Greek triple-jumper Voula Papachristou was expelled from the Olympic team for making fun of African immigrants on her twitter account, with a racist tweet that went viral amongst outraged followers. Her joke–”With so many Africans in Greece, the West Nile mosquitoes will be getting home food!!!”–was awful, and her fellow countrymen argued that she shouldn’t be allowed to represent Greece after such an offense. But the situation raises the question: Why do we count on athletes to represent countries at all?
Papachristou’s tweet was sent out last Wednesday, and her initial response to the negative feedback was to continue sending cavalier tweets:
That’s how I am. I laugh. I am not a CD to get stuck!!! And if I make mistakes, I don’t press the replay! I press Play and move on!!!
But she changed her tune after realizing the extent of the damage she’d caused her Olympic career:
I would like to express my heartfelt apologies for the unfortunate and tasteless joke I published on my personal Twitter account. I am very sorry and ashamed for the negative responses I triggered, since I never wanted to offend anyone, or to encroach human rights.
My dream is connected to the Olympic Games and I could not possibly participate if I did not respect their values. Therefore, I could never believe in discrimination between human beings and races.
Her joke was ignorant, tasteless, and certainly not funny or pointed enough to be worth the offense (unless she lost a LOT in translation), but it’s also difficult not to feel sorry for Papachristou. She’s 23 and has been training to compete in the Olympics for years–her comment maybe worth of expulsion, but it’s still a hard fall for an athlete.
Olympians are chosen for their skill in sport, not public relations, so it’s not a big surprise that some of them have made some huge blunders under the spotlight. Some are forgivable, if stupid, admissions of misconduct (like Hope Solo‘s recent admission that she broke Olympic Village rules to sneak a celeb into her bed) or unpopular opinions that would better be kept private.
Papachristou has been dubbed a moron for her misuse of Twitter, but as ignorant as her joke was, I also wonder why we’d expect a 23-year-old who’s spent the vast majority of her time in training, not of the media sort, to be any more media-savvy that the rest of us…let alone, be up to the task of “representing her country.”
Hope Solo’s recent admission of sex in the Olympic Village and drunkenness on the Today show seemed a similar (albeit, less consequential) mistake: Although some thought it was enough to get her kicked off the team, I have to admit–I disagree. I think she just needed a publicist to tell her when to shut up.
It seems the real moral of the story is that we want to see our athletes perform, and bask in the glory when they rise to the top. But when they fall, we’d prefer to distance ourselves–so it’s better for everyone if they stick to their sport, at the games, and on Twitter.