Every two years — in winter and then summer — one athlete is honored with the privilege of carrying the American flag, leading his or her peers in the opening Olympic ceremonies.
Last week, in a process “fully driven by the athletes,” America’s eight winter sports federations voted to determine who would receive the prestigious honor. When coming to a 4-4 tie between speedskater Shani Davis and luge athlete Erin Hamlin, to break the tie, the predetermined procedure called for a coin flip, which was won by Hamlin.
Davis was mad.
Tweeted Davis in the immediate aftermath:
“I am an American and when I won the 1000m in 2010 I became the first American to 2-peat in that event. @TeamUSA dishonorably tossed a coin to decide its 2018 flag bearer. No problem. I can wait until 2022. #BlackHistoryMonth2018 #PyeongChang2018”
Davis is black. Hamlin is white.
So allow me to share with you now, that this post will have zero answers. It will, however, raise multiple questions. The older I get, in fact, the more I profoundly realize how I don’t have all the answers — nowhere close. And sometimes — no, often — I realize asking instead of opining leads to greater wisdom.
Was it wrong to flip a coin?
Davis is quite the accomplished athlete; he’s a five-time Olympian with two golds and two silver medals in his collection.
Hamlin is a four-time Olympian, winner of one bronze, a two-time world champion and winner of 23 World Cup medals.
In other words, both are accomplished athletes and each seen as deserving of the flag bearer honor in the eyes of their peers. Also true is that Olympic success is not the only factor in the consideration of their peers.
So was it wrong to flip the coin?
Hamlin indeed felt honored by the selection. ESPN said she “beamed about the opportunity.” She told the story about how her parents always wrestle with the money necessary to attend the opening ceremonies. She said, “I think they’re going to be really glad that they made that decision. They’re really pumped. I’m sure my brothers will be. We’ve grown up watching the Olympics and we’re always like, ‘Who’s going to be carrying the flag?’ And to actually be that person is insane.”
Her luge mates were also reportedly thrilled — both for the honor of Hamlin and the attention given to their sport.
And so again, I ask: was it wrong to flip the coin?
The oft-outspoken Davis has a great story. Hamlin, too, has a story.
How often in life do we compare our stories — and then decide who has the one that’s better? … who is most deserving?
How often do we compare?
Is it wrong to advocate for self?
And what happens when our self-advocacy is disrespectful to other people?
Ah, what an excellent, most complicated question…