American gold medalist Race Imboden took a knee Sunday to protest “multiple shortcomings of the country I hold so dear in my heart,” as explained in his post-ceremony tweet.
The fencing champion tweeted his concerns after the medal ceremony at the Pan American Games. He wrote: “Racism, Gun Control, mistreatment of immigrants, and a president who spreads hate are at the top of a long list..."
Imboden's protest defies a contract he signed with the Colorado Springs-based United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee. In writing, he agreed to refrain from political demonstrations during official events. The USOPC responded with nothing more than a statement of “disappointment" over the breach of an agreement.
What a great country. Imboden may kneel because of American exceptionalism.
To better grasp the irony of Imboden’s gripes, consider the athletes alongside him on the podium. The second-place winners hail from Venezuela; third-place from Cuba.
flag kneeling: If a Venezuelan knelt during his country’s “Gloria al Bravo Pueblo” national anthem, his government would punish him. Human Rights Watch reports “the leadership of President Chávez and now President Maduro, the accumulation of power in the executive branch and the erosion of human rights guarantees have enabled the government to intimidate, censor, and prosecute its critics.”
Amnesty International documents Venezuela forcibly expelling and deporting journalists critical of the government while closing at least 50 radio stations.
Civilian protesters, who merely hope to eat, are arrested and tried in military courts. The government detains and tortures children of adults who challenge the government. One can imagine the plight of an athlete using an international stage to embarrass the Maduro administration.
Racism: Venezuelan racism dates back to the transatlantic slave trade, in which the country imported more than 500,000 African slaves. One region of the United States sanctioned slavery, involving fewer slaves, for less than 100 years. Venezuela had slavery nationwide for nearly 300 years.
“A white-minority has dominated commerce and politics in Venezuela since the days of slavery in the 19th century,” reports the independent socialist publication Monthly Review.
In his book “Ethnicity and Revolution: The Political Economy of Racism in Venezuela,” author Jesús María Salas describes Venezuela’s "profound racism" directed at Afro-Venezuelans, indigenous peoples and others berated as "vermin," "mixed breeds," "barefoot," and "rabble.”
LGBT rights: Venezuela strictly forbids same-sex marriage. The government won't let same-sex couples adopt children. Members of the LGBT community have no enforced protections from discrimination in the workplace or housing.
Immigration: As foreigners break into the United States, millions of Venezuelans flee rampant racism and economic policies that have store shelves empty and inflation approaching 8-million percent. Venezuelans ate most of the country's zoo animals in their quest to survive. President Donald Trump this month said his administration would protect asylum-seeking Venezuelan immigrants from deportation, just as previous administrations protected Cubans.
Gun control: Venezuela enacted a 100% ban on private gun ownership in 2012. Today, with total gun control, Venezula has the world’s second-highest murder rate, the highest overall crime rate and ranks second behind Honduras for mass shooting deaths per 100,000 residents.
Flag kneeling: If one of the third-place Cubans knelt during the “El Himno de Bayamo” national anthem, he would break the law and subject himself to punishment. The Cuban constitution allows speech only "in keeping with the objectives of socialist society.” It allows artistic expression "as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution.”
Racism: Though the United States abolished slavery in less than a century, Cuba used slaves for most of 400 years and imported nearly twice as many Africans as did the United States. Although Cuba’s population is mostly non-white, The Economist describes the government as “a mainly white gerontocracy.”
LGBT rights: Cuba's Castro regime, in power until last year, put homosexuals in forced labor camps. Former dictator Fidel Castro referred to homosexuals as “agents of imperialism" and a variety of other descriptors we cannot repeat in a family publication.
Immigration: Imboden knelt because of his country’s “mistreatment of immigrants,” despite his country allowing Cubans to immigrate and remain here — without visas — for 22 years between 1995 and 2017. Then-President Barack Obama ended the policy — known as "wet foot, dry foot” — telling immigrating Cubans they would "be subject to removal.”
Gun control: Cuba has a strict gun registration requirement and a higher murder rate than in the United States.
Imboden knelt to complain about his country, reminding us how good he has it. His foreign athletic colleagues have far greater reason to protest racism, violence and civil rights abuses. They might be inclined to kneel. Unlike Imboden, they have no such right.