On the trail of display errors at the American Olympic and Paralympic Museum | Content only for subscribers

When Howard Gorrell, a Delaware deaf Olympian, first toured the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs last year, he wasn’t looking for a fight.

OK, so maybe that’s technically not 100% true.

“The main reason I flew to Colorado Springs was because I wanted to do some research on what was wrong with, I call it the USO(P)C…why the Deaflympics were not included in the regular Olympic program,” said Gorrell, a lifelong crusader for disabled athletes who competed in javelin and hammer throw at the World Games for the Deaf in 1969 and 1973.

He arrived in May 2021 for a month-long stay in the Springs, but due to COVID-19, both the USOPC’s downtown offices and the East Boulder Street training center were closed to the public.

So Gorrell found himself at the gleaming new $96 million building in South Sierra Madre, for a state-of-the-art tour of a “five-star museum (with) beautiful displays,” which left him simmering with frustration and more questions than answers.

Chief among those questions was why a 60,000-square-foot museum “dedicated to U.S. Olympic and Paralympic athletes and their compelling stories” had only one small exhibit on the history of the Amateur Sports Act. He would have had to run backwards to find it—in an artifact display case at the end of a scaffold next to the main room on the top floor. The information was reduced to just two sentences, less than 50 words in total.

The President’s Commission on Olympic Sports was not mentioned, which to anyone familiar with the evolution of the movement in the US was nonsense about the Gettysburg address that Lincoln and the Civil War left out.

Worse, the first sentence contained an error, with the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 granting the creation of the US Olympic Committee, when in fact it was established in Colorado Springs in 1894 under the authority of the International Olympic Committee.

‘I said nothing. I left. For months it really bothered me,” said Gorrell, 77, who spoke to The Gazette on a video conference call in December, using a sign language interpreter.

Six months after his first museum tour, he returned to the Springs and its world-class destination, a grand vision made reality thanks to private donations, state money and a local bond initiative. This time he did say something. First to the museum, which Gorrell said was initially tied to the language in the display, which he said was written and approved by museum designers and verified by “established expert panels and the USOPC.” Gorrell emailed photos and the story to everyone else who might care and help.

Mike Harrigan, 79, was one of those people, and he couldn’t believe what he saw in Gorrell’s footage. Omissions are a given when writing so briefly. However, this abbreviated text seemed to stumble at every step.

The Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act did not replace the Amateur Sports Act in 1998, but amended it. The law also had “ZERO” to do with changing the eligibility standards for athletes participating in the games.

“It seems to me that whoever put it together had absolutely no idea what they were doing,” Harrigan wrote back, the founder and former director of the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports in the 1970s.

The campaign to really honor history, by getting history right, had another torchbearer.

Former deaf Olympian Howard Gorrell toured the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum in Colorado Springs for the first time in May 2021. mission to correct history for the lifelong advocate.

Their mission is one that the museum says it fully supports, if what’s on display is, in fact, wrong.

“Our primary goal as a museum is to ensure that our content is accurate and informative,” said Tommy Schild, the museum’s director of communications and marketing. “Mike and Howard have made us aware that some of the renderings may be inaccurate. We will continue our dialogue, exploration and fact-checking and will make any necessary changes.”

To be fair, there are probably only a handful of people on the planet who would have noticed the mistakes. That’s kind of the point.

“I’m probably the only one alive who was involved in everything from soup to nuts,” Harrigan said.

Both he and Gorrell know what they’re talking about because they’ve been through it.

In 1979, Gorrell was selected to serve on behalf of the then-known USOC as a general member of the Handicapped in Sports Committee, which represented five organizations for athletes with disabilities. An advocate for disabled athletes in sports, he testified before the congressional committee that Harrigan headed, urging the inclusion of “disabled” athletes in all Olympic dreams or plans, going forward.

“Howie is a great guy, and he was really helpful in helping us get the Sports Act originally passed,” Harrigan said. “He’s the kind of man who will go through that wall, God bless him. He’s tough, he doesn’t hesitate.”

Aside from coincidentally bearing the same name as Danny Glover’s character in “Predator 2,” Harrigan is a retired Marine Corps colonel who served in Vietnam before turning his influence to Washington, where he conceived when he led the creation of the President’s Commission on Olympic Sports – a bipartisan commission whose report formed the basis of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

That law amended the federal charter granted to the USOC, giving it the power to partner and coordinate with most (but not all) of the country’s amateur athletic organizations, said Harrigan, who lives outside of DC.

“I can say that the Commission and the law are the most important things that have happened to the US Olympic Committee in its entire history, in terms of positive effects on business, and I think the museum should reflect that,” he said. “There is no doubt that the Commission and the law together have completely transformed the Olympic Committee. They were then nothing but a travel agency operating every four years, pick-the-teams and go. It was not their mission to do other things.”

After contacting Gorrell by email late last year, Harrigan found himself in the Springs for a different reason, in his role as president of the Marine Corps Youth Foundation. He went to the museum to confirm what he had seen in the photos. He particularly objected that those errors were attributed to a statement by the family of the late Senator Ted Stevens, a linchpin of the legislation that now bears his name.

“It doesn’t do Ted justice. You don’t have to cover everything, but you should definitely cover the most important thing that ever happened to the USOC in 126 years in my opinion. And you better do it right,” he said.

Harrigan, like Gorrell, started this journey with some pretty solid opinions about the USOPC.

Harrigan argues that the root cause of many of the organization’s current problems stems from “a fundamental misapplication and misunderstanding” of its relationship with the Amateur Sports Act, which “transformed the U.S. Olympic Committee and mandated it with new responsibilities and mandates.” to take”.

“The US Olympic Committee has never held a seminar for its member organizations on the letter, spirit and intent of the act under which they operate. That’s unbelievable, when you think about it,” said Harrigan, who wrote about the subject in detail in a 2018 article for Sports Business Journal. “So it’s no surprise then that people are wrong. historical awareness.”

That said, the museum was quick to respond when Harrigan followed up on Gorrell’s complaints, letting them know that corrections were in order.

“They all agree with me that it needs to be changed,” said Harrigan, who said he has proposed a new wording that is doing well, and still keeping it short.

Things are still in the discussion/editing stage, but making such a change to a donation-funded display – assuming this is the final decision – will certainly cost money. The museum, like many across the country, has struggled financially during the pandemic as visitor numbers dropped to a fraction of its projections.

And the war against disinformation is not one that is fought in a single battle, on a single front.

“I would also really like to know where they got their information from. That’s the real question: how did it happen? And how do we go about recovering the incorrect source they got their information from?” said Harry.

Without it, the historical flaw will continue to hold endless appeal.

“There’s just so much that you see on the internet that is totally untrue,” he said.

According to Schild, content creation for the museum’s displays was provided by Barrie Projects, a company that “specializes in content development for museums across the country” and whose other projects include a Mob Museum in Las Vegas and Spy Museum in Washington, DC.

Where did they get their info from?

“BP consulted a panel of experts specializing in the history of the Olympic and Paralympic games to review all content,” Schild said.

Those experts seem to have dropped the baton on at least a few facts.

“Howie deserves so much credit for bringing this to everyone’s attention…and for setting the historic record right,” Harrigan said.

A historical record, at least.

An error in the same wording as on the museum display exists in the entry for the Amateur Sports Act on Wikipedia, the user-generated online encyclopedia created, edited and maintained by a global community of “volunteers”. That’s how the entry goes since 2007, leaking into history through news stories, class reports, speeches, and more — and so it will be, until someone with the savvy, knowledge, and audacity stands up to advocate for a change.


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