Milos Roanic joined a large contingent last week that has been making headlines throughout the last few months. After finishing second in the fabled Wimbeldon tournament across the pond, Roanic has decided not to attend the Olympic Games in Rio this year, blaming the imposing Zika virus for his decision.
He’s not alone either. This rejection is merely part of the overwhelming tidal wave of athletes who have decided they are not participating in the five-ring circus for a whole slew of reasons. In golf, all four of the top four ranked golfers in the world — Jason Day, Dustin Johnson, Jordan Speith and Rory McIlroy — have declined the invite to go to Brazil to win a gold medal. In basketball, Lebron James and Steph Curry, two of the game’s biggest stars, along with Canadian Andrew Wiggins, have also decided to stay home in hopes of resting after a gruelingly long NBA season.
And I don’t blame them. In fact, I don’t blame or shame any of the athletes who don’t want to attend this year’s Olympic Games and you shouldn’t either.
For starters, there’s the threat of the Zika virus among a host of other concerns such as human rights violations that could make this Games one of the biggest failures in Olympic history. Think about this hypothetical for a second. You’re a world-class athlete already making enough money to support you and your family and you receive the invite to the Olympic Games, a world-class competition that you stand to earn nothing more than a nostalgic moment to bank away for senior years. On the other side of the balance sheet, you risk the possibility of contracting a virus that could cause severe defects in any children you may have in the future. Is that a risk you’re willing to take for a medal you may not win in the first place?
Of course, the credit side of this equation is what seems to make more sense with each passing Olympic Games. For professional athletes such as golfers and basketball players, who make millions in their careers already, there is little more to be gained through attending the Olympics other than patriotic sentiment.
Don’t get me wrong — that does sound like a selfish explanation for not participating in the Games; however, these athletes are trying to forge a legacy established on the foundation of Majors and Championships, rather than Olympic medals, which will ultimately determine their payday.
Of course, many of the people shaming these athletes for dropping out of the Games do so, arguing these athletes, “Owe it to their countries to compete for gold.” They don’t.
At the very root of the beast, athletes are entertainers selling a product, plain and simple. As consumers of that product, we are paying for them to entertain us, not present some sort of national pride for their country. If they want to do that on their dime, that’s their prerogative but it’s certainly not their duty or obligation to do so, unless that lack of participation at international events translates into a reduced bottom line on their average annual salary. To date, no such connection is even close to being tangibly made.
At the end of the day, the aggregate number of athletes who have dropped out of the Olympics will be just one of many conceivable failures for this year’s Rio Games. We shouldn’t shame athletes for not wanting to be a part of history that will more or less be a black eye for international competition.
Give them a break.