Thoughts about Olympics and Politics

In the L.A. Times, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remembers 1968, when he was very sympathetic to calls for some black American athletes to boycott the Olympics in Mexico City.

Then Abdul-Jabbar wonders about Beijing 2008:

Here we are 40 years later and 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. And, as before, there is a social agenda attached to the Olympic Games.

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.

Also, in a wide-ranging interview, Commissioner David Stern tells Brian Berger of Sports Business Radio that he is not opposed to using the Olympics as a platform to discuss policies.

"People should be encouraged," he says, "to speak out" in broad discussions, protest, or other forums. He says not sure such dissent "should ever be violent." He also notes that witholding athletes has been shown, in his view, to only hurt the athletes.