Over at the Daily Dish, Andrew Sullivan links to my earlier post on the Olympics and nationalism and connects it to the interesting issue of international "free agency." But I think he may have misinterpreted one aspect of my post.
I wrote: "I don't root for Ryan Lochte of the United States over Yannick Agnel of France because I know them both personally, and I happen to like Lochte more, or because my personal knowledge of the two tells me that Lochte is more deserving in some larger sense (i.e., he works harder, has overcome more obstacles, etc.)."
Sullivan comments, "[W]ho knew Walt was chummy with Lochte?"
In fact, I'm not: My point was that personal knowledge of the competitors did not explain why we tend to root for one over another. As I said: "I have no idea [if Lochte or Yannick Agnel]" are more deserving of victory; my point was that nationalism tends to make us root for our countrymen even if we don't actually know if they are friendly, ethical, and admirable, or shallow, vain, and unlikeable. (I have in fact known a fair number of world-class athletes in my time, and they run the gamut.)
For the record: Press accounts suggest that Lochte is in fact a very nice guy, and I'd be happy to meet him sometime. But I don't know him, or Agnell, or anyone else at the Games. So why do I care who wins? See my earlier post.
Stephen M. Walt is the Robert and Renée Belfer professor of international relations at Harvard University.