A time to come together

DKS Editors

They might be running. They might be swimming. Or they might even be jumping on a trampoline.

Regardless, you can bet the approximately 10,500 athletes in Beijing are practicing as you read this to prepare for the world’s most prestigious athletic competition: the Olympic games. And yet, the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing are not solely designed to test the athletic prowess of the world’s top jocks.

It’s a gathering of nations – this year about 205 countries – where athletes, fans and the host city’s residents can brush aside political differences for 17 days to engage in friendly competition and cultural immersion. The Olympic games have even spawned several political and cultural changes.

At the 1932 Olympics in Berlin, Jesse Owens won four gold medals, showing that Hitler’s idea of a Master “Aryan Race” was far off-base. In 1968 in Mexico City, Tommie Smith and John Carlos performed a “Power to the People” salute after placing in a track race. Both athletes were black, and the Olympics were held during the Civil Rights movement. The salute showed solidarity toward their race during a difficult time.

The Olympics, however, do not only benefit the participants and stadium spectators. While we root for our home team miles away, we, too, gain a bit more insight into the global community as television segments showcase athletes at home and in the host city.

Unfortunately, our generation – whose ages are similar to the athletes’ – often cares the least about the Olympic games. For proof, just take a look at the Nielsen ratings for the last Olympic games.

In February 2006, NBC lost its sweeps battle for the young adult audience to rival network ABC. The network home to “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives” took top honors that month, despite NBC’s massive coverage of the Winter Olympic Games in Torino, Italy.

Granted, it might have been hard for U.S. figure skater Sasha Cohen to garner more interest than new episodes featuring Meredith Grey’s personal and professional turmoil. Still, we hope the lackluster Nielsen ratings for the 2006 Winter Olympics among young adults boil down to a timing issue, rather than an indication of our generation’s indifference to the global community.

The Olympic games give the average American the opportunity to easily get a glimpse of life outside the United States – and it can all be done with the click of the television power button. You do not have to pay thousands of dollars for plane tickets, hotel rooms and game tickets to benefit from the cultural showcase.

As the games wind down Aug. 24 in Beijing, we hope the Olympic spirit still remains by sparking interest in other cultures. Join a cultural organization. Plan a study abroad trip. Eat at a foreign food restaurant.

The quest for cultural understanding should not be limited to 17-day intervals every two years during the summer and winter Olympic games.

In the meantime, let’s don our red, white and blue apparel and wish our nation’s participants luck – both in their sporting events and as acting as American ambassadors overseas. We look forward to watching former Golden Flash Kim Kreiner compete in the women’s javelin event. Good luck!

The above editorial is the consensus of the Summer Kent Stater editorial board whose names appear to the left.