Support our athletes, no matter where they compete

Support+our+athletes%2C+no+matter+where+they+compete

Woojune Kim , Co-Editor-in-Chief

At the Beijing Winter Olympics, athletes such as Eileen Gu, an American-born skier who decided to compete for China and won gold, have drawn criticism for not representing their birth country. When these nationality-switching competitors achieve success, they receive backlash from people in their home country. It is a phenomenon that occurs in every major international sporting competition; it is the ugly underbelly of the nationalistic tension from these events.

A similar occurrence happens in professional sports leagues. Whenever a star player demands a trade and changes teams, some fans denounce the player’s decision as a form of  “betrayal.” Perhaps it is inevitable that invested fans turn so easily from passionate support to bitter disapproval, but we must consider things from our athletes’ perspective, too.

Our athletes are, first and foremost, individuals who aim to succeed for their own sake. To call this selfish would be unfair: as students, we strive towards success, not for our school or family’s sake, but for our own ambitions. Hence, if we support an individual athlete, we should continue to do so without regard to which team or nation they are affiliated with—it would be inconsiderate not to.

There are several reasons why athletes may choose to leave their team. Some Olympic athletes go to a less competitive country after failing to make their home nation’s roster. Others opt to compete for the country they were raised in rather than their birth country. In professional sports, a player usually asks for a trade due to championship aspirations or lack of chemistry with their current team. 

More concerningly, some athletes leave their teams after receiving excessive hate. Football star Mesut Ozil drew harsh criticism from German fans after posing in a picture with the Turkish president, and as a result, he quit international football entirely. In the NBA, Ben Simmons faced the majority of the blame for his team’s disappointing playoff exit in 2021. He has had to step away from basketball to focus on his mental health ever since then, and he was ultimately traded to a different team last month.

Too often, we fail to see the athletes as people just like us, people who make difficult decisions based on their priorities. Our emotional attachment to our favorite teams and players can blind us to the fact that they constantly have a multitude of factors hanging over them on and off the field. When we hear that someone switched teams, our initial reaction is usually one of incredulity or anger, not consideration of their motivations. Though it is disheartening to know that they will be playing for a different side, attempting to understand their choices would take us a long way toward continuing to support them. 

Of course, if the support for an athlete stemmed purely from the support of the team as a whole, that would be a different story. But if we claim to be a fan of an athlete as an individual, we cannot stop supporting them because they make a justified personal decision to leave our favorite team.

Take some time to look at each competitor the next time you watch a sporting event. Each one of them has a decades-long journey that took them where they are today. How can we discredit them simply for wanting to compete in a new location? Rather than focusing on the country that claims credit for Gu’s medal, there should be a greater appreciation for the effort she has put in, for the pure joy of watching her glide and twirl through the air before triumphantly landing her trick. After all, that is where the appeal of sports should be.