THE BLOG
02/10/2014 05:48 pm ET | Updated Apr 12, 2014

Why The Olympics Matter To Detroit

Lars Baron via Getty Images

With the 2014 winter Olympics finally underway in Sochi, Russia, people all over the globe are turning their eyes to watch history in the making.

Every Olympics have their share of problems, but international concern about these games have been especially high. From safety issues to that malfunctioning snow flake, the Sochi games have had a few set backs. Not to even mention the backlash to everyone's least favorite anti-gay law.

I'm not a huge sports fan, so the goings on in Sochi weren't in my immediate view. But I am a lover of my hometown, Detroit, and something Olympics related caught my eye on my Twitter feed. There are tons of negative tweets about Sochi and Detroit comparing the two cities:

These Tweets irked me. I don't go trolling social media for negative stuff about my city, but the last thing I like to see is another example of the international community making Detroit the butt of their jokes.

Besides the fact that it's disrespectful to criticize other people's home, it's also ignorant to talk about a place one knows nothing about. I could go on and on listing how amazing Detroit is -- the food, the culture and the people are all great. I'd rather reflect, however, on what we as Detroiters can learn from those ridiculing us concerning today's Olympics, and our past history bidding for the games.

A fun fact is that Detroit actually came very close to hosting the 1968 Olympic games. The Motor City narrowly lost out to Mexico city, but Detroit did come up with an Olympic bid proposal. Looking at the plans for new stadiums and facilities make me wonder what could have been.

Then mayor of Detroit, Jerome Cavanagh, filmed a fantastic video for the Olympic committee to try and persuade them to pick the D. It's surreal to watch as Cavanagh narrates through this old Hollywood-like feature, where he sells Detroit as an idyllic place.

With the benefit of hindsight, Mayor Cavanagh's optimistic message seems misplaced in light of the 1967 riots that would soon engulf Detroit. Yet, his vision of Detroit as a city on the move, and one with a bright future remains true. I've often said Detroit is a city of contradictions. Crushing realities and passionate hope combine to manifest as the space we inhabit.

Detroit mystery novelist Elmore Leonard said: "Most cities get by on their looks, but Detroit has to work for a living." What the city needs to work on for tomorrow is branding. How many cities have an attraction like Belle Isle, or somewhere as special as Southwest Detroit? It's time to not only get mad when people laugh at our city, it's time to defend it.

It's easy to write petty Tweets. What's hard is working to build communities, and that's what Detroiters are doing everyday. Plus I'm pretty sure we don't wire tap journalists' cell phones, and gays are always welcome. Just saying.

Today's Detroit can learn a number of lessons from yesterday's bid to host the Olympics. Never sell ourselves short, continue to confront those harsh realities, and live for today. Whether or not Detroit ever does host the Olympics, Detroit will keep moving toward a brighter tomorrow.

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