- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Here and there you find them, American expatriates in Moscow to compete in an Olympics their country of origin has shunned. They say they can justify their presence, but at times they seem a bit embarrassed. None of them shows much joy at being here. The somber, rather foreboding atmosphere of the pillage, a striking contrast to the freewheeling, athlete-to-athlete spirit of past Olympics, seems to have created a feeling of discomfort, a feeling that they've walked in on the wrong party.
Wayne Brabender, a 6'4" guard who played basketball for the University of Minnesota (Morris branch), has been the mainstay of the Spanish national team for 12 years. "The boycott doesn't affect me," he says. "Mi postura—how do you say it in English?—my posture is very clear. I am a Spanish basketball player. An American boycott of the Olympics doesn't have anything to do with me."
Brabender is standing outside the 10-foot-high chain-link fence that separates the Olympic Village workout area from the outside world, shivering as a chill wind comes whipping across the practice track. He pulls his woolen jacket more tightly around his shoulders. "I know this boycott is very touchy," he says. "Being here is something I'll eventually have to cope with. I mean, my parents still live in Minnesota.
"Look, for years I was a nobody. I couldn't even get a scholarship to a four-year college. I got hurt my senior year at Milan [ Minn.] High, and the only place I could go was Willmar [ Minn.] Community College. For years nobody gave a damn about me, and now everybody's interested in what I have to say. What I say is that I'm 34 years old, and I've got a wife from Navarra and two children, and I have a Spanish passport, not American. I love Spain and I plan to live there. Does that answer it?"
On the way to a workout Alberto Mercado, a Puerto Rican flyweight boxer who won a gold medal at the 1979 Pan Am Games, pauses to answer the question he has been asked many times. "We participate for Puerto Rico," he says of the Puerto Rican Olympic team, which consists of three fighters. "The U.S. decision is its decision. Ours was to come. Does it feel strange being here? Yes and no. I have many good friends on the American team."
"Morally, it's probably not right being here," says Mike Sylvester, 28, a native of Cincinnati, a graduate of Dayton and now a 6'5" guard and the high scorer on the Italian Olympic basketball team. "I mean, what is this thing here? This whole big beautiful thing is one big political demonstration. I was all for the boycott. I thought if everyone got together and did it, it would have been a demonstration the Russians couldn't have ignored. I even thought it might help clear up things in Afghanistan. But I'm not for the half-assed way things worked out.
"Look, morals are one thing, but I've got a career to think about, a living for my wife and family. And there's an economic side of this on a national level, too. Italy does big, big business with the Soviet Union."
Rocky Crosswhite, the 6'9" captain of the Australian basketball team, grew up in Bethesda, Md. Twelve years ago Crosswhite was a member of the first of Lefty Driesell's Davidson teams to make the NCAA tournament. He emigrated to Australia, became a citizen and has represented Australia in three Olympics, twice captaining the Aussie team. He sits now at a table in the main plaza of the Village's international zone.
"Let's face it," he says. "This isn't the Olympics, it's the Eastern European Games. Look at this...fences, security checks in and out...I went though nine of them on one trip the other day. And those green boxes with the electronic lights inside. We call 'em zappers.
"This is all supposed to be for friendship between athletes, right? The other night a bloke from Zimbabwe was visiting us in our quarters, and the guard made him leave. He said that athletes aren't allowed to go from block to block. At other Olympics you always were able to dance at the disco with some of the girls who worked as guides or translators, but they've forbidden them here. One night I went in there and saw blokes dancing with blokes."