HOYT PURVIS: Olympics try, but there's no avoiding world politics

Posted: February 21, 2018 at 1 a.m.

Many of us have spent time in recent days viewing coverage of the winter Olympics from South Korea.

Many of us have spent time in recent days viewing coverage of the horrendous school shooting in Florida, the latest in a continuing series.

Although some of the coverage from South Korea has been tape-delayed because of the 15-hour time zone difference, much of it is live -- instantaneous images from a faraway corner of the globe.

And while the tragic events were still unfolding at the high school in Florida, we saw the now-familiar images of students and teachers running for their lives

The modern Olympics were founded by Pierre de Coubertin of France, with the first games in Athens in 1896 and the first winter games in 1924 in France. His goal was to create a sporting event divorced from politics. However, geopolitics are often in the backdrop or sometimes in the forefront of what transpires in the Olympics. In the case of the current winter games, relations between the two Koreas figure prominently. We have the efforts by the tyrannical North Korean regime to score propaganda victories as well as the role of the United States in the triangular relationship. Fox commentator and former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee said the coverage has ranged from baffling to sickening. "Some of our Western news outlets are drooling over North Korea so much, they may be creating a slippage hazard for the ice skaters," he said.

There have been especially memorable Olympic occasions that reflected and influenced international relations. The 1936 Berlin games are remembered for Hitler's failed attempt to use them to showcase Nazi power and his theories of Aryan racial superiority. His scheme was thwarted by the African-American sprinter and long-jumper Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals.

The Cold War years brought the East-West rivalry into the spotlight and produced controversy, such as the disputed and doubted Soviet basketball win over the U.S. in 1972. There was the doping scandal involving East German athletes. And we had the legendary U.S. victory over the Soviet hockey machine in 1980. Soon thereafter the U.S. and some allies boycotted the Moscow summer games in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. (An action not without considerable irony at this point.) The communist countries retaliated by skipping the Los Angeles games in 1984.

As we are seeing in the current winter games, competition can bring incredible achievements and searing personal drama -- but politics are never far away. It is also important to note, and not without political implications, those representing the U.S at PyeongChang are a diverse group, coming from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

Coverage of that competition can be imbued with an overdose of nationalism. Likewise, coverage of school shootings and other mass killing can bring biased reporting or analysis; for example, in discussion of gun violence and regulations on gun purchases, where there are sharp political differences. Some politicians and commentators shy away from even uttering the word "gun." We saw this in the aftermath of the Florida shooting.

And now we have the added dimension of social media, which can both enhance understanding and exacerbate misunderstanding.

Contemporary communication capabilities can provide the ways and means for communal experiences that pull us together -- or apart.

Sports sometimes pave the way in helping to break down barriers internationally, such as the "ping-pong diplomacy," which was a step in the progression of U.S.-China relations in the 1970s.

And an interesting note: When the North Korea figure skaters took to the ice last week, their music was the Beatles' "A Day in the life," which seemed to belie some notions about North Korea's isolation.

For all the controversies associated with the Olympics over the years, they have exemplified the interdependent world and demonstrated the media and technological connections that link us together.

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[DROPCAP]We learned about true heroes at the Florida school, including teachers, coaches and students. And we also see another brand of heroes on the sports fields and courts, providing role models through their determined efforts and enduring sportsmanship.

In that realm, recent weeks have brought the death of some of my boyhood sports heroes: Clyde Scott, an Olympian and football all-American for the Arkansas Razorbacks; Wally Moon from Bay, Ark., near Jonesboro, a baseball star with the Cardinals and Dodgers. And there was Atwood "Buddy" Bell, a valued educator and coach in Jonesboro, who provided leadership and encouragement and served as a reminder of the importance of fundamental values.

Commentary on 02/21/2018