The International Olympic Committee has forced US Women’s Ice Hockey team goalie Jessie Vetter to remove an image of the US Constitution from her mask, citing rules against “A sort of ‘our country is better than your country’ kind of thing…”
Here’s what all the hullabaloo is about:
I can understand that they want to keep political sentiment to a minimum and would certainly hate to see the Winter Olympics turned into the same type of partisan grudge match as Reddit, but aside from the phrase “We the people…” the remaining portion of text on the mask is entirely illegible and even if it were, it would make no assertions on any issue aside from its own intended purpose. One has to wonder if three politically innocuous words really constitute an attempt at propaganda. Is there somebody looking pensively out of an office window in Lausanne, pondering whether or not this might be Ms. Vetter’s way of trying to tell a Swedish forward, “Hey bitch, socialize this!”?
Meanwhile, Russia’s attempts to keep homosexual athletes out of Sochi and refusal to suspend controversial anti-gay legislation once they arrive will ultimately steal the political show this go-round, but there is no question that in the case of the mask, much less scandal would have arisen had it been allowed to remain as-was. Unless Cuba, Venezuela, or Iran suddenly decide to compete in women’s hockey (Lord knows North Korea will never qualify), the issue would certainly have passed without incident and more likely would have entered the political arena in the form of a Medusa Harris-Perry monologue on how Ms. Vetter’s patriotism is ultimately bad for women.
But still, I can understand why the IOC feels it needs to keep the peace. The Constitution of the United States of America is a document that is currently being used to extend marital equality to sexual minorities, regardless of our nation’s assortment of opinions on the issue. Russia is in the process of criminalizing its homosexual community’s very existence. The First Amendment guarantees even the most anti-establishment punk rockers the right to freely eviscerate their country in music, while Russian police lock up girls who play their guitars too loud.
In fact, there may only be a decade or so (maybe less) in all of Russia’s over thousand-year history in which the ideas espoused in the US Constitution could be considered part of mainstream thought.
The issue of gays facing possible oppression while they visit the country is an easy fight for the IOC; my three year-old could write the press release that gets them out of that one. Even removing our nation’s cornerstone document from a goalie mask is a far less messy affair. But allowing the phrase “We the people…” in front of 12’000 Russians at the Bolshoy Ice Dome (beautiful a structure as it is), perhaps runs the risk of opening up some old wounds, or stirring up unnecessary controversy over fresh ones. It might be too much of a beacon of hope to artists like Pussy Riot who find themselves in chains for their words or to activists like Alexey Davydov who find only death in their struggle to bring something even slightly resembling our Constitution to their own land. Such a battle would be much too difficult and complicated for an organization like the supposedly apolitical IOC.
The easy way out: Ban it. I’m sure they’re not too out of it to know that our own press will even help clean up.
When viewed through the eyes of the IOC, it’s not difficult to understand why they would claim three little words We the people… as a promotion of political propaganda. Perhaps not such a blatant hip-check on international opinion as 2010’s Support Our Troops, but it gets the same treatment.
This reminds me of the greatest privilege and most daunting responsibility I have as a writer in the United States: When you’re speaking on behalf of the world’s lone superpower, it means that your language holds such a force that something as trivial as a conjunction, a pronoun, or some other part of speech that would be considered utilitarian flotsam and jetsam were it from a different source, can reverberate through history and find itself suddenly relevant to everything without warning.
So I’m not sure if I’m really upset about the image’s removal, quite to the contrary, it fills me with at least a smile’s-worth of pride to know the reason that three perfunctory words written hundreds of years ago contain such power that they should be stricken from an object as trivial as a hockey mask.
Follow Rich Greene on Twitter at @VivaRichGreene.