Whatever we want to see, we can see. Is Ted Kennedy prince or pirate? Is Bob Knight genius or ogre? We can make arguments. We can argue the Olympic Games. As Roone Arledge insists, for his television work made it so, Americans think of the Olympics as a religious rite. Even as terrorists escaped Munich, even as 11 dead athletes were put in coffins, the Olympics went on. "There is more good here than criminals can erase," said a Japanese coach who woke in the night to the sound of gunshots in the next room.
Is there more good than criminals can erase?
The Olympics are naked politics. It is not Moscow's desire to put on the Olympic Games because it is smitten with the idea of an international sports festival in which peace, brotherhood and lots of sweat replace power, anger and brass knuckles as a way of life. Moscow wants these Olympics so that NBC will carry to the world a thousand pictures of Misha, which is the name of the cute little teddy bear designed as the mascot and symbol of these Games. See the teddy bear, how cute it is? Welcome to Moscow, a teddy bear of a town.
Meanwhile, the Russian grizzly swipes claws of steel across Kabul.
Only hopeless innocents who think of the Olympics as nothing more than two weeks of Jim McKay coming into the living room on the tube can be upset with President Carter's suggestion of a United State boycott of the Moscow Olympics. The athletes wear U.S.A. on their uniforms, they carry the flag, they stand for the national anthem. Corporations pony up big bucks to be sure our boys and girls get all the stuff they need to keep running faster than those Iron Curtain kids, the ones not driving tanks. The Games are not Arledge's religious rite; they are pagan arm-wrestlings for the greater glory of the homeland.
Which is not all bad. Competition begets excellence. But when the competition is perverted, when it becomes a way to pass off a grizzly as a cute little teddy bear, then it is time to say that the available good -- the proof of human majesty made evident by wonderful athletic work -- is not worth consorting with criminals.
"What we should do," a Washington man said yesterday, "is send Bobby Knight to Moscow with our basketball team. Imagine that. A strategic missile right in Moscow."
Another man said, "Better yet, let's have the U.N. debate whether we should send our Olympic team or not. That way, the U.N. can debate Iran, Afghanistan and the Olympics until everyone forgets about all of them."
What we should do is send no American to Moscow for the Olympics.
Leave the teddy bear to play with his tanks.
That proposition was put to Steve Garvey yesterday, the true blue Dodger first baseman having called to promote a TV series he hosts called "Road to Moscow 1980." The series is 30 one-hour shows telling us about the beautiful athletes who have given up their lives for the Olympic dream. Should we, Garvey was asked, even go down that road to Moscow?
"If I hadn't done this series," Garvey said, "I'd probably say the same thing you're saying: Just drop out. But I've been too close to all these athletes, some of whom have been affected by politics already and have fought back. Dwight Stones, Kate Schmidt, Jane Frederick.
"All they want to do is compete. They're not dealing here with something that happens every four years for them. This is their life. They have given up careers, given up their homes and families. To say, all of a sudden, 'Hey, no Moscow, you're not going to Moscow,' that would be tough."
As President Carter has implied by only suggesting a boycott and not requesting it from the U.S. Olympic Committee, Garvey wants to wait and see what the Russian grizzly does next.
"If the Russians continue to be aggressive, there'll be no recourse except to boycott," Garvey said. "But the Olmpics are very important to them. For a communist country, this is the time to impress.They've spent millions and they'll make millions, so I think they'll fall short of trying anything else that offends people."
Which brings up the question: When tanks roll over a free country, do we need more reason to say we won't come play in the tank drivers' backyard? But before that question could be asked, Garvey was saying a thing that made his listener gulp.
"Three things unify this country," he said."Two things happen this year. The political elections. People rally together to elect a president. The second is the Olympics. This is a chance for our country to go against the world. We can maintain prestige."
And what, we asked, expecting Garvey to say something like "the World Series, you dummy," is that third unifying event?
"The other thing we don't want to happen. A world war."
It requires extraordinary mental agility to make the leap from an Olympic boycott to World War III. The distance is shortened, of course, if we believe an Olympic boycott would be the freezing point of a new cold war. And Garvey, to name one American, thinks such a boycott might produce cold-war situations.
"If you boycott 1980 in Moscow, there's a good chance the Russians will do the reverse in 1984 in Los Angeles," he said. "The Russians would be saying, 'If you don't come to our Games, we won't come to yours.' The Olympics could be decimated."
Which may not be such a bad idea. The Games are too important, too political, too much a weapon and not enough a dream. Break them up. Have 20 championships at the same time in different places around the world. Take the runners to Paris, the basketball players to Kentucky, the boxers to Sydney. Leave the flags at home.