t was the spring of 1992 and I was a member of the Marching Mizzou basketball pep band from the University of Missouri. That year, Missouri basketball was playing in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Our band of about 30 members along with about 15 cheerleaders piled into a coach bus and headed from Columbia, Missouri to Greensboro, North Carolina for the NCAA tournament’s March Madness opening weekend.
When we arrived in Greensboro about 9:30, the city had rolled up their sidewalks. To call Greensboro a sleepy little town was to insult sleepy towns. Greensboro was the Sleeping Beauty of sleepy towns and everything was locked up tighter than a drum. The next morning, a very hungry band headed to the basketball arena where Mizzou, a five seed, would face off against West Virgina, a 12 seed.
Now, college students are sustained on two things. Free food, and free stuff. It was that same year that I signed up for a credit card so that I could get a free frisbee. Seeing the value in free swag, I would go on to sign up for four more credit cards and enter into a life of debt. But I digress.
Upon driving into the parking lot of the arena, a man with a giant box got on the bus and began handing out a treasure trove of free swag. T-shirts. Hats. Wristbands. Socks. Some were in red and said DAN on them. And some were in blue and read DAVE. They could’ve been scripture from Satan himself, if they were free, we were going to wear them.
The Dan and Dave swag was part of an early marketing campaign around the 1992 Olympics coming up later that summer in Barcelona, Spain by the shoe manufacturer Reebok. The idea was that decathletes Dan O’Brien and Dave Johnson were going to be THE track and field stars. Both part of Team USA, the gimmick was that half of the country would be on Team Dave and the other half on Team Dan. Kind of like how the Twilight movies divided America whether you were team vampire or team werewolf.
The campaign started months before the Olympics, and almost predictably, blew up five weeks before the Olympics when O’Brien failed to qualify for the Olympics leaving only Team Dave heading to represent the US.
The saying goes that the best laid plans of mice and men oft go awry, and that counts double when Madison Avenue gets involved. Eager to crown the next Michael Jordan, Reebok pushed all of their chips into the table and got sucked out on the river.
You see where I’m going with this. People are human. Even Olympians. There are 11,090 participants in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Each of them spent the majority of their lives working to accomplish their dream. Tens of thousands others failed to make this moment. There will only be 339 gold medals issued at the Olympics. For a company, a television network, or a crowd of people to be reliant on one person to perform at their absolute best at the absolute right time is a ballsy bet, and one that will fail more than it will succeed.
This comes back to the grace needing to be given to Simone Biles, herself a multi-time gold medalist. This Olympics, she couldn’t go. This Olympics, she was one of the roughly billion people who would not get a gold medal at these Olympics. A one in a trillion bet that some people feel emboldened to criticize her for.
For the record, Dave Johnson won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympic games, and Dan O’Brien would win gold in 1996 Atlanta. The free Reebok swag that we received that weekend was tainted with bad luck as Missouri would lose in the second round of the tournament two days later to Seton Hall. There can only be one winner in these things, after all. And I still likely owe on several of those credit cards.
(You don’t need a credit card to follow Chris Kamler, where he is known as @TheFakeNed. And hey, you can find him on TikTok nowadays as well)