We are supposed to give the referee the ball and walk away, humbly. Our winning-is-the-only-thing reputation having preceded us, we need to do everything but apologize for being this good.
Consider Tariq Panja, a British sports reporter for Bloomberg, who asked a straightforward question Saturday afternoon to Ashton Eaton, Missy Franklin and the other perma-grin gold medalists the United States Olympic Committee trotted out for its Our-Medal-Count-Rocks news conference.
“There’s something about the discourse of being the greatest country in the world,” Panja began. “Michael Phelps used it before the Olympic Games. For people here it’s a bit of a strange thing to say. We don’t really talk about our country like you guys do.
“So do you genuinely think the USA is the best in the world and do you take that with you onto the track?”
Patrick Sandusky, the USOC’s chief of communications, couldn’t help himself. “From the gentleman who comes from a country with the word ‘Great’ in front of the title — Great Britain.”
Bam — take that.
Afterward, Panja was accosted by a couple of USOC media attaches for his “low blow” during the news conference — essentially sending a tweet, that read in part, “A lot of flag-waving going on here.”
Yes, there was flag-waving of a sort. That’s what usually happens at nation-sponsored press events, be it Italy, Tunisia or Britain, a brilliant host that has kicked some royal be-hind at these Olympics, winning more medals than any British team in history.
The United States shouldn’t apologize for cleaning up at the podium in these Games and blowing by China in the medal totals the past few days. But neither do its athletes and the USOC brass here have to gloat in a way that comes across as, “We’re American Exceptionalists, take it or leave it, jack.”
Frankly, the American athletes here deserve credit for walking that fine line. They have to remember the ugly-American sentiment after the posing and preening from Maurice Greene and the track crew at the Sydney Games in 2000.
Not every athlete from every country in London deals with that delicate balancing act.
As a Dutch female journalist said, “If Usain Bolt were American and said the same things and acted in that goofy arrogant way that we all laugh at because he’s Jamaican, I wonder if he wouldn’t be criticized for rubbing it in, for being an American jerk.”
Many are in a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t predicament.
On Fox News last week, a segment entitled, “New Concerns Over Patriotism at the Olympics” was pathetic. Because Gabby Douglas competed in a pink leotard and the U.S. swim team wore gray warmups without an American-flag design, the U.S. delegation was accused of being “soft” on issue of national pride.