A couple of weeks ago, in writing my weekly commentary for National Public Radio, I reached back in time and searched to find just the right word to describe members of our esteemed United States Olympic Committee. I finally remembered a wonderful forgotten pejorative: nincompoop. The response has been unanimous; I have never been so commended for a word choice.
Our USOC is peopled, manned and womanned, by nincompoops.
Since I wrote that, five members of our USOC have resigned—four of them members of the ethics committee—because Lloyd Ward, your USOC Chief Executive, was not fired after blatant conflict-of-interest charges. After all, these members must have reasoned, why should Ward be any different? Presidents and executive directors of the USOC regularly are fired or forced out for various ethical abuses.
Then we discovered that the chairman of the ethics committee, Kenneth Duberstein, an apparatchik in the Reagan Administration, was accused by a member of the ethics committee of trying to silence complaints about ethical matters on the ethics committee. But then the USOC, hidden away from the mainstream media under a mountain somewhere in Colorado, operates without anybody ever caring—until it messes up (again) so badly that the media suddenly remember we actually do have an Olympic committee. The U.S. is so parochial in its sports interest. A Bud Selig sneeze or a Paul Tagliabue cough interests us much more than the epidemics of shame and slapstick at Camp USOC.
And, of course, how much damage can one man do? As soon as Lloyd Ward was given the all-clear, he issued a statement boasting of how well our Olympic athletes perform under his aegis. Hey, Lloyd, we're the U.S.A., world's only superpower, third most populous, richer, stronger. We have better rap artists, sneakers, horror movies, weapons of mass destruction, stock options, frequent flyer miles and cheeseburgers than everybody else. Good grief, to the chagrin of the rest of the denizens of God's green earth, we even fell into the quarterfinals of the World Cup when we don't give a fig about soccer.
There's a sad irony to it all too. Our country has the most magnificent tradition of volunteerism, but we attract only second-rate jock-sniffers to our sports organizations. (See also: Johnson, Hootie.) The IOC is certainly no repository of intellect and morality, but even its members are appalled at the low level of talent that surfaces on the USOC.
If it wasn't so sad, it would be funny. It's not easy being the juggernaut and the laughingstock of international sport, both.