, despite lauding this performance for its gritty determination, no pundit that I heard commented on the athlete’s respect for flag and country.

Representing Peru in a 15 kilometer cross-country skiing event, Roberto Carcelen found himself nearing the finish line 28 minutes after the race’s winner had crossed. Here’s  what he did:

 

That, USOC officials and U. S. athletes, is how to do it right.

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