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Keith Strudler: Hey Congress, Stay Away from Sports

In case after last night you didn’t hate Congress enough, or didn’t have enough reasons to believe they were sanctimonious wind bags that have less conviction than a wet noodle, maybe this will do it for you. This week, members of that elected body decided to give an ethics lesson, which in itself is rich. That lesson, served in the form of both lecture and discussion, went to the international Olympic community, including members of the IOC and the World Anti-Doping agency that were there in person. It came from House members on both sides of the isle from a bunch of sub-committees I’ve never heard of. And it came after Michael Phelps and shot putter Adam Nelson told the legislators about the lack of institutional control around Olympic doping and, in particular, pointed a finger at the freak show that is the Russian Olympic program, where doping has run far and rampant – and for years unchecked.

This is what the US Congress spent Tuesday talking about and, subsequently, moralizing about. They wanted to get to the bottom of why the World Anti-Doping Agency didn’t do a better job protecting the sanctity of the Games. And why the IOC didn’t crack down on the Russian hackers that released confidential data about American athletes. These were the moral quandaries of our US Congress, who now supposedly will work with the US Anti-Doping Agency and the United States Olympic Committee to get the Olympics right. To make it the elite space of fairness and justice and honesty that the Greeks envisioned. This, coming from the United States Congress. Just drink that in for a moment.

Now don’t think that Congress won’t act on this. In fact, they’ve already threatened to pull some $2 million of funding to the IOC if they don’t change their ways. That fits in nicely with the current American ethos of cutting pennies from the US Budget to mask the absurdity of a $54 billion hike in military spending. So just remember, when the national debt crashes through whatever gaping hole exists in the atmosphere, know that it’s not because we’re throwing our loose change at a bunch of kayakers and archers who may or may not be taking steroids.

This is not the first time the US Congress has put its considerable and egocentric weight behind cleaning up the Olympics Games. They called the IOC to task about vote buying scandals to win an Olympic bid, which ironically was a process perfected by the United States. And of course Congress has spent liberal and copious amounts of time on other professional sports, most notably in threatening drug cheats like Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds in what might amounts to the biggest testosterone fest in history – and that’s without the drugs.

It’s not surprising that Congress gets excited about jumping into the ring, or on the field, in the arena, or whatever metaphor you prefer. Standing up for fairness in sports is an easy mark. What’s the other side of the argument? Let’s celebrate the cheaters? Reward the criminals? Hand out trophies to frauds? Of course not. And this particular case it’s even easier, because Congress wants to wag the finger at the rest of the world – starting with Russia and the Eurocentric IOC – for not being honest, unlike our brave American athletes that play by the rules. This is like standing up for puppies and firefighters. There’s no counterargument.

But the problem here is that it couldn’t be more disingenuine. You know what Congress telling the Olympics to have more integrity is like? It’s like Bernie Madoff telling school kids not to cheat on a quiz. Or Chris Farley – God rest his soul – making us all go to the gym. Only Chris Farley wouldn’t do that, because he wasn’t a sanctimonious fraud. Like Congress is.

See, I could stomach Congress yelling at the Olympics for corruption if they weren’t trying to bury an act of treason by our current president. Or if they didn’t sell their conviction based on poll numbers. Or if they didn’t lie and cheat their way to office, like way too many of them did and continue to do, because that’s what American politicians do. And I know, not all of them, but way too many.

So you know what I want Congress to do? I want them to help our public schools and stop letting corporations get away with murder. I want them to fix healthcare and show up at town halls like they’re morally obligated to do. I want them to support the poor and fight racism – overt, institutional, and otherwise. And until that’s done, I want them to stay the hell away from sports. They’re doing a great job at ruining our actual lives. Maybe they can do us a favor and at least leave our escape alone. And just to be clear, that goes for the states as well – like North Carolina, which is actually considering a bill that would let parents overrule a doctor’s decision to keep their kid out of a game because of a concussion.

I’m not saying the Olympics is great. It’s not. But American government is actually worse. So please, keep your hands off. Unless, of course, you simply just want to be hated even more.

Keith Strudler is the director of the Marist College Center for Sports Communication and an associate professor of communication. You can follow him on twitter at @KeithStrudler

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.

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