Countdown to the Olympic Games: Dick Yarbrough
Countdown to the Olympic Games: Dick Yarbrough
This year officially marks 25 years since the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. These games have gone down in history for bringing international attention to the south and also for the tragic bombing in Centennial Park.
University of Georgia broadcast journalism graduate Dick Yarbrough was instrumental in planning these Games and in the subsequent crisis management after the bombing. In honor of the 25th anniversary of the Atlanta Games, Yarbrough has re-released his book And They Call Them Games detailing his experience.
He served as managing director for the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games from 1993-1996 where he was responsible for media relations and government relations. Yarbrough worked hard for three years alongside his team to ensure that the United States — and the state of Georgia — was prepared to host an event with as great a magnitude as the Olympics while the entire world was watching.
While there were certainly stressful times that came along with the Games and the planning, Yarbrough says this time in his life was filled with fond memories.
“There were many. Seeing the Olympic Flame lit in the ancient city of Olympia. Having the opportunity to travel to many countries across the globe. Watching young Olympic athletes interacting with each other in the Olympic Village, not caring about their own countries’ political positions,” he remembered. “It was brought home to me that no matter how well an athlete fared in their competition, they were and always would be known as Olympians. I was also heartened by the enthusiasm of the five million who attended the Games and the 50,000 volunteers who showed everyone the true meaning of the term ‘Southern Hospitality.”
After the Games had ended, Yarbrough said he kept waiting for someone to write a book about everything that had happened, from the idea to host the Olympics in Atlanta to the planning stages to the fruits of the ACOG’s labors to the bombing.
While working on the planning committee, Yarbrough recorded tapes of what had happened each day on the way to and from work. His habit of documenting everything had been reinforced by his career, which had him regularly visiting the White House, working with Congress, navigating “high-profile issues” and traveling the globe.
“After the Games, it became clear no one was planning to do a book on the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games,” Yarbrough said. “I asked if I would be interested in taking on the project. With 82 tapes as a resource, I produced the book in roughly six months.”
His goal for his book is that readers would see the complexity surrounding the planning and staging of the Olympics. As for the name, And They Call Them Games, Yarbrough says it holds a very intentional meaning.
“It is easy to forget that the Olympics are a chance for nations to put aside their differences for even a brief period and allow people to engage in peaceful competition,” he explained. “With all the politics, money, controversy, special interests involved, the title was meant as a dig at those who forget that.”
Dick Yarbrough graduated from Grady College in 1959 and has gone on to accomplish many impressive achievements. Most recently, he has been named Georgia’s most widely-syndicated columnist with his name appearing regularly in over 40 newspapers across the state.
“The Georgia Press Association has recognized my column with first place awards for humor, although a number of politicians would like a recount. They don’t find me that funny,” he said.
Throughout his exciting — and impressive — career, Yarbrough has managed to stay connected to his alma mater. He served as president of UGA’s National Alumni Association, received the university’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 1995, was recognized as an Outstanding Alumnus and Fellow of the College at Grady, has the C. Richard Yarbrough Laboratory named in his honor and established the C. Richard Yarbrough Chair in Crisis Communications Leadership.
“I owe more to Grady than I have the words to express,” he said. “A chance internship led to a job in radio upon graduation. That led to an opportunity to join Southern Bell as a public relations manager. Twenty year later, I was a corporate vice president of BellSouth Corporation. Having developed a reputation for crisis management, I was offered a once-in-lifetime opportunity to become a managing director of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games. And it all started with a dedicated faculty who saw some merit in a raw kid from East Point, Georgia.”
The revenue from Yarbrough’s column goes toward fellowships for students at Grady. He also funds the Crisis Communications professorship under the leadership of Dr. Bryan Reber, which he says is a “small effort to repay Grady for all it has meant to me and done for me.”
You can buy his book on Amazon here.
Editor’s Note: This feature was written by Sam Perez, a 2021 Yarbrough Fellow in the Grady College Department of Communication. As part of the fellowship, she is helping market the re-release of Yarbrough’s book.