The Munich Games provided a good example of this latter reaction. All hell broke loose among the American press and commentators who shouted that our kids were being robbed by foreign politicians. Despite the noise, a different and more ominous conclusion can be drawn from the same events. The United States in Munich went 0 for 5 in the protest league, dropping two decisions in track and one each in swimming, boxing and basketball. Assuming the truth of the charge that politics influenced these decisions, then we were badly out-politicked. This suggests that a far more valuable addition to the United States delegation than, say, Bill Walton, the UCLA basketball center who stayed home in part to protest the Vietnam war, would have been Henry Kissinger.
So far as Americans and politics at the Olympics are concerned, the most charitable explanation is that we sent over an inept bunch of sporting politicians—coaches, administrators, advisers. A worse possibility is that we sent our best, who have spoken and listened to so much nonsense that they have come to believe that when Americans connive they do so in a good clean sporting way, while when foreigners do so they are politicians.
The most spectacular example of Olympic politicking took place when the Palestinian terrorists abducted and murdered the Israeli athletes. It has been described as a wicked and senseless act. Wicked, by conventional standards, it surely was, but senseless it was not. In the last days of the summer of 1972 any realist who wanted to do political business of almost any sort would sensibly have gone to Munich. It was in Munich, not at the U.N. or in any capitol or embassy, that power was concentrated and where the political action was.
It has been conveniently forgotten that there was more blood shed at the '68 Olympics than at the '72 Games. In Mexico City more than 200 students who had chosen the Olympics as the best site to protest social conditions in their country were shot by authorities. It would seem probable that the connection between violence and the Games will be as enduring as it is logical.
According to cyclical historians who have considered the matter, human organizations are created as instruments for achieving some practical end. They are purposeful. Thus, an educational system is initially an instrument for teaching; a church, an instrument for providing psychic certainty; a military establishment, an instrument for conquest or defense.
But as instruments age and increase in power, they devote less and less of their energies to satisfying the needs for which they were created. They become concerned with perpetuating themselves. In short, they become institutions. Instruments are aggressive, flexible, innovative, often both efficient and ruthless. Institutions tend to react slowly and be wasteful, needing more resources to accomplish less. They are characterized by bureaucracies that are fearful of change, and thus enamored with consistency as an operating principle, since consistency greatly reduces both the necessity for being ingenious and the element of risk. As time passes, institutions devote increasing energy to self-inflating projects of a public-relations nature.
Big Sport offers some instructive cases for the student of the instrument-to-institution process. Major league baseball is now institutionalized to the point of ossification. Professional football seems in hot pursuit of the same fate. The principal concern of today's club owners, league administrators and athletes seems to be maintaining themselves and profiting by their perseverance, rather than providing entertainment.
Bob Carey, president of NFL Properties (the bureau that sanctions the use of the league's trademark for advertising and promotional purposes), recently commented on the function of his outfit, and in doing so gave an insight into a fundamental objective of his sport today: "We imagine pro football as a power grid, pulsating and popularly rooted. A national promotion guy clamps his wire into the grid and gets the benefit of the power. He uses the popularity of the game to sell his product, and if it's a good product, everybody benefits."
As this philosophy—what is good for Big Sport is good for everyone—is pursued and refined, the quality of the sport almost inevitably declines. Each year play becomes more regimented, conservative and less playful. The response of Big Sport institutions to criticism of creeping dullness is to: 1) lash out at the critics and 2) attempt to mask the progressive institutionalization of the sports by shifting franchises, increasing their number, decreasing the quality of the teams and athletes, promoting "championship" games and holding self-congratulatory "all star" and "hall of fame" affairs.