BY Art Thiel 08:50PM 07/01/2018

Thiel: USA Games offer joy apart from the storm

Joy was ascendant Sunday at Husky Stadium when 3,000 athletes and 1,000 coaches refuted exclusion and celebrated inclusion.

From the stage in front of 2,000 singers, Gov. Jay Inslee welcomes the USA Games participants to Husky Stadium Sunday. / Art Thiel, Sportspress Northwest

After a week of national news that made it feel as if I were standing in a phone booth filling with car exhaust, I had two good choices Sunday for clean air: Safeco Field to watch a team on a season-high, six-game winning streak, or the the Opening Ceremony of the Special Olympics USA Games. On the chance that the Mariners were going to play more games this season, I went to Husky Stadium.

No offense to James Paxton’s two-hit shutout and the Mariners’ 1-0 win, but my call was good.

Gov. Jay Inslee explained it well in his welcome: “This is the happiest place in the USA today.” For once, a politician was not exaggerating for effect.

Maybe my journalist’s steely impartiality was altered by the prism of ugliness created by the Trump administration’s open contradiction of American values in his blunt-force swerve to exclusion. But whatever the reason, the inclusive celebration of the Special Olympians, in town for the week, was a mood elevator of the most wondrous and legal kind.  The day had zero tolerance for melancholy.

Dancing, dapping, mugging, joking and grinning, about 3,000 athletes and 1,000 coaches from all 50 states and the District of Columbia entered the greatest setting in college football and made it, for one sun-dappled afternoon, into the greatest setting in all of sports.

The joy was so radiant, from the athletes parade to the expressions from the performers and speakers, that it could be felt without bearing witness. One volunteer staffer charged with the pressbox elevator operations that denied her any opportunity to look upon the stadium field, said it best:

“I haven’t seen any of it, but I feel it come through the walls and through the people I help,” she said. “So much happiness.”

When you see uniformed cops from various state police agencies during the parade holding hands and dancing with the honorees, it seemed more like a miracle than it ever should have.

Most of these athletes had at some point endured scorn, derision and mockery. Some of that marginalization was from childhood ignorance; some was worse. But Sunday they were the subject of attention, appreciation and affection from the more than 25,000 on hand. They will spend the week competing in 14 sports in the Seattle area, but the shared moments of the ceremony will linger long in their lives, as well as for the onlookers.

The wretched divisiveness permeating our culture has become our toxic partner. There’s a theory making the rounds that the decline in MLB attendance, the steepest in 15 years, is due in some small part to the reluctance to end up sitting next to a stranger who doesn’t agree with your politics and is willing to say so.

There is no way to prove that, of course, but it is hardly implausible to say many people feel the antagonism in public spaces. None was apparent Sunday in Montlake.

Yet even at the USA Games, the polarization came up. The CEO of Special Olympics, Tim Shriver, son of Eunice Shriver, a Kennedy sister who founded the organization 50 years ago, talked about the fractured American sensibility.

“You are the leaders the world needs at this critical moment,” he said, addressing the athletes. “So show America what it means to shower respect on your fellow human beings. Show the world what it means to choose to include. Show others, where they see tension and fear, show them togetherness.

“When others see division, I’m asking you, show them love. Because we are living in a country that needs you right now, and we’re here to take a stand for a different kind of America.”

The different kind of America to which Shriver spoke was all of America, represented well among the athletes. The youngest was eight years old and the oldest 74, and the ethnic heritages, at least from appearances, covered the planet’s variety.

For the longest time, sports have been where the stew’s ingredients gets its first widely analyzed taste. Rarely has it been without bitterness, with a notable exception of Sunday in Montlake.

For those who yearn to keep politics from sports, it helps to understand that the American institutions are inseparable. We take numerous cultural cues from how our political and sports leaders think and behave. That’s why every change of rules and punishments in the NFL is scrutinized through a political/social microscope for clues as to where we’re headed.

