Some four decades after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the podium in Mexico City, the LA Times’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (above, far left) writes “we are once again about to send our young athletes overseas to compete in games while we send our young soldiers overseas to fight in war.” No MC5 at the Democratic Convention this time, though.
Should we boycott the Olympic Games to protest China’s arrogant human rights performance, its political imperialism, its shoddy exports that recently have left some Americans ill or dead?
The answer is no. While it may seem disingenuous to be playing games with countries that aim weapons at us, the same claim can be made about us by many other countries.
I am of a mind that the actions of Smith and Carlos made a difference in 1968. However, this Olympics is an entirely different situation that requires different tactics to achieve a satisfactory resolution. Instead of turning our backs, we need to continue a dialogue with the Chinese.
The more we talk with each other, the more we understand each other and can reach compromises that will benefit the lives of those we are trying to help. Jackie Robinson once said that the great thing about athletics is that “you learn to act democracy, not just talk it.” That’s what our athletes will demonstrate to the 1 billion Chinese who may be watching.
A second means of influencing the Chinese is through globalization, in which we share products, entertainment, and culture with others — and they share theirs with us — in order to break down the barriers that make us fear each other’s differences.
The NBA is a good model for globalization. The Chinese Basketball Assn. permits only two foreign-born players per team. But the NBA’s policy of choosing the best players, regardless of nationality, has not only kicked up the level of play, but it’s made basketball more popular on an international level than ever. The fact that the NBA brought in China’s Yao Ming, Wang Zhizhi, Yi Jianlian, Sun Yue and Mengke Bateer has increased NBA fans in China — and when the Chinese people are exposed to America through basketball, we become more human to them, less a threat.
So, let’s not just pick up our ball and stay home. We have many more options — political, commercial, and cultural — to express our displeasure with China’s policies. The more we have in common, the more impact we can make. It’s all about building trust.