Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Did Greece miss potential teachable moment at Olympics?

Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou was booted off her country's Olympic team after making a racist comment on Twitter, according to various media reports.

The articles reported that Papachristou said on Twitter: “With so many Africans in Greece … at least the West Nile mosquitos will eat homemade food!!!” Though Papachristou later apologized, it is understandable why Greek Olympic leaders removed her from the team.

This decision is not just a golden opportunity lost for Papachristou, but for the fight against racism as well. The Olympics is a venue where athletes of various races, religions, sexual orientations, etc. come together in the spirit of competition at the highest level.

I venture to think that Papachristou interacting with African athletes would be the best chance for her to learn why her words were hurtful and inappropriate. Actually spending time with the people she insulted and learning who they really are is the best antidote to the venom of racism.

And if she changes her views (though to be fair she did say in her apology that she "could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races"), then it is a great story to champion in the fight against bigotry.

This is not to say that Papachristou should not have been sanctioned. But is kicking her off the team creating the best outcome? Perhaps having her perform a public service announcement educating people about the wrongs of racism would have been better. Ills that plague society cannot be swept under the proverbial rug. Rather they must be confronted head on and honestly.

An Olympian telling kids that she made a mistake about making a racist act and telling young people that is it not right to judge people on the color of their skin can be pretty powerful. It can be especially effective if she were to also describe the multitude of athletes she met at the Olympics and how they helped her grow as a person.

I just don’t think society gained too much keeping Papachristou at home. Can we honestly say that she will not harbor any racist thoughts because of this punishment? It is much more likely that if she has any bigoted sentiments she will now just keep them to herself.
-- Steve Bien-Aime

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