33° Good Morning
33° Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

It’s OK to like the Olympics, no, really, it is

In this July 23, 2016 file photo, a

In this July 23, 2016 file photo, a representation of the Olympic rings are displayed in the Olympic Village in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Credit: AP / Leo Correa

It was 6:03 a.m. Monday, show time for Evan Roberts and Joe Benigno, the most sports meat-and-potatoes duo on the WFAN schedule.

What would they lead with after a busy weekend? A-Rod’s departure? A-Judge’s arrival? Steven Matz’s near no-hitter? Preseason football?

Nope. It was Olympic men’s basketball and Team USA’s lack of dominance. Still, that’s basketball.

But soon they were veering off onto Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and, finally, women’s doubles table tennis. Seriously.

None of which is to say the Games suddenly are a hot topic on talk radio. Soon enough, it was on to customary subjects, more deGrom than de Janeiro.

There was something in the open-minded tone of the Rio talk that was telling, though.

In recent years, many sports fans and media members have taken a perverse pride in advertising a lack of interest in the Games, dismissing them as an overly packaged reality show for non-avid fans, full of strange sports from strange lands.

Much of which is true, to a point. But is that really a bad thing for two weeks in the doggiest dog days of August?

Many avid fans seem to be coming around to a broader view of the Games, especially in a fractured era in which, really, everything in sports other than the NFL – and LeBron James in Game 7 of the NBA Finals – is a niche attraction.

In olden times, when we Baby Boomers were young, any televised event was a source of fascination, so every minute of Olympics coverage was precious. (OK, I admit it: I miss Vasily Alekeyev.)

But as the millennium turned and access to mainstream American sports vastly expanded, we had less time or patience than we used to for Greco-Roman wrestling, weightlifting and cycling.

Now we seem to be coming out the other side, where the occasional men’s field hockey game is a welcome break from watching baseball players strike out at record pace or studying for fantasy football drafts.

Are some aspects of the Olympics still tough sells for traditional sports fans? Absolutely. Tape-delayed events? Blech. Subjectively scored sports? Meh. Jingoistic announcers? Eye-roll.

Also, there is no denying or ignoring the dark side of the Games, including corrupt organizers, irresponsible public spending, performance-enhancing drugs, famous swimmers being robbed at gunpoint, and more.

So, yes, diving into diving and other Olympic sports requires suspension of disbelief, much as NFL fans must compartmentalize their enjoyment of the game compared to what it does to participants’ bodies and minds.

But in the broad arc of the human parade, the Olympics remain a quirky lark that even avid fans ought to embrace every couple of years from the comfort of our living rooms, aided by NBC’s (heavy) guiding hand.

The ratings have been down from London four years ago, but compared to everything else on American TV other than the NFL playoffs, the Olympics are a massive, spectacular, undeniable hit.

Some of those numbers are driven by people who like gymnastics far more than NFL preseason games. But they are supplemented by millions of mainstream fans who cannot resist the irresistible likes of Bolt, Phelps and Katie Ledecky.

One of Ledecky’s supporters in Rio was her uncle Jon, just another awed observer like the rest of us.

He has the other 207 weeks of the Olympiad to be known as co-owner of the Islanders, as we have all that time to follow his team and other sports passions.

For now, bring on women’s doubles table tennis. The gold medal match is Tuesday night.


We're revamping our Comments section. Learn more and share your input.

New York Sports