Gabby Douglas was the topic du jour for Olympic commentators throughout last week, but over the weekend, she became a centerpiece in another manufactured controversy at Fox News, America’s top outlet for manufactured controversies. Douglas’ pink leotard, Fox host Alisyn Camerota lamented, was emblematic of an Olympic “trend” (one that, Fox wants you to believe, is part of a liberal-left conspiracy to rid the world of red, white, and blue) of athletes wearing colors that don’t appear on the American flag.
“Some folks have noticed that the American athletes’ uniforms don’t carry the stars and stripes look as much as they have in past years,” Camerota complained, without any evidence of who “some folks” might be. “The famous flag-styled outfits worn in year’s past replaced with yellow shirts, gray track suits, pink leotards.” Radio host/Tea Partier David Webb later chimed in with a sad tome about how America has “lost over time that jingoistic feeling” because “a soft anti-American feeling that Americans can’t show their exceptionalism”:
Camerota and Webb apparently haven’t watched much of the Olympics, or else they would have noticed the multitude of Americans donning red, white, and blue uniforms. But even if they have, Fox has apparently decided to use the Olympics to advance the false notion — one it began cultivating shortly after 9/11 — that anyone who doesn’t constantly wrap him or herself in the flag isn’t sufficiently patriotic. A politician who doesn’t wear a lapel pin isn’t American enough; an athlete who wears pink doesn’t appreciate her country the way she should (even if her father serves in the military, hasn’t seen her in two years, then shows up to surprise her with a giant American flag at the Olympic trials).
Aside from the fact that athletes eschewing the colors of their home countries isn’t a particularly radical development, the Fox version of patriotism isn’t patriotism at all. Rather, it is a hollow display of jingoism that, despite Webb’s concerns, we don’t need any more of. True patriotism doesn’t come from the color of an athlete’s clothes, it is determined by how they act and compete on a world stage while representing their country. It comes in many forms, from celebrating on the medal stage as the national anthem plays to crying because it doesn’t, and it even comes in the form of protests that aim to make one’s country — and the world — a better, more equitable place or feats, like Douglas’, that highlight the overwhelming socio-economic barriers facing many of our greatest athletes.
That might be anathema to conservatives like Webb and media outlets like Fox, who have spent the last decade trying to convince America that true patriotism comes from putting on a “These Colors Don’t Run” t-shirt and pointing an accusatory finger at anyone who doesn’t do the same, but it’s true.
“I’m proud to be an American!” Webb declared during the segment. So am I, and so too, I presume, is Gabby Douglas. She just doesn’t need to wrap herself inside the flag to prove it.