In The Nation, 2006 Winter Games luge competitor Samantha Retrosi compares the Olympics to “The Hunger Games” while discussing her own experience of being made into a voicebox for Vorizon. According to Retrosi, when corporate sponsorship falls through, many U.S. Olympic athletes are left with one back-up plan: join the Army:
The socialization of my allegiance to Verizon began the moment I was selected—as an 11-year-old—for the US development team. The culture within the US Luge Association viewed brand loyalty as integral to the survival of the organization. All of my clothing was plastered with the Verizon logo. I was not allowed near any camera without giving a visual and verbal statement of thanks to Verizon for making all of my dreams come true. I went through intensive media training each year to reinforce this allegiance—to learn how to be a better spokesperson for Verizon. During my Olympic year, I signed away my rights to use media time for just about anything other than gratitude to sponsors. It was a condition for entrance into the Olympic Village.
In the wake of the 2008 recession, Verizon found itself on rocky terrain, so it began breaking many of its sponsorship contracts with amateur sports organizations. One of those was with the US Luge Association, to which it gave millions of dollars a year. USA Luge, which spent decades cultivating this relationship at the expense of all other sources of funding, has been unable to replace Verizon. Today’s luge athletes have had to look elsewhere for support, with many having little choice but to join the US Army World Class Athlete Program (not surprising, given the similarity in value systems: both the armed forces and elite-level sports cultivate extreme discipline, patriotism and victory at all costs). Apparently, one must be willing to enlist—and possibly fight and die for one’s country—in order to cover the expenses of international competition. Many of those who haven’t gone this route hold down outside jobs in addition to full-time training schedules.
Retrosi also appeared on Democracy Now! on February 5, where sports columnist and author Dave Zirin called her “an Olympic Snowden.”