The city of Tulsa, Oklahoma is preparing to bid on the 2024 Summer Olympic games, according to a report from the New York Times. Should the city actually submit a bid, it would be a wild longshot: as the Times explains, the Olympic workforce amounts to half of the city’s population, the city has a third of the hotel rooms required by the International Olympic Committee, and the estimated cost is equivalent to half of Oklahoma’s state budget. Plus, using the Olympics to market a city, as organizers hope to do, isn’t usually a good economic idea.
But the most absurd part of Tulsa’s Olympic bid amazingly isn’t the bid itself — it’s that organizers apparently think incorporating the Trail of Tears on the Olympic torch route as a “nod to the state’s American Indian history” is a good idea:
In a nod to the state’s American Indian history, the Olympic torch would be led along the solemn Trail of Tears, not far from where field hockey would be played in Tahlequah.
A little history for Tulsa’s organizers: the Trail of Tears is the result of one of the most pernicious laws in American history — the Indian Removal Act of 1830 — and it is a marker of policies that nearly eradicated an entire indigenous population of people. The death toll on the trail ranges from the government’s record of 400 to others that estimate more than 4,000 died on the march. It doesn’t merit a “nod” from Olympic organizers, especially not when mega sporting events like the Olympics have a tendency to displace poor and indigenous populations to make room for facilities or to shield them from media and tourist attention. What it merits is education and awareness about the fact that large segments of the Native population are still struggling with the after-effects of government policies slanted against them, even more than a century and a half after they walked that trail.
That’s probably too much to ask in a sports world that casually accepts a professional football franchise, based in the nation’s capital no less, that uses a slur as its name, and a commissioner who thinks that name “stands for strength, courage, pride, and respect.” It’s a world where a baseball team uses a cartoonish caricature as its logo and thinks its acceptable to drape it in an American flag to mark holidays. It’s a world where efforts to change names that use Native American imagery at the professional, college, and high school level are met with cries of “tradition,” “honor,” and the “tyranny of political correctness.” Using the Trail of Tears as part of an Olympic bid is outrageous, but it’s also just an extension of the thoughtlessness the sports world has applied to Native Americans for decades.