August 28, 2004
Thank You, Paul Hamm
First things first: Yes, the Olympic officials are punking out on this one, and they should really just take the initiative themselves to award Yang Tae-Young a second gold medal instead of passing the buck to this 21 year-old kid.
And yes, I have a lot of sympathy for that kid, Paul Hamm.. he's been put in a terribly tough spot here, at what by all rights ought to be the happiest and proudest moment of his life.
But isn't that the true test of any champion, being faced with a tough spot and rising to the occasion? If so, Paul Hamm has proven himself anything but a champion when he walks off the mat.
Hamm not only refused to give his gold medal to Tae-Young, but even announced his opposition to Tae-Young receiving a second gold (as described in Reggie Rivers' excellent Denver Post commentary). And as pointed out here, in doing so Hamm missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. If he had stepped up and given Tae-Young his gold, he would have gone down as one of the great heroes of olympic history, held up to generations of children as an icon of virtue and sportsmanship. People would would have started walking around with WWPHD bracelets. He'd be exalted for the rest of his life as the embodiment of our noble American values. And he'd be paid up the wazoo.
But he couldn't see the forest for the trees.. his pride blinded him to the big picture, and now he'll only be remembered for the big moment that proved him a small man.
And I'm glad he went out like that. Because by failing to see the difference between a winner and a hero, Paul Hamm gave the world a much more honest representation of what our American values have become in 2004. He reminded the world once again that America no longer seems to grasp the simple concept of doing the right thing. He showed the world that today's America, AKA George Bush's America, is a nation driven by a stubborn pride that overrides all honor and integrity.
I'm sure, for the rest of the globe, this only reinforced what folks already knew about us. But I hope we Americans will also remember how Paul Hamm represented us to the world, and will ask ourselves in November if that's really the America we want to be.
(And it should be easy to remember, cuz like O-Dub said, Hamm even got his medal the same way Bush got his presidency)