I cannot remember the last time I enjoyed watching the Olympics as much as I have these 2012 games. Once the Soviets went bankrupt there was no country worth rooting against (and hating on the Chinese always feels a little racist). But these London games have distinguished themselves from the sad (1996 marred by a bombing), inaccessible (2000, the time zones were awful) embarrassing (2004 USA basketball ‘nuff said) and the forgettable (2008 who cared about Beijing when Obama was running?) Olympics over the last few years by being so unmistakably, unforgivably, undeniably BLACK. I haven’t had this much fun watching sports since Tiger Woods was driving Fuzzy Zoeller crazy.
What makes the 2012 Olympics “Blacker” than most of the past games? It’s not like African Americans haven’t played a pivotal role in every Olympics since Hitler. But this time it’s different, outside of Michael Phelps, just about EVERY story out of the Olympics this year is about African American athletes. Compare this year’s coverage with say….2004. No Jenny Finches, no Rulon Gardners, whether it’s controversy or congratulations the storylines have focused squarely on the bodies, words and actions of Black Atheltes. Now there is an unofficial 1-10 scale of “Blackness” to any social or cultural event. A 10, a really really black event is like a Tyler Perry movie premiere, old Richard Pryor stand-up and Red Velvet Cake, stuff that pretty much ONLY black people will understand, love or get excited about, to 1, the only slightly black stuff (like post 2008 Barack Obama, rap music and friend Chicken, basically stuff black people love but so does everybody else so it’s not like it’s exclusively ours). While these Olympics have been overflowing with blackness, below are the top 3 people that have made this the “Blackest Olympics” ever! (And we’ve still got a couple of days left!)
What She Did: What didn’t Gabby Douglas do this Olympics? She went from being the underdog, to the champion, to the focus of racist pointless hair controversy to the poster child for Sisterhood (Dominique Dawes loving support of Gabby should embarrass every woman who’s ever been on Basketball Wives.) Her individual Gold Medal has made her America’s sweetheart and a future star in the sport.
Blackness Scale: Right now I’d say Gabby is at about 7 on the blackness scale, somewhere between the second season of Chappelle Show and the Melissa Harris Perry show. Because she accomplished the most notable thing for the women’s Olympic squad she is going to be foisted on the public on cereal boxes and probably get a nice PSA with Michelle Obama. Her accomplishments will strike a particular chord with the black community but given the demographic make-up of her sport she’ll have some mainstream love too.
Future Prospects: However, let’s keep it real, she’s not going to go THAT mainstream. Gabby Douglas doesn’t have the ‘look’ that 50 year old white male ad executives want when they want to negotiate 50 million dollar deals with Kellogg’s and Denny’s. The hair flap was just a hint of what you know is being said behind closed doors. However, she’ll make her cash, come back in 2016 and will always get love on the Black Girls Rock, Essence and Bet Awards circuit. Not bad for a 16 year old who was ‘too unfocused’ to succeed.
What She did: She just smashed down on every single person who had the nerve to think they could beat her in the Olympics. Serena (and her sister in doubles competition) are snatching up gold like Super Mario but it was her celebration dance after her gold medal that got pundit tongues wagging.
Blackness Scale: Williams spontaneous Crip Walk was one of the blackest moments of a pretty Black Olympics. On the blackness scale it’s a 9 way up there with Kanye saying “George Bush doesn’t Care about Black people”. Why? Because Serena (and Venus) have caught racially coded hell their whole careers (their hair-beads, grunting etc.) for not being petite White girls from nice backgrounds. Because after all these years it was a sincere, spontaneous expression of who the hell we are as a people, straight no chaser (not to mention the fact that no one said a peep when white athletes do it). She wasn’t worried about sponsors, offending white folks or high minded culture critics who clutched the pearls and said ‘That’s Gang related’. Serena is a black woman from the hood in L.A., people Crip Walk. It’s a dance, it’s not and endorsement of “Thug Life”. She and most other black people know that.
