Chris Potter: Pay for Olympic athletes? Nuts!

Chris Potter

A co-worker plopped a metal box down on my desk sometime last month, an out-of-place sound in the newsroom that came with just five words of explanation — “You have to watch this.”

The object in question was the "Band of Brothers" DVD box set. I was familiar with the iconic image on the front of the box — the silhouettes of a group of World War II soldiers, the names of executive producers Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg atop the block text of the title — but that is where my knowledge of the HBO series ended.

For those that, like me, are about a decade late to the party, "Band of Brothers" follows the journey of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne Division’s “Easy Company” through World War II. The series begins in Camp Toccoa, where a new military force called the paratrooper was being developed.

The men of Easy Company volunteered for the rigorous training, the job description that included jumping from a C-47 behind enemy lines. A precursor to today’s Special Forces units, the elite nature of the paratrooper was what attracted many to the position.

Easy Company saw some of the hardest fighting of the war. They dropped behind the German front lines in Normandy on D-Day and saw heavy action in Holland during Operation Market Garden. Easy Company held the line during the Battle of the Bulge, enduring a frozen hell in the Ardennes forest.

Having a bad day? Watching episodes like “Bastogne” or “The Breaking Point” will immediately take the bite out of your troubles.

It was Easy Company and the 101st Airborne that were surrounded by German forces around the Belgian town of Bastogne when Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe famously answered the German call for surrender with one word: Nuts!

Easy Company was reminded why their lives had been so rudely interrupted, why they fight, when they liberated a concentration camp. The company later got a taste of Nazi decadence when they captured Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest as the war wound down.

The men of Easy Company eventually disperse at the war’s conclusion, going their separate ways back stateside. They maintain their bond of brotherhood after the war, gathering for annual reunions.

The soldiers portrayed so accurately in "Band of Brothers" also refuse to leave the mind of the viewer. At its core, the series is about the men, the relationships they develop in combat, what they do for each other under severe stress, the sacrifices they make.

A documentary featuring the actual men the series is based on appears on the final disc of the set. Though the series is full of powerful moments that pack an emotional punch, witnessing the men themselves recount their experiences hits the viewer like an anvil to the gut.

What is this quasi TV review/history lesson doing in the sports pages, you may ask?

Miami Heat guard Dwyane Wade caused a small stir this week when he suggested NBA players who participate in the Olympics should be paid for their efforts. Wade pointed to the taxing physical demands that come along with Team USA’s summer schedule, and how the players generate revenue they never see. 

“It’s a lot of things you do for the Olympics — a lot of jerseys you sell,” Wade was quoted saying Wednesday by “We play the whole summer. I do think guys should be compensated.”

Wade was echoing the sentiments of Boston’s Ray Allen, who suggested earlier in the week that giving players a share of Olympic jersey sales could be a solution to the issue.

Wade quickly backed away from the comments faster than an opponent fleeing the path of the LeBron James fast break freight train. He issued a statement Thursday declaring “I do not want to be paid to go to the Olympics.”

Regardless of if Wade’s original comments were misconstrued, as he claimed, the question had already been shoved to the forefront.

Both Allen and Wade are right in that competing in the Olympics is a significant time commitment for the league’s elite players, many of whom are engaged in draining playoff series well into May and June.

A gold medal isn’t supposed to come easily. Whether it’s on the battlefield or a basketball court, what is representing your country, if not sacrificing for something greater? 

Both players have won a gold medal at the Olympic Games, but they apparently failed to learn what the Olympics are all about during their extensive time abroad. Representing your country on the world stage isn’t a grudging obligation, it’s an opportunity, a goal many strive for but few are able to achieve.

Perhaps Wade and Allen should spend some time with a gymnast training in obscurity, working every day for the right to wear the U-S-A in London. Hundreds of athletes lacking the multi-million dollar contracts of Wade and Allen find a way to make it work.

Wearing those three letters?might not fit easily into their schedule, but doing for your country rarely does.

That’s a lesson the men of Easy Company knew well. Perhaps someone should drop a few "Band of Brothers" box sets in some NBA?locker rooms.

Chris Potter is a sports and outdoors writer at the Hornell (N.Y.) Evening Tribune. He can be reached at