Special to OutKick
Representing the United States as an athlete in the 1992 Winter Olympics was one of the proudest moments of my life. Fourteen years later, I had the honor of being a part of the official U.S. delegation to the Torino Games in 2006. As a former Olympian and U.S. delegate, I have seen firsthand the hard work and dedication it takes to compete and would not want to punish the athletes by boycotting this year’s Beijing Olympics.
Unfortunately, our leaders are attempting to silence our athletes and are completely letting the Communist Chinese government off the hook.
The day before the opening ceremony in Beijing, Speaker Pelosi warned our athletes not to risk “incurring the anger” of the Chinese government by criticizing China. I asked myself, “What is she hoping to accomplish? Why is she saying this now?”
By trying to silence our athletes, was she really worried about their safety, or was she more concerned about upsetting Chinese officials? Calling China names from a podium in Washington, D.C. after our athletes had already landed in China did absolutely nothing. Controlling speech is part of the Communist playbook. Sadly, Speaker Pelosi played right along.
The Speaker’s “warning” also bothered me because it was an unnecessary distraction for our athletes. These men and women have dedicated their entire lives to becoming the best at their sport and should be focused on competing and representing their countries well. They should be preparing for their events, not trying to guess what they can and can’t say out loud.
Unfortunately, the censorship will likely continue long after the games have ended. Olympians who want to land sponsorships with major corporations that do business in China will be pressured to stay quiet about China’s abuses. Athletes can be a powerful voice for change, but many will be forced to choose between exercising their Constitutional right to speak out about China’s crimes or saying nothing so they can earn a living. They shouldn’t be put in this position.
The first mistake was the International Olympic Committee’s decision to select Beijing as the host of the 2022 Games. They made this decision even though they knew about the genocide, internment camps, and slave labor. If U.S. officials pushed back, they didn’t push hard enough. Perhaps the IOC felt they didn’t have much of a choice. I think they took the easy way out.
Gian Franco Kasper, an honorary IOC member, said Beijing made perfect sense because “dictators can organize events such as this without asking the people’s permission. For us, everything is easier in dictatorships.”
However, this is not the American way. We have an obligation to show the world that “easier” in the short-term does not justify the long-term price, particularly when that price is paid with innocent human lives.
The pandemic gave the IOC an opportunity to correct their mistake and switch from the “easy” route to the right one. They could have postponed the games and looked for an alternative site. Instead, they went ahead with plans to reward the country whose actions caused so much death and destruction throughout the world.
Now, we hear reports that athletes in Beijing who have tested positive for COVID are being held in isolation under terrible conditions. Is anyone allowed to speak up for them?
We expect and deserve more from our leaders in Washington than “easy” last-minute calls for censorship, boycotts, and toothless legislation. Choosing to not send a delegation to the Olympics is nothing more than virtue-signaling, and does not go far enough.
We need to get serious about implementing a meaningful national strategy to counter China and its brutal regime. Under the previous Administration, we began to hold China accountable by renegotiating fair trade deals, imposing tariffs, and calling the Chinese Communist Party out for their blatant human rights abuses. In just over one year under President Biden, we have instead bowed to China every step of the way.
I suppose the silver lining of the Speaker’s statement is that it gives us a chance to reflect on what makes America so great. In our country, we are free to speak our minds without fear of being thrown into prison. The liberties we are guaranteed, and often take for granted, stand in stark contrast to the daily oppression of communist regimes like China.
If I could speak directly to our Olympians today, I would tell them, “I’m so proud of you. Ignore the political noise. You are the best of the best. You are representing the greatest country in the world. Stay focused on the task at hand. Bring home the Gold! But no matter what the outcome is, I’ve got your back. Americans stand with you.”
Herschel Walker is former NFL running back, political candidate, bobsledder, sprinter and mixed martial artist.