Tulsa's Olympics Bid Involves Shitty Trail of Tears Gimmick

Illustration for article titled Tulsa's Olympics Bid Involves Shitty Trail of Tears Gimmick

If you’re like me, you have a dormant streak of patriotism that comes alive once but every four years—on the occasion of the great Summer Olympic games (lol Winter Olympics, naw dude). I become a seething jingoistic nightmare, screaming unpleasantries at the Argentinian table tennis team as my USA track jacket flaps in the wind. All of a sudden, the most important thing in the world is how far some mountain giant can throw a heavy ball. (IT BETTER BE THE AMERICAN MOUNTAIN GIANT.)


I always get excited when it comes time for cities to place their bids to host the Olympics. The bidding process is a display of nationalist braggadocio, with host city hopefuls from all over the world peacocking for the favor of the International Olympics Committee. As far as I can tell, the IOC smirks Frenchily at the contenders while reclining on five interlocking chaise lounges. An American city hasn’t hosted the Summer Olympics since Atlanta in 1996 (okay, not the most successful games ever, but we tried). I want an American city to host the Olympics like crazy—even though it’s basically a guaranteed shit show certain to result in economic despair. Great news, guys! Tulsa, Oklahoma is about to make my dream come true!

Yes, for some reason Tulsa is preparing a bid to host the 2024 Summer Olympic games. Oklahoma is a lovely place full of lovely people, who are often unfairly judged by the dumb things their elected officials say, but come on. In no way is Tulsa hosting the Olympic games even remotely a good idea. Logistically, it would be nearly impossible—Tulsa doesn’t have enough hotel rooms for attendees or enough people to staff the games. The city would have to build an 80,000-person stadium to accommodate the choreographed spectacle of muscles that is the opening ceremony and subsequent track events. The estimated cost associated with hosting the games is around $5 billion—over half of the operating budget for the entire state of Oklahoma. It seems like there might be better ways to use that money besides building apartments for hairless Canadian divers.

To be fair, there are plenty of other American cities that stupidly bid on the Olympics, promising billions of dollars all while slashing municipal budgets. This isn’t really about economics or Tulsa’s financial security, though. This is about how Tulsa has elected to market itself to the IOC and the world as a potential host city. Organizers have proposed that the Olympic torch be carried down the “Trail of Tears” to honor the state’s Native American history. What an honor! Nothing reflects the Olympic spirit quite like that time the federal government forced thousands of Native American to walk from their ancestral homelands in the southeastern United States all the way to Oklahoma. I personally can’t think of a better tribute to the thousands of Indians who died during removal than to line the Trail of Tears with throngs of jubilant white people, cheering on some random local carrying a torch sponsored by Coca-Cola.

I’m just spitballin’ ideas here, but you know what might be a better way to honor the Native Americans of Oklahoma? How about addressing the fact that almost 30% of them in Oklahoma live below the poverty line? What about dealing with the health issues faced by the Native American population in your state? Native Americans suffer from higher rates of depression, PTSD, high blood pressure and diabetes. I know that organizing a parade celebrating an open flame at the end of stick probably sounds like a lot more fun than devoting effort to any of these problems, but maybe investing resources in some of your most vulnerable citizens might be a better way to go.

Besides, sports already has a major Native American cultural sensitivity problem—why would Tulsa want to be a part of that? The last thing Tulsa needs is to associate itself with are monsters like Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder or NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, neither of whom find anything remotely racist about the name “Redskins” or the team’s ridiculous logo. (Even my beloved Seahawks engage in unapologetic Native appropriation.) Tulsa should back away from all of this as quickly as possible before someone suggests hiring a fake Indian for the presentation to the IOC.


Look, Tulsa has just as much a right to waste their money on sports garbage as Chicago or Seattle or New York. I’ll paint an American flag on both my eyelids and watch the shit out of the 2024 Tulsa Olympics, I don’t even care. But Tulsa absolutely does not have the right to exploit the suffering of thousands of Native Americans in an attempt to add a shiny gloss to the abomination that was the Trail of Tears. That right there is some gold medal bullshit.

Update: City officials in Tulsa have distanced themselves from the Olympics bid, saying the bid is solely the effort of a private individual.


Meagan Hatcher-Mays is a recent graduate of Washington University Law School in Saint Louis. She does a significant amount of yelling on Twitter.



Yeah, I live and teach in Tulsa. Nearly every single one of my students claims part Native American ancestry. Do I teach on a reservation? Do I teach in a school that is more significantly serving Native American students than other area schools? No. That's the story of Oklahoma, that so many people can trace their ancestry to a tribe.

So the Trail of Tears isn't just a wince-worthy corner of our state's history. It's the story, dark and infuriating as it is, of how the Oklahoma of today came to be. Having a focal point of a global event be a solemn march along the path that represents the many forgotten injustices levied against Native Americans in our country doesn't seem to me to be as obviously oppressive as it does to you. Giving recognition to our state's deeply rooted Native American heritage—recognition that could, in turn, help mobilize many of the policies that would help better the lives of the many Native Americans who live in poverty in this state—seems to me to be more of a good idea than a bad one.

(Of course, this point is moot. Tulsa will never host the Olympic Games. And us trotting out weak justifications like "We did such a good job hosting the Bassmaster Classic!" is just humiliating.)