The flickering flame of the cauldron sparkled bright. Orange, red, yellow, mesmerizing viewers with variance and power. Its heat felt from the other side of the world. “Worlds We Share,” the theme of the Olympic Games Closing Ceremony, never felt truer.
With the shared experience of a global pandemic and the turbulent journey towards commencement, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo will go down in history. Delayed and debated, postponed and protested. Even once competition began, it wasn’t quite “normal” with empty stadiums and medallists celebrating in masks. Like most everything the past 18-months, the unimaginable became reality.
Yet, despite the trials and tribulations, there were still plenty of triumphs. New sports debuted, others returned stronger than ever, and new heroes emerged. And not just heroes that collected medals or set new records, but heroes that broke the mold.
When we look back at these Olympic Games, it’s the bravery of athletes like Simone Biles, Raven Saunders and Noah Lyles (just to name a few), whose candor on the topic of mental health is what should be remembered.
Growing up a 90’s kid in Chicago, I wanted to “Be like Mike.” I tried to emulate his moves on and off the court – from crossovers to confidence. I had the shoes and the jerseys, and even made a habit of sticking out my tongue just like him. He never lost focus, he never folded under pressure. MJ was a winner, a champion, an MVP.
What athletes like Biles, Saunders and Lyles did during these Games can’t be measured in medals alone. They’ve given hope to young athletes across the world that you can still be great, even if you aren’t “like Mike.” They’ve demonstrated that people don’t need to be ashamed to seek help when battling demons, sports-related anxiety is common, and that disclosing your mental health struggle isn’t a sign of weakness, but instead, strength.
They represent a new era of athlete, a new era of role models using their public platforms to help make the world we share a better place. They aren’t afraid to be vulnerable or transparent, and we must not be afraid to appreciate, celebrate and admire them for that.
As the sports marketing lead at Current Global, I’m often responsible for athlete procurement and integration. While the specific role of the athlete partner depends on the program and brand, the goal remains relatively consistent – engage and inspire. How can we generate awareness for the program/product/brand, and how can we encourage people to participate and/or purchase? We vet for credibility and authenticity, and elevate those who carry a strong following and even stronger personality.
What we’ve learned from these Games is that a strong personality can take many different shapes. Moving forward, I expect marketers will carve out expanded integration opportunities for athletes who aren’t always extroverts with a sense of humor, but instead, break through the clutter with purpose and passion, and elicit empathy and support.
It’s on us now, all of us, to follow their lead. Let’s make that a legacy of the Tokyo Olympics.
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