Team Integrity: “The Weight of Gold Strengthens Quest To Re-shape Olympic Governance”

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Time for change that packs power into legislation designed to keep athletes safe and rogues at bay - Photo Courtesy: Team Integrity

The Weight of Gold” documentary highlighting the mental health issues of Olympians is “a gift from these heroes to all of us”, says Team Integrity, the movement pressing for the U.S Congress to pass athlete-empowering legislation and should be a catalyst for change.

The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC (Team Integrity)  says the documentary, which features Michael Phelps and a large number of other leading Olympic sports stars, “provides even more urgency” to their “quest to re-shape governance in the Olympic Movement”.

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The Weight of Gold – Photo Courtesy: HBO Films

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the legal eagle and 1984 Olympic 100m freestyle champion who is one of the leaders at Team Integrity,  said: “I am grateful to the Olympians starring in The Weight of Gold. These are some of America’s greatest athletes showing us not just their amazing athletic performances, but their frailties and their humanity as well.

“They took themselves off the pedestal of invincibility, in service to us all. How embarrassing that recognizing the humanity of our athletes is missing from our current sport leadership and governance.

“If the GOAT, Michael Phelps, cannot get the support he needed for common, serious emotional struggles faced by 80% of Team USA, no one can.”

The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC’s (Team Integrity) statement in full:

(Washington, D.C.) HBO’s new documentary, The Weight of Gold, stars some of America’s greatest Olympic athletes, who candidly opened up about their common mental health issues. They describe how competing in the Olympics only came after a decade of grinding training and commitment, and the toll from the dedication required to a singular goal.

Afterwards, they disclose a common Olympic experience: serious and even suicidal depression that followed when the cheering inevitably stopped. That our larger-than-life heroes did so without a hint of shame is a masterful contribution to the issue of mental illness. Congratulations are in order to Michael Phelps, Jeremy Bloom, Lolo Jones, Gracie Gold, Bode Miller, Shaun White, Sasha Cohen, David Boudia, Katie Uhlaender, and, posthumously, Steven Holcomb and Jeret “Speedy” Peterson, via his mother, Linda Peterson, as well as Brett Rapkin, Peter Carlisle and Michael O’Hara Lynch.

In addition to their soaring athletic performances, The Weight of Gold is a gift from these heroes to all of us. Here’s why: Our Olympic Champions are certifiably tough. If they can admit needing mental health services and support, surely the stigma around depression was just dealt a sledgehammer-blow. Their stories unite us in our common need for a supportive community during life’s dark times.

The Weight of Gold provides even more urgency to The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC’s (Team Integrity) quest to re-shape governance in the Olympic Movement. We have spoken as those most impacted by governance, but without a voice in governance; Olympians, Paralympians, elite athletes, sport leaders, coaches and survivors. We are united:

The current American Olympic and Paralympic sport system does not work.

Without discussing their interviews with each other, the athletes share a common message: nobody cared about us as people. It is another important point that comes across about the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee. The athletes speak of their powerlessness; of an Olympic Committee that is intent on making money off their performances, money that flowed to the Corporation, but is not to be shared with the Athletes. While the Olympic Committee had therapy that would enhance athletic performance, virtually no resources were provided for these athletes who needed help unrelated to their performances, even after a number of suicides.

If thousands of sexually abused athletes and the subsequent cover-ups was not enough to re-shape the Olympic Movement, if throwing pregnant athletes off health insurance was not enough, if witnessing USA Gymnastics hide their assets and culpability from the victims through the bankruptcy process was not enough…then perhaps having our most elite heroes disclose a heartless corporate culture that focused exclusively on athletes-as-machines surely will.

While the HBO documentary did disclose the perilous financial predicament of most athletes, it did not disclose just how lavishly the executives over-lording the Games pay themselves and treat themselves. Team Integrity has done so, here and here. Most people still be surprised to hear that the executives travel extravagantly with limos, first class flights, five-star hotels, and lavish dining, while the athletes, whose bodies are directly impacted by travel conditions, travel economy.

It has been Team Integrity’s mission to work in a bipartisan manner to inform Congress of the USOPC’s governance deficiencies, their unethical practices, their financial shenanigans, and to propose workable remedies and solutions. Our reform efforts have come from our love for sport, and out of awe and respect for athletes’ training and their performances, like those in The Weight of Gold. It is our admiration and esteem for America’s Olympic Movement and its potential to inspire true greatness throughout society that has been our guiding motivation.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Edward G. Williams, co-chairs of The Committee to Restore Integrity to the USOPC, had this to say about The Weight of Gold:

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, J.D., OLY:

“I am grateful to the Olympians starring in The Weight of Gold. These are some of America’s greatest athletes showing us not just their amazing athletic performances, but their frailties and their humanity as well. They took themselves off the pedestal of invincibility, in service to us all. How embarrassing that recognizing the humanity of our athletes is missing from our current sport leadership and governance. If the GOAT, Michael Phelps, cannot get the support he needed for common, serious emotional struggles faced by 80% of Team USA, no one can.”

Es Williams, J.D., OLY:

“The new HBO documentary, The Weight of Gold, is a must see. These great athletes’ stories expose – once again – the failures of the USOPC to consider the athletes. This time, it was their failure to protect the psychological and mental health of athletes in the USOPC’s quest for money and medals, just as it failed to protect the hundreds of athletes from physical and sexual abuse heaped on them by National Governing Bodies that the USOPC was mandated to oversee under the Sports Act.”

Team Integrity is hopeful that after many years of bipartisan collaboration, the Empowering Olympians, Paralympians and Amateur Athletes 2020 will pass, in order to benefit those at the core of the Games, the athletes. The Olympics are a unique treasure for those of us that grew up in the system, that are fans and hopeful what the Movement can inspire. Our quest remains: to fix a broken sport governance system on behalf of those most vulnerable in the Olympic Movement, and those most impacted by the 1978 Ted Stevens Olympic Sports Act.

1 comment

  1. Paul Robbins

    Let’s hope they extend it to protect coaches as well! The pursuit of gold is a partnership between athlete and coach. Both parties are liable to suffer mental health issues. Sports administrators have a duty of care to both not just the athlete. The implication from the language used is that malevolence only emerges on the coaching side.

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