While the rest of the sporting world drools over comparisons between the 1992 U.S. Men’s basketball team and the current roster vying for gold in London, UH track and field head coach Leroy Burrell is the first to admit he won’t be partaking in any of the debate.
A gold medal winner in the Barcelona Olympics, Burrell has long noticed a significant disparity in the amount of attention the national media places on traditional Olympic events and more popular draws, such as basketball.
“I think Olympic athletes, in true Olympic sports, we often wonder ‘Why are they giving them attention?’” Burrell said. “They already get plenty of attention through the year, but that’s just one thing the American public looks toward.”
For Burrell, the issue of media attention is unique to the Olympic games. While his legacy as a sprinter was cemented by twice setting the world record in the 100-meter sprint, he insists the vast majority of track and field athletes are overlooked in favor of flashier stories such as the Dream Team’s.
“If you’re an Olympic champion in an event, you’re the absolute best in the world,” Burrell said. “It took 12 people to win (only) one of those team battles.”
As a member of the gold-medal-winning 4×100-meter relay team in Barcelona, Burrell was thrust into the national spotlight and became familiarized with the media attention the Olympics demand from international reporters.
“The thing that bothers me about the way true Olympic sports are viewed by the American media is,” Burrell said, “they want to do the story of the kid who got up at four in the morning and bad things happen to his family – but what about the fact that the guy is just a great athlete?”
As for the Dream Team, Burrell sees similarities in the way the media handles mainline American sports and feel-good storylines of athletes.
“They’re going to go with what they know,” Burrell said. “Quite honestly, it’s easier for them to go and cover a basketball game than a track-field event. The Dream Team may be 12 of the best basketball players in the world, but I don’t think there’s any distinction between their best and our best.”