When French sculptor Auguste Bartholdi designed the Statue of Liberty as a gift to the United States on behalf of his countrymen, he eventually chose Libertas, the Roman goddess of freedom, as the female figure on which to base his work.
According to some accounts, in fact, Bartholdi went out of his way to make the statue non-controversial, designing the crown with seven rays to represent the seven seas and seven continents orbiting the sun.
“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free …”
You know the rest. That’s the Statue of Liberty, probably as unifying and apolitical a symbol as the United States has ever had. And if the International Olympic Committee thinks that’s an image with no place in these Games, why not get rid of the five Olympic rings while they’re at it? Come to think of it, maybe the national anthems should be next to go.
According to USA TODAY Sports hockey reporter Kevin Allen, the IOC communicated to the U.S. women’s team that goaltender Nicole Hensley’s mask — which includes a profile of Lady Liberty’s iconic head emblazoned on its left side — may be in violation of its policy against political symbols.
Parse the rule if you want — “No item may feature the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity” — but what, exactly, is the problem here?
We’re not talking about MAGA hats. Nobody is putting a #ReleaseTheMemo hashtag on their uniform. No images of war or conquest, no advocacy for a particular group’s rights or any sort of suggestion that America is better than any other country here. Just a symbol that is as closely associated with our country as Russia’s double-headed eagle or France’s rooster.
As recently as 2006, goalies for the U.S. men’s hockey team were covered in political images. According to a New York Times story from the Torino Olympics describing how each of the three goalies got custom-designed masks for the Olympics, Robert Esche had an image of the World Trade Center and a cartoon of Uncle Sam. Rick DiPietro went even further, with the Iwo Jima Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial and an M1 rifle painted on his mask.
If those masks met the “non-political” standards of the IOC, how are we sitting here 12 years later turning the Statue of Liberty into a controversy?
Well, one major thing has changed since 2006: Donald Trump is president, and as low as his approval ratings are in the United States, they’re even lower in the rest of the world. His vice president, Mike Pence, came and went from these Olympics after poking the host country in the eye in the name of an ineffective and misguided diplomatic statement that only engenders more ill feelings about our country’s place in the world at the moment.
While IOC spokesman Mark Adams and sports director Kit McConnell told reporters at a Tuesday news conference that they were unaware of the controversy, McConnell reiterated that uniform protocol was “consistent” and “clear.” But if the IOC goes through with this ill-conceived ruling on the Statue of Liberty, it sure seems like it will be making a mountain out of a molehill in the name of clapping back at Trump’s America.
The IOC, however, should be above that.
One thing you know when you come to any Olympics is that freedom may not be the hallmark of every country represented here. But if the image of our statue, officially named “Liberty Enlightening the World,” is too offensive, political or controversial to be part of these Games, just replace every flag with the Nike swoosh and be done with it.