PYEONGCHANG, South Korea – Alex Rigsby came off the ice after practice last week and she was asked about her new helmet. She beamed.
“Only worn it twice,” she happily explained. The American goalie went through all the designs on it: the USA crest on the top, the drawing of the famous V-J Day kiss on one side, the bald eagle on the other side, and, last but definitely not least, a stamp depicting the Statue of Liberty right on the chin which juts out when shooters take aim.
On Tuesday, the IOC reportedly sought to veto it.
You read that right.
According to a report by USA Today, “USA Hockey is working with the IOC to see whether goalies Nicole Hensley and Alex Rigsby really will have to remove the Statue of Liberty from their goalkeepers masks.”
At issue is a rule which states the following: “No item may feature the wording or lyrics from national anthems, motivational words, public/political messaging or slogans related to national identity.”
No slogans related to national identity? They do realize the “USA” on the front of the jersey is related to national identity, right? The only team that doesn’t have a slogan related to national identity in these Games is the Russian squad, whose jerseys have been neutered because of a ban on their home nation. And in what is surely a total coincidence, the “Olympic Athletes of Russia” happen to play against the Americans on Tuesday night. Conspiracy theorists will eagerly muse about whether Russian President Vladimir Putin placed a call to the IOC.
Why is this a problem now and not when Jessie Vetter was allowed to keep her Statue of Liberty design in 2014? What makes this even more farcical is that Hensley and Rigsby didn’t even play in Team USA’s opening match; Maddie Rooney (sans statue design) got the start. So it’s not as though two backups who won’t be shown on camera (until now) will be tainting the purity of the Games by not wearing their helmets on the bench.
This seems to be the way of the IOC: Make it about the so-called spirit of these commercialized Games instead of making it about the athletes who worked their whole lives to be here. We saw that on Monday, when women slopestyle skiers were forced to go ahead and compete in dangerous winds instead of waiting for better weather. Nice to see the Olympics are concerned about “political messaging” but not so much about safety.
USA Hockey spokesman Dave Fischer told USA Today on Tuesday “discussions are ongoing.” Let’s hope they don’t trickle down the slippery slope that the IOC has started. The diagram of a Navy sailor on V-J Day on Rigsby’s mask is as American as any image, and it’s not like the bald eagle doesn’t connote patriotic themes. What would the implication be if the Russian goalie had a design of an enormous bear on her helmet? That she liked wildlife?
Rigsby is a 26-year-old who has endured two hip surgeries to continue her career and participate in these Games. Now her perhaps patched-over helmet is going to be a story more so than she is, and she’ll be asked by the world’s media what she thinks of it. It’s needless and unfair. Maybe in a matter of days she will get some payback by circling the ice, draped in that symbol of political messaging, the American flag.
By then it will be too late for the IOC to do anything about it.
More Olympic coverage from Yahoo Sports:
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• How Jamie Anderson beat the wind to win Olympic gold
• How Russia’s Olympic fans are making a mockery of the IOC
• The NHL’s best (Zamboni drivers) are in PyeongChang, no matter what people tell you
• Polish luger loses protective visor, makes run anyway