An international firestorm broke out last week surrounding Simone Biles. Biles landed in the news not for winning medals, per her custom, but for dropping out. Biles cited “mental health” as the reason for leaving her team in the middle of the women’s gymnastics competition. All sorts of conversation ensued.
But in my reckoning, this is not the biggest story of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The biggest story is the “wokeification” of the Olympics. (I cover wokeness, being “awake” to “systemic racism” and inequality, in my brand-new book Christianity and Wokeness.)As one example, shot put specialist Raven Saunders — an outspoken lesbian — “twerked” after her event, shaking her body for the cameras. Having won silver, she then made an X with her hands on the medal stand. The X symbolizes “intersectionality” according to Saunders, meaning Saunders is claiming that she, as a black sexual minority, is an oppressed person with “intersecting” claims to social justice. (Intersectionality fits with a woke worldview — I explain it in my book.)
Or you could take the US women’s soccer team, which recently kneeled before getting trounced in an Olympic contest with Sweden. They did so to protest “racism,” with Megan Rapinoe — the wokest of the woke — taking the lead. No doubt this is part of why ratings for the Tokyo Olympics have plummeted. Yet despite the fact that Rapinoe’s stances have alienated many, she has done this many times, trumpeting a veritable cornucopia of leftist issues by kneeling.
Commenting on her activism in November 2020, she signaled that America is not really a country to be proud of:
"What I think that the flag should mean is, like, an impossible standard in which we are always trying to get to. We're not there. We were never there. First of all, the country was founded not on freedom and liberty and justice for all. I think we can just start to be very honest with ourselves about that. … this country was founded on chattel slavery and the brutal and ruthless system of slavery. So let's all be really honest about that."
America, as this soccer player sees it, should be ashamed of itself. Rapinoe’s stance echoed that taken not long ago by Gwen Berry. In the American Olympic trials in June, hammer thrower Berry refused to face the American flag after placing third in her competition. Her position was very similar to Rapinoe’s: the flag’s symbolism is “disrespectful” to black Americans, she later said.
This is what wokeness does to you: it hijacks your brain. It makes you hate so much of what is good in this world per God’s common grace. Once you honored your country; now you denigrate it. Once you treated all people the same; now you target “white” people for being part of “white supremacy.” Once you stood for the flag; now you turn your back on it. You do so believing that you are the righteous one, and the unwoke masses are undeserving of you.
Our Olympians are only saying what our supposed “thought-leaders” parrot all around us. As one example, Robin DiAngelo — “white” as the driven snow — has made millions teaching ideas like this: “There is deep racial resentment roiling just under the surface of many white people.” So says DiAngelo in her new book, Nice Racism. White people are the problem for DiAngelo. Christians know that people of all kinds and colors stumble in many ways, and everyone needs God’s saving grace. But this kind of racialized indictment targets one group and one group alone: white people.
Woke Olympians are corrupting one of America’s — and the world’s — most unitive events. As has been happening for years now, politics is overtaking sports. Instead of being able to enjoy competition and cheer for American athletes, our moments of leisure and rest must be injected with divisive ideology. So goes the woke playbook: ultimately nothing is to be enjoyed. Life must become a confessionalist monoculture, with American citizens constantly lamenting the past and making atonement for generational sins.
In such a climate, sports become political theater, and the church becomes the woke at prayer. We can’t even cheer today for men’s sports and women’s sports: women’s soccer has a man presenting himself as a woman, as does women’s weightlifting. In 2021, the “women” we’re watching aren’t, in different cases, even women. Truly, confusion is everywhere, and pagan ideology is on the move.
How different all this is from my childhood. I grew up in what may have been the last days of untortured American patriotism. One of the most fun elements of love of country was, every few years, supporting American athletes in the Olympics. My family — like many others in this country — cheered hurdlers, divers and even handball players. These athletes were our athletes: Kerri Strug, Michael Jordan, Michael Johnson. The list went on.
Of course, many athletes today still walk in the old ways. They honor their country. They proudly stand for the national anthem. They do not harangue viewers of their competitions with leftist diatribes. But others have changed. They have embraced woke ideology, as the above examples show. We should not sit idly by as we are denounced for our supposed hatefulness. We should act against wokeness. Instead of teaching our children to hate this country, we can teach our kids to honor it where honor is due. Instead of breeding entitled youngsters, we can show kids the old ways of humility and self-sacrifice.
Instead of subjecting ourselves to leftist diatribes from woke athletes, maybe we should turn the TV off, get outside and take the kids on one of those great American road trips, seeing the sights of this land. America, you see, differs from the politicized performances of our woke Olympians in one major way: it’s worth seeing.
Owen Strachan is the author of Christianity and Wokeness (Salem Books, July 2021). He is Provost and Research Professor of Theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary, hosts The Antithesis podcast, and is a Senior Fellow with the Center for Biblical Worldview at the Family Research Council.