For years, the Nike Corporation has held to the motto of “Just Do It,” a message of following your dreams, no matter how great or small. “Just Do It” became a rallying cry for a generation of athletes who may not have been born with strength or talent, but had the drive to play a good game, regardless of whether they won or lost.
Now, in the 1996 Olympics, it seems like Nike has suddenly changed its pace. An ad that ran on NBC during the games, and is still being televised, shows United States basketball player Lisa Leslie running for a basket while her voice-over utters the message “It’s not winning the silver, it’s losing the gold.”
It seems like an inspiring message at first, a basketball star and role model wanting to win the highest Olympic honor for herself and her country. But what is so wrong with coming in second, third, or even 25th with honest effort? What really makes a winner anyway?
There were winners in the Olympic games who will never wear gold, silver or even bronze medals. They are winners because they followed their dreams from start to finish, trying their hardest to achieve a personal best.
Unfortunately, most Americans may never learn the names of these winners, or read of their accomplishments, because the media and the American people are more interested in relating the stories of those who made it to the winner’s podium, rather than those who are winners because they give 100 percent every day.
There are also non-athletes who are worthy of recognition. These individuals may never even set foot in a gym or on a track, but they are just as worthy of being heroes and role models as those who do. Individuals who give to those in need, take the time to help a friend or offer a smile to a stranger may never hear the national anthem being played in their name, but they hold in their hands the power to make a difference in the lives of others, and this makes them winners.
Unfortunately, this is not the prevailing attitude. A common question of an athlete who has just been presented with the silver is not “Are you proud?” but “Are you disappointed?” Rather than being treated to the image of Jonathon Edwards, a British triple jumper, beaming when he was awarded the silver, television coverage focused on Belorussian gymnast Vitali Scherbo, in tears because his bronze medal was “not the color I had hoped for.” Rather than broadcasting the excitement of Aleksandra Ivosev, from the former Yugoslavia, thrilled to have won the bronze in air rifle because it was hard to find a location to practice in her war-torn country, debate turned to the right of Carl Lewis to become the first American to win 10 gold medals in track and field by running in the 4×100 relay, even though he had not qualified for the meet.
Nike and the news media are not alone in the attitude that winning is everything. During the games, which are supposed to represent multinational unity, McDonald’s and Yoplait sponsored contests where they gave away free food each time the United States beat another country. Is that unity or is it nationalism?
In 1998, Salt Lake City will host the Winter Olympics. That gives America, and the world, two years to think about the true meaning of winning. When the time comes to light another Olympic torch, will Americans line up to watch only the gold medal winners, or will they follow the example of every winner who has given their personal best to succeed in their own right?
Hopefully, in the next Olympic games, role models will be chosen, not on the basis of talent, strength or speed, but on the basis of a personal drive, a winning attitude, and their belief in their own ability to “Just Do It.”
Monica Schwarze, a senior journalism major, is editorial director of the Campus Times. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.