Future Prospects: Serena will probably go down as the most influential African American woman athlete in history. She might challenge Martina Navratilova if she decides to have no life and play great tennis for another 10 years. We’ll all be watching.
What He Did: Let’s see, in the last 18 months LeBron lost an NBA championship, won his 3rd MVP, won an NBA Championship, got engaged, broken all sorts of records, and found Obama’s real birth certificate. Oh and he’s about to lead America to a gold medal in what might be the last year that NBA players are allowed in the Olympics. LeBron is about to cap off what might be the hottest two year run in the history of the NBA and he’s only 27 years old.
Blackness Scale: LeBron’s Olympics fall on the slightly less Black Scale, maybe a 4, just because his detractors and supporters are pretty much evenly spread out regardless of race or gender. While Ohio haters were a step away from a Klan convention (Whore of Akron? Really?) the fact is that lots of people, most real sports fans, wanted to see LeBron get over the hump and give us another 5 to 7 years of once in a generation basketball. Even when he was screwing up everybody wanted him to do well, kinda like Barack Obama.
What She Did: Nothing really, which is both a good thing and a bad thing. Lolo Jones, in an Olympics that didn’t have enough pretty marketable white girls of the proper age (ie: Old enough to be sexy but not too old as to lose the teen and tween market) had the fortune of being pretty in the eyes of 50 year old white men on Madison Avenue who thought her racially ambiguous looks made her the perfect tent-pole for a marketing bonanza throughout the 2012 games. That’s not her fault, you have a short life as a track star and you gotta make that money when and how you can. Then, some jerk at the New York Times decided to go all early 2000’s Slate/Salon snarky and wrote a hatchet job Lil Lolo. Two days later she came in 4th in the hurdles, within 24 hours she was crying on the Today Show about the NYT and her devastating loss, Dawn Harper and Kellie Wells (who actually WON the Gold and Silver) were wondering why THEY weren’t on the Today Show, and then things really got ugly. Pundits from all over the sports world started screaming about Jones being spoiled, a crybaby, a failure, a fraud and everything short of a tanned version of LeBron James circa 2010-2011. It’s pretty ugly.
Blackness Scale: This whole story is a 10 on the blackness scale, like somewhere between an old VHS copy of Love Jones and hot sauce at breakfast black. In large part because this story resonates a whole different way with black people exclusively. Jones is getting the kind of over the top media slap on the wrist that seems reserved exclusively for African American athletes (compounded by the fact that she’s a woman) who’ve been ‘given’ the gift of positive marketing and coverage then fail to live up to their PR paymaster’s expectations. How dare you not win!? (Even though these modern day Don Drapers had to know from the start that she was not the favorite in any of her races) How dare you talk about your faith and being a virgin!? (You’re a hot mulatto fantasy woman on Mandy Moore and 90’s Britney can say that). Don’t you realize how LUCKY you are that we GAVE you all of this!? (Even though she is already a world champion). Sorry critics but Lolo is NOT the first hyped Olympic athlete to not live up to expectations at the games. If you go into the way-back machine you might remember ”Dan and Dave” being forced down our throats by Reebok before the 1992 Olympics and those guys flamed out faster than you can say Olympics Triple-Cast. Nobody came after them like Frankenstein’s monster and they blew a lot more Reebok money. Yes, if she’d won she could’ve mitigated some of the hate, but it’s I don’t know that Marion Jones got this kind of venom and she actually cheated. Of course nobody put a billion dollar ad campaign on her either.
There are plenty of other black moments to come in this Olympics. What happens if and when LeBron wins? Will Allyson Felix (who is so talented, so authentic and so gorgeous that she’d get me out on the track in some Adidas anyday) get the endorsements she deserves for being a 3 time Olympian and gold medalist? Will Destinee Hooker, who next to LeBron / Serena has been the most dominant Olympian these games even get noticed? (She’s killing it in Women’s volleyball, you’re missing out.) All I know is this, outside of Michael Phelps, Black folks are taking center stage this year, and for once the post – Olympic question might not be “Will black Olympians get the media coverage they deserve” but “WHICH Black Olympian will get the biggest slice of media pie?