When you become the first US athlete in an individual sport to medal in five consecutive Olympics, that’s kindof a big deal. As washingtonpost.com puts it, you’re “Olympic royalty. Or should be.” If she was involved in any other sport, she’d be one of the toasts of London right now. “But Rhode, 33, is confronted with questions that few other athletes face because she is a shooter — a term embraced by Rhode and other athletes who shoot rifles and pistols for sport.” Hard to believe someone would actually call themself…a shooter, no? . . .
Here’s the crux of the problem:
Olympic shooters must deal with unfortunate associations: They compete in a sport — one that demands concentration and decades of practice — that also requires a machine that, when used maliciously, can kill people.
Wonder if javelin tossers suffer those same “unfortunate associations.” And we shudder to think what someone with ill intent could do with one of those rhythmic gymnastic wands. Naturally, Rhode was asked about the Midnight Movie Massacre just before her gold medal winning round of skeet earlier in the week.
Most other athletes get a pass on the podium. Swimmer Ryan Lochte won’t be asked about drownings in community pools. Gymnast Gabby Douglas will not be asked to comment on freak accidents at school jungle gyms. But with 30,000 firearms deaths in the United States each year, half of which are suicides, questions of gun violence are almost inevitable for sports shooters.
Well, yes, those questions are inevitable when ill-informed journalists can’t manage to draw a distinction between target shooting and mass murder.
As the article relates, Lanny Bassham had won a silver in the 50 meter rifle competition in Munich in 1972 before Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli athletes there.
Bassham, who later won an Olympic gold medal in 1976, remembers the trauma of the day, and how the bloodshed still overshadows the successes of athletes who competed at the Games. Not an interview goes by without questions about his whereabouts that day, although no one appears to have asked him his opinion on Munich, given his sport of choice.
“I don’t think shooting sports suffered after Munich,” Bassham said. “I think shooting suffered in America from the media coverage of Columbine, only because some people drew a conclusion that marksmanship in high schools or colleges is related to somebody killing someone with a firearm.”
And you know who to blame for all this, dontcha? The NRA. Oh, and the gun companies, too.
The politics of shooting cannot be easily divorced from the sport, perhaps because the National Rifle Association was the organizing body for the USA shooting team until 1995. Then, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) chartered USA Shooting to create an independent governing body to regulate shooting events at the state and national levels. While the team is partially funded by the USOC, it relies upon outside sponsors. Most major gun companies, according to the USA Shooting Web site, are sponsors, including Smith & Wesson and Winchester Ammunition. The site indicates that NRA is still a prominent sponsor of USA Shooting; NRA officials did not return calls for comment.
Meanwhile Rhode, Vincent Hancock and all the other shooting sports winners will polish their medals and deal gracefully with inane media questions the other Olympians are never asked.