Opinion: USOPC gives in to arrogant, unvaccinated Olympian Michael Andrew as he skips mask. Big mistake.
TOKYO — When athletes become Olympians, their lives and responsibilities change, whether they like it or not. Their singular focus broadens. More is expected of them. They become representatives of one nation and guests of another.
Michael Andrew, the unvaccinated, 22-year-old American swimmer who refused to wear a mask while talking to journalists in the mixed zone Friday morning at the Tokyo Aquatics Centre, is a first-time Olympian who by now should have figured out that things are different in Tokyo than they were for him back home.
Instead, somewhere on his journey from self-centered athlete to Michael America, Andrew lost his way.
When he showed up to speak to reporters at a locked-down Olympics in the middle of a pandemic state of emergency, he was asked by USA TODAY Sports why he was not wearing a mask like all of his U.S. teammates.
One might have thought he would have realized his mistake, reached for his mask and put it on right then, out of courtesy, if nothing else.
No way. Not this guy.
This is what he said:
“For me, it’s pretty hard to breathe in after kind of sacrificing my body in the water, so I feel like my health is a little more tied to being able to breathe than protecting what’s coming out of my mouth.”
Translation: I couldn’t care less about you, or the pandemic, or the fact I’m not vaccinated. This is all about me.
The U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee has an ugly American in its midst.
I have been in that mixed zone every day and every night for a week. I have watched Olympic gold medalist Katie Ledecky painstakingly explain both a surprising loss and a thrilling victory through her mask. I have seen Olympic gold medalist Caeleb Dressel take big, deep breaths right after a race, his mask moving in and out as he spoke.
But Andrew? This man who has been a bust so far at these Olympics, failing to medal in his first two events? He can’t be bothered to do what Ledecky and Dressel do?
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At first, the USOPC said that what Andrew did was “a violation of the COVID mitigation protocols” that it and Tokyo organizers had put in place and said it would review the matter and “take action as needed.”
That was welcome news. History tells us that when U.S. athletes embarrass themselves at the Olympics, the best thing for the USOPC to do is get out in front of it, fast.
So something was coming. A strongly worded statement that this kind of cavalier behavior was not acceptable for a U.S. Olympian? An apology for his thoughtlessness? Some kind of slap on the wrist?
No, no and no. After a couple of hours, the USOPC sent USA TODAY Sports another statement, this one leaning on the Tokyo playbook of COVID-19 protocols from June, saying that athletes can remove their masks for interviews, giving Andrew the go-ahead to keep doing exactly what he has been doing.
This was a mistake. The USOPC should have charted a path along much higher ground, modeled after the behavior of every U.S. swimmer here except for Andrew. They all are masked up all the time. The USOPC should have said American athletes wear masks to protect themselves, to protect their hosts and to protect everyone they come in contact with, no matter what the Tokyo playbook says.
Instead, it gave in to the selfishness of one arrogant American.
Across many Olympic Games, it has become tradition for a U.S. audience to think that our Olympians are the best of us, the best this nation has to offer.
Not this time.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Opinion: USOPC gives in to arrogant, unvaccinated Olympian Michael Andrew as he skips mask. Big mistake.