Wrapping Oneself in the Flag

W.J. Astore

As soon as American athletes win an Olympic medal, it’s seemingly obligatory for someone to give them a flag so they can wrap themselves in it.  Here’s Nick Goepper, who won a silver medal in skiing:

Freestyle Skiing - Winter Olympics Day 9

I’ve seen athletes from a few other countries do this, but not with the uniformity and urgency of U.S. athletes.  Maybe American athletes just love their country more?

I vaguely recall “wrapping oneself in the flag” moments from previous Olympics that seemed spontaneous.  What gets me today is how routine these moments have become.  The American snowboarder Shaun White, for example, wrapped himself in the flag for his photo op, after which he dragged it on the snowy ground as he walked away, a transgression for which he apologized afterwards.

I understand athletes are proud to represent their countries, and understandably pumped after winning a medal.  But do all U.S. medal-winners now have to pose with a flag draped about them?

The official medal ceremony features the flags of the medal winners, with the national anthem being played for the winner of the gold.  I always thought that ceremony was more than sufficient as a patriotic display, and more consistent with the idea of the Olympics as an international event of diverse athletes.

What would happen if athletes, after winning their respective medals, wrapped themselves not in the flag of their respective countries, but in the Olympic flag showing the five interlocked rings?  Would heads explode?


8 thoughts on “Wrapping Oneself in the Flag

  1. It is pretty well known a Gold Medal, or other equivalent accolades Oscars, Nobels, Pulitzers etc. are worth close to a million dollars in endorsements, or can make or break a Career nowadays and no Athletes especially want to screw up their chances by being shall we say “Controversial”…!


    1. How true. And this extends to sportscasters, especially with the NFL. They all wear the flag lapel pin, which I guess is their way of saying “I’m a patriot.” But when patriotism comes so easily, does it really have any meaning?

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  2. Pull up some video from the London Summer Olympics and you’ll see the Union Flag everywhere. Look at BBC’s Last Night of the Proms summer concerts, and you’ll see the same thing. As a California Lawyer and now UK citizen I understand your concerns and comments and merely say relax, it’s really OK.


    1. I understand, e.g. lots of Japanese flags in the stands to support their male ice skaters. It’s not all the flags that bother me — it’s the rush for athletes to wrap themselves in the flag in the immediate aftermath of winning a medal, and the subsequent use of those images — sometimes for marketing purposes.


  3. I mostly wrote this yesterday but couldn’t figure out how to end it. I began with this image of U.S. Presidents , Bill Clinton, G. W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump taking a bipartisan public-relations vacation to Acapulco, Mexico, where they would have themselves photographed (and photoshopped) heroically diving off the cliffs into the sea below — unfortunately, at low tide. Then, I got out my DVD copy of Sweeny Todd (original stage production) to review some raunchy British Fleet-Street idioms (normally, my U.S. Navy enlisted lexicon serves well enough) and things progressed for about six stanzas. Still, I went to bed unsatisfied with the composition. Then I read the article above this morning and everything fell into place. Thanks, Bill.

    Leisure Class Lemmings

    The Hothouse Orchids, Special Snowflakes, Precious Peacocks, too,
    Desire to dominate the deaf and dumb:
    Themselves, the ones who will not hear, who parrot words untrue,
    According to their single rule of thumb:
    Receive The Rumor, then Repeat, as if the old is new,
    Like children chanting to a beating drum.

    The pre-pubescent pugilists at recess taunt their type:
    “Mine’s bigger!” each proclaims of his small bone.
    With no hair on the chest or groin or armpits, still they hype
    Their right to perch atop the playground throne.
    When frustrated by losing their entitled place they gripe,
    Fueled by the flow of twerp testosterone.

    This homone that a pair of tiny testicles secrete
    Makes little schoolboy woodies stand-up stiff.
    Yet many years must pass before the plow and furrow meet.
    Till then they’re lucky if they get a sniff.
    But, still, “heroic” movies send them strutting down the street
    Like lemmings heading towards the nearest cliff.

    Good luck, of course, when Dad-and-Mommy’s trust fund intervenes
    To shield our little lords from bad and cruel.
    Affirmatively actioned up the ladder thanks to genes
    They’ll never have to fight or live on gruel;
    Which life, should they bear witness to its grim and ugly scenes,
    Would make them piss their pants or drop a stool.

    They long to steer Titanic towards the iceberg dead ahead.
    In fantasies, they save the ship and crew.
    They yearn to split the muffin, push the parsley, but instead,
    They choke the chicken till the bird turns blue;
    Then beat the drowning dog to earn some “military” cred:
    The spinal column’s famous yellow hue.

    But lemming overpopulation, even at the top,
    Requires reduction. Too much appetite,
    Conspicuously wasteful, Veblen said, must surely stop.
    So to the sheer cliff’s edge we must invite
    The lemming divers of the leisure class to belly flop
    Upon the rocks below, from some great height.

    Or at the next Olympic Games, in Winter, somewhere cold,
    (Again with Russian athletes not allowed)
    A U.S.-only demonstration of cliff-diving bold
    Could entertain and mesmerize the crowd.
    With flag-draped bodies on the ice, the U.S. wins the Gold.
    The Stars and Stripes: failed parachute and shroud.

    Michael Murry, “The Misfortune Teller,” Copyright © 2018


  4. My thoughts exactly. Wrapping yourself in the Flag once had a pejorative connotation. I.e., patriotism as the last refuge of the scoundrel. During the centennial year of the Civil War the hawkers of Union memorabilia were at a disadvantage because they could not use the Flag as something that could be worn.


    1. I grew up associating the phrase “wrapping oneself in the flag” with other pejorative phrases like “hiding behind the troops” or “waving the bloody shirt,” all of which today I would subsume under the general heading of Military Idolatry, the thoroughly bipartisan, quasi-religious dogma of the corporate oligarchy/junta currently “managing” the United States like a subsidiary fast-food franchise.

      Regarding “patriotism as the last refuge of a scoundrel,” an ironic definition attributed to Dr Johnson’s famous Dictionary, I came back from Vietnam utterly convinced that Civil War veteran Ambrose Bierce had gotten it right when he said of the scoundrel’s catalogue of cowardly refuges: “With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer, I submit that [patriotism] is the first.” In my opinion, Bierce nailed the essence of the matter in only two brief entries in his Devil’s Dictionary:

      Patriotism. n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of anyone ambitious to illuminate his name

      … and …

      Patriot. n. The dupe of statesmen and the tool of conquerors

      Sometimes I can sympathize with Mishima Yukio’s character Mizoguchi in The Temple of the Golden Pavilion: “I know what made my father so ugly. It was his hope.” Some people can twist anything beautiful into its awful opposite. For most of my seventy years on this planet I have watched my own government do precisely that.


    §176. Respect for flag
    (a) The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.
    (b) The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.
    (c) The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.
    (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free. Bunting of blue, white, and red, always arranged with the blue above, the white in the middle, and the red below, should be used for covering a speaker’s desk, draping the front of the platform, and for decoration in general.

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