These days, putting together a list of factors in our culture that serve to embarrass the United States on an international level is pretty easy. I don’t even need to start naming them – you know what I’m thinking about. And while all of those are indeed ludicrous, they seem to come and go. One day it’s John Ashcroft, the next it’s Iraq and soon enough it will be “Married By America.”
(On a side note, is there anyone out there who’s not excited as hell about this show? Is there a more humiliating way to show what America is all about than for a national audience to make arguably the most important and personal decision in life for two random people? This should be on pay-per-view and declared a national holiday. But I digress.)
But there’s one ongoing travesty that constantly lays shame upon this country – the U.S. Olympic Committee. Think about it, other than the games themselves, when is there news about this group that’s not some sort of scandal. If they’re not testifying before the Senate, these board members are monitoring the revolving door of executives. Morbid though it may seem, about the only thing that saved last year’s Salt Lake City games from becoming a nightmarish mess was Sept. 11, which made the world embrace America and turned the Olympics into a revival of sorts.
These are the people with whom we entrust the responsibility of organizing America’s role in the greatest showcase of amateur athletics. Which is why I say that it’s time for Bill Martin to leave Ann Arbor and go where he’s needed more.
When former USOC President Marty Mankamyer resigned her post under pressure on Feb. 4, Martin, who was named the USOC vice president-secretariat in November while retaining his role as Michigan’s athletic director, stepped into the presidency on an interim basis.
Martin insists that he will only hold the role temporarily, until the committee can choose a new president. He doesn’t feel that he would be able to give both Michigan and the USOC the attention they deserve if he attempted to stay on permanently. But maybe his allegiance is with the wrong institution.
Don’t think for a second that I’m trying to push Martin out of Michigan. On the contrary – Bill Martin is without doubt the greatest thing to happen to this university since I’ve been here.
The man exudes decency in every way he carries himself. A department that he found in near total turmoil has in fewer than three years become stable, with the final piece of the reconstruction coming when the NCAA finally rules on Michigan’s sanctions in a few weeks, thereby ending the turbulence of years past. (By the way, rest in peace Eddie. We knew you well – you’ll be missed.) Let’s not forget that when Martin came to Michigan, with the department’s budget looking as promising as the reviews for “Daredevil,” the new athletic director refused to take a salary, directing it instead to the department.
It’s a matter of integrity. Bill Martin has it and the USOC needs it. He’s made the tough decisions at Michigan, whether firing a basketball coach or banning a team from the postseason in a year when it was finally releasing itself from the shackles of total ineptitude. And though he let USOC Chief Executive Officer Lloyd Ward off the hook in one of his first acts as interim president, Martin still chastised Ward for the ethical complications he was a part of and which had been the bane of the committee recently.
Serving your country is not a uniform entity – everyone can do it differently. For some it means enlisting in the armed forces with full knowledge of what that can mean right now. For others it’s about protesting civil rights violations. For Martin it could be leaving a program he loves and instead taking charge of one that desperately needs his help.
Today, Bill Martin finds himself in a familiar role. After saying that he didn’t want to become Michigan’s permanent athletic director three years ago, coaches around the department insisted en masse that he reconsider. Now, he’s getting the same treatment from the USOC. It’s time for him to listen again – there’s a reason he finds nothing but support wherever he goes.
Whichever institution Martin chooses will benefit from his decision. The same skills that made him a tremendously successful businessman and athletic director will suit him well in the USOC. And should he choose to stay with the Wolverines, Michigan will be better for it.
But as a loyal Michigan fan, I’m willing to give up the department’s fearless leader in the interest of repairing a organization that should stand for only positive, but is instead marred in scandal. As an American, I know that I want Martin to move on.
I hope that someone out there can convince him to feel the same way.
Schwartz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.