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All Points West: The cost of living the dream
August 12, 2016 Frank Marquez   

Read more by Frank Marquez
It was my dream, ever since I was young.

Often, athletes use the “my dream” catch phrase standing in front of reporters being asked how they feel after being draped with a medal around their neck, and patted on the back. Does it have the same impact it once did? Do all athletes have dreams, does the phrase bear weathered meaning, and are dreams less for us common folk?

As I work out the kinks from my legs in getting ready for the Monument Marathon half on September 24, I pondered what it really means, me being able bodied, while others are not. Monday night, I watched an episode of “Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel,” a special episode explaining how the International Olympic Committee exploits those dreams. The Games are not as dreamy as you would think – the world getting together for two weeks every four years to sing peace and harmony actually omitting the reality of fat-cat committee members and host countries forcibly uprooting their poor citizens from rotting neighborhoods to make way for shining gleaming multi-million dollar venues.

In stark contrast to world class competitors in their prime, the Real Sports episode featured Chinese Paralympics discus thrower Zheng Fang, who lost his legs in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. A tank was driven over them when he pushed a compatriot clear of the fast rolling iron behemoth. Fang, wheelchair bound, never lost sight of his dream of competing, and was ready to do so at the Beijing Paralympics Games in 2008, but the Chinese government blocked his participation for fear he would share his thoughts on Tiananmen. Shortly thereafter, he immigrated to the United States in 2009, received prosthetic legs and makes public appearances, now literally standing up for humane causes. Further, Fang serves as the president of Chinese Democracy Education Foundation, an organization “promoting the common principle and general ideas of the prosperity and progress of Chinese society for democracy, freedom, human rights and constitutional reform.”

The Olympic Games come at what cost? The Chinese could have gotten some mileage out of Fang’s feel-good story, which would have been in line with perhaps mending its human rights record, and painting a picture of a country that is not all cold and cruel, but has a heart. That kind of message would have also reinforced Olympic principles. Instead, the communist country’s hardline stance was that Fang represented potential embarrassment.

That’s no reason to stop dreaming. A lifetime of training may end suddenly, yet beyond being a pawn in providing sheer entertainment, what else? A sense of national pride, and a dream or belief the games have advanced humanity’s cause?

In sports, it seems almost inevitable. Injury. We are that fragile, and dreams can be dashed in an instant.

Last Saturday, French gymnast Samir Ait Said broke his lower left leg on his vault landing at the Rio Olympic Arena, a graphic exhibition that made viewers wince. A veteran of the rings, the 26-year-old Ait Said was considered a legitimate medal contender. In an L.A. Times story about the tragedy, Yin Alvarez, the coach and stepfather of Danell Leyva, one of the U.S team members, said, “This is a hard sport, getting harder. Not only gymnastics, any sport, things happen.”

Hard to think of it now, Ait Said will heal, and may one day return to his beloved sport. Though, likely, he won’t receive any compensation for his participation at the Games, which would include his injury. Yet, sponsors and governments have capitalized on the event, and have sent profits soaring into the unprecedented billions of dollars. According to Reuters, the organizers in Rio de Janeiro spent $42 million alone on the opening ceremonies. There is no thought of compensating the athlete for competing, risking injury, or merely to show his face to worldwide viewers. In the drama of it all, someone wins, someone loses, all fueled by a childhood dream.

The same may be said for the money making machine that is college football. The Nebraska Cornhuskers De’Mornay Pierson-El suffered foot and knee injuries that took him off the field late October last season. Nebraska coaches are looking for the vaunted receiver and punt returner to make significant contributions in 2016, because he is a star, more or less, and draws crowds, as does the team overall.

In a Huskers.com story last year, the university clearly spelling out the risks, Pierson-El was quoted as saying, “They (Nebraska’s administration) told me to start planning for life after football. They challenged me to be ready in case football doesn’t work out …”

According to college-sports.pointafter.com, the University of Nebraska football team’s profits amount to $31.4 million, minus expenditures. Nebraska also benefits from a champion volleyball team (four former players are on the Olympic team), which netted $600,000 in profits during the past budget year, according to school reports filed with the NCAA and federal government. Omaha World Herald columnist Tom Shatel reported numbers from the Sports Business Journal that the Big Ten has six-year deals with ESPN and Fox worth $2.64 billion, calling it the Huskers hitting the lottery.

Sadly, no player, no Pierson-El, no talented Huskers like him, and no other NCAA athletes, sacrificing their bodies, will see a dime beyond a scholarship education, training tables and free equipment.

Still worth the dream?
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