EDITOR'S NOTE: This is an opinion piece from USA Today Sports columnist Christine Bernnan.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that Americans are now rooting for their fellow Americans to fail at the Olympic Games.
First it was Adam Rippon, then Lindsey Vonn, then Gus Kenworthy. All three dared to speak out critically against the leaders of our country, something that is about as American as apple pie, and very much in keeping with the First Amendment.
But exercising that right comes at a cost these days for America’s athletes. A sizable slice of the American public has decided that their allegiance to President Trump and Vice President Pence supercedes their red, white and blue devotion to their countrymen and women competing abroad in the largest regularly scheduled peacetime gathering of the world.
One would think that because criticism of Trump is so widespread across the country, his fans would ignore it by now. They didn’t lose the election; they won it. Declare victory, move on and wave the flag when Rippon takes the ice or Vonn and Kenworthy take to the slopes.
But no. These anti-American Americans become so rattled by the honest exchange of opinions that their anger gets the best of them. Then they end up treating a once-in-a-generation U.S. sports icon like Vonn as if she were a mortal enemy from the old CCCP.
If you haven’t read what has been said on social media about Vonn and the openly gay Rippon and Kenworthy, let your imagination run wild: angry insults, personal attacks, nasty language, childish taunts, the works. It's a very different kind of criticism than what the athletes doled out to Trump and/or Pence.
When Vonn, the 2010 Olympic downhill gold medalist, finished a disappointing sixth in the Super G the other day, her Twitter feed was filled with vitriol. It didn't matter that she is a terrific role model and one of the greatest U.S. Winter Olympians ever. Trump’s fans were out in force, furious that Vonn told CNN in December that she wouldn’t go to the White House for a post-Olympic celebration hosted by President Trump.
"I take the Olympics very seriously and what they mean and what they represent, what walking under our flag means in the opening ceremony," Vonn said then. “I want to represent our country well. I don't think that there are a lot of people currently in our government that do that."
Julie Foudy, the former U.S. soccer star and two-time Olympic gold medalist working for ESPN here, couldn’t believe what she was reading about Vonn on Twitter Saturday.
“I just spent last 20 mins reading thru tweets directed at @lindseyvonn," she wrote on Twitter. "Sickened & disgusted once again by the lack of humanity that engulfs our country. She just raced her damn heart out & Trump supporters gloat/cheer/celebrate her inability to medal. Is this what we’ve become?”
Several hours later, Vonn replied.
“It’s ok Julie. Not everyone has to like me but my family loves me and I sleep well at night. I work hard and try to be the best person I can be. If they don’t like me their loss I guess… Thank you for the support.”
It came as no surprise that Vonn took the high road. It also came as no surprise that her detractors did not.