Don’t believe it? Consider: The day the NFL accepts private medicinal/recreational use of marijuana will be the day the opioid crisis begins to abate.

That’s the kind of influence sports generates. Sunday at Husky Stadium, sports delivered  more influence — a high better than a two-hit shutout.


  • rosetta_stoned

    Maybe my journalist’s steely impartiality was altered by the prism of
    ugliness created by the Trump administration’s open contradiction of
    American values in his blunt-force swerve to exclusion.

    You just couldn’t do it, could you? You just couldn’t write a story about a wonderful event without spewing your hyper-partisan politics.

    That’s the true prism of ugliness, Art.

    • art thiel

      Yes, I was expressing my view of why the event evoked such profound meaning for me and so many people who experienced it. To ignore the national political circumstances that evoked the intensity of feelings at this event would have been negligent of me.

      It’s plain, rosetta, that you’re an excluder and I favor inclusion, as do most people who have invested some personal capital in sports. So we disagree. And I still appreciate you reading,

      • Kirkland

        Even the most tainted of events, the World Cup, can inspire similar happiness to an audience. A big mass of people in Buenos Aires were demonstrating a government action, but when word got out that the Argentina team just scored a huge goal, they went bonkers. If the US were in this tournament and were on a hot streak, it could have gone a long way to giving us something to unite behind for a while.

        As for the Special Olympics, it’s great to see the city rally around a big, joyful, non-cynical event like this. I remember the hype starting from more than a year ago.

        • Seattle Ray

          Yes Soccer is huge especially in Argentina. Their teams have been successful in the World Cup and it brings national pride. South American countries love soccer.

        • art thiel

          Communal agreement these days is almost exclusively upon sports, except for Trump’s efforts to divide NFL fans.

          Every big city in the country could use a championship parade celebrating any activity.

      • Tonic99

        I guess the main thing I don’t like about your piece is the one-or-the-other-platform that you assume. I don’t think all people that support Trump are “excluders” and people that are against him are “includers”. Way to simplistic. And I do respect your work. I just think your article contributes to the dumbing-down and either-or media that people are frustrated with these days. It is way too easy to say Trump is at fault for all society’s ills. I only say that because you imply baseball’s viewership is down because of him. Just pits one versus the other – no need for that. Why not write an article about the complexities going on when a key-note speaker constantly says the work “inclusion”, while many who agree with inclusion, feel that this shouldn’t be a right or left choice? Your article, although understandable, doesn’t help the divide. Only widens it.

        • Seattle Ray

          Now you are dumbing down the conversation and making it simple. Trump was elected because he was blunt and didn’t care how ugly he would talk about others. Especially people of color and even the disabled. You name it if you disagree with him or ran against him you are slandered and treated harshly.
          Not once in this article said Trump has caused all the problems in the world.
          It just happens he purposely causes division by his words and blaming.

      • Seattle Ray

        I appreciate you going and sharing your experiences with us Art.

        • art thiel

          It was one of those increasingly rare moments of fun in journalism.

    • Seattle Ray

      You couldn’t just read a story that Art wrote on his website and not criticize him. You don’t have to be hyper partisan to see how ugly Trump talks about people and makes fun of the less fortunate.

      • art thiel

        Rosetta has been mostly civil and sometimes complimentary. Disagreement is not yet illegal, although check back with me after Trump seats his next Supreme.

    • Matt Kite

      Don’t shoot the messenger. Art calling out Trump’s ugliness is not, in itself, ugly. It might be difficult for Trump supporters to hear, but Trump is a horror show who brings out the worst in everyone. In contrast, Sunday’s event brought a little light to the world. Hard not to notice the difference.

      • art thiel

        Well said, Matt.

  • coug73

    I enjoyed Mr Thiel’s story. There is real joy in participating with Special Athletes, for me it was coaching, other times teaching. Thanks, Art.

    r stoned, the mocking of a disabled journalist by D Trump was horrific to see.