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Flag flap may make U.S. ugly Americans
Sometimes you take a stand no matter how bad it makes you look to everyone else. Of course, sometimes everyone else is right, and you take the stand anyway because you don’t want people to think you’re willing to buckle.
At the Olympics Opening Ceremony on Friday, countries will be dipping their flags when they parade past the Queen. It will be tradition. It will be good manners. And the United States, standing on principle, will not do it.
Why not? Like I said: principle. It’s based on history. Well, more like legend.
Let’s go with fiction. The US team has built a strong moral stance based on something that never happened. And now it is poised to insult England and the Queen because of a tradition, even though it has forgotten why the tradition started or what it was about.
So here’s a little advice for Mariel Zagunis, the fencer picked to be the US flag bearer:
Do the right thing: Just dip the flag to the Queen and get it over with.
“We don’t intend any disrespect or respect by virtue of that act,’’ United States Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said. “So at the end of the day, it shouldn’t be taken as a sign one way or another, whatever the athlete does.’’
It’s always entertaining when top executives start tap dancing. We don’t intend disrespect and we don’t intend respect? Did he really say that?
The US has worked its way into a corner. First, it had its team uniforms made in China. Now it will come off as arrogant by following a moral stance based on hot air, or not wanting to buckle to the wishes of another country, England.
Look, I’m all for the integrity of the US flag. But this is not the same as touching the flag to the ground. It is not the same as kissing the Queen’s ring. This isn’t a military situation, where you don’t dip. And it’s not even about whether you support a monarchy.
It’s just good manners at an event meant to show respect for different cultures.
At a news conference Thursday, Zagunis was asked about the tradition, and whether she would break it and dip the flag.
“I’ve heard of it," she said, “but I have yet to go through rehearsal. So I’ll see what I will have to do then."
She then seemed surprised when Blackmun interrupted:
“Let me take a crack at that first. We’ve talked about that a little bit. You never know what’s going to happen. We have traditions and Britain has traditions. We’re still talking internally (and) we don’t think it’s a big issue."
Then, on Friday, US spokesman Patrick Sandusky tweeted: "To our amazing hosts, but rather just keeping with the American tradition of not dipping the flag. We are looking forward to a great games."
Here’s what happened. At the 1908 Olympics, also in London, legend has it that American shot putter Ralph Rose, the flag bearer, did not dip the flag for the King. He then proclaimed, “This flag dips for no earthly king." Or, based on different versions of the history, one of his teammates said it.
A couple of small points: It’s almost certain that neither one said that. It’s probable that Rose didn’t dip the flag for some reason other than how it looks to have the American flag dip to others. And it’s certain that US flag bearers dipped the flag to country leaders at future Olympics.
Some historians believe Rose didn’t dip the flag because he was an Irish-American and Ireland was upset that it had to compete under one flag with England. So he protested for Ireland. It’s possible Rose was afraid that if he dipped the flag, it might hit the ground and get into the dirt, which he didn’t want to risk.
Who knows? But according to several reports, there is no evidence of the earthly king statement, other than a report that came several decades later.
Meanwhile, Zagunis represents something good, and that is in danger of being lost. She won gold in Athens in 2004 at 19 years old and then again in Beijing in 2008. She was the first American to win gold in fencing since 1904.
But this is the 40th anniversary of Title IX, meant to give equality to women in sports, and it’s also the first time the US Olympic team has more women than men.
Mark Dyreson, a Penn State professor, is an Olympics historian who has written about flag protocol at the games. He refers to the 1908 incident as “mythology.’’ And he wrote that the US did dip the flag in 1912, 1924 and 1932, then didn’t, again, in 1936 as “unquestionably a referendum on Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany."
From there, things get confusing, and eventually the tradition is now attributed to 1908. Over the years, Dyerson also said, some other countries have adopted the US stance. So it’s uncertain how many flags will be dipped Friday.
But eyes are on the US and Zagunis. Will the USOC tell her what to do?
“At the end of the day,’’ Blackmun said Thursday, “we’ll give the athlete some guidance."
They did. And it was bad advice.
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