07 August 2013

Is Nick Symmonds a Good Man?

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing.
--John Stuart Mill

To build on the quotation by Mill above, I offer this nugget often attributed to Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."  I came to think of Mill and Burke today after reading a diary entry Nick Symmonds, a U.S. 800m runner and medal hopeful who will run in this year's track and field world championships in Moscow, wrote for Runner's World magazine.  The piece is titled, "The Playing Field is not a Place for Politics," and in it, Symmonds discusses his reasons for not speaking out against the Russian government's and the Russian people's treatment of homosexuals.

Symmonds states that he is not afraid of being punished by the Russian government and compares going to Russia to compete in a race to going to someone's house to eat dinner: "Just as I would not accept a dinner invite to a friend's house and then lecture them on how to raise their kids, neither will I lecture the Russian government on how to govern their people."

This analogy breaks down quickly.  Would Symmonds not jump in to defend his dinner hosts' children if their parents beat them mercilessly for being gay?  Would Symmonds even be on friendly enough terms to accept a dinner invitation from such people?  If we take the time to fully think about Symmonds's analogy, we would discover that Symmonds should consider boycotting the meet altogether, as I am sure he would decline a dinner invitation from someone whom he knows abuses children.

Symmonds continues his entry by nauseatingly glorifying his and his teammates' races by comparing what he does to a battle, a battle absent of politicians and militaries.  His exaltation of sport leads him to conclude that politics has no place in athletic competitions.  (How he comes to this conclusion is unclear.  He offers no compelling reason for this opinion.)  Unfortunately, no one has told the Russian government that politics and sports shouldn't mix.  The Russian government has inserted politics into this meet by threatening to punish any athlete who might speak out about Russia's mistreatment of gays and lesbians.

In fairness to Symmonds, he has posed for pictures for the No H8 Campaign, so he has worked in support of the gay community.  He even states that he has "always been adamant in [his] support of gay rights at home in the United States."  And I have no reason to question his support of gay rights.  Until now.  Sadly, Symmonds, by staying silent during his trip to Russia, may still be "adamant" in his support of gay rights in the US, but he will not be "adamant" in general in his support of gay rights.  And that's a problem.  Because he could be a good man.  Instead, he is choosing to be silent, and young people will continue to be tortured.

Anyone can take a picture with duct tape over his/her mouth, Nick.  But it takes a good man to be relentless in his pursuit of what is right and what is just.  Tommie Smith and John Carlos knew this. And they didn't have some empty argument about not bringing politics into sports keeping them from doing what was right.  They were good men and now a black man is in the White House.  (All three 200m medalists at the 1968 Olympic Games were wearing Olympic Project for Human Rights badges during their medal ceremony.  Why not have medalists in Moscow wear rainbow-flag badges?)

Tommie Smith (center), John Carlos (right), and Peter Norman (left) during their 1968 Olympics medal ceremony.

Because he has written a piece with such weak reasoning, Symmonds, the warrior-like 800m runner, sounds like he's trying to rationalize his fear of the the Russian government.  But by being quiet--and doing nothing--in Russia, Symmonds will force us to ask, "Is Nick Symmonds a good man?"


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