U.S. Fans: Look at the 'World' of Sports

Commentator Frank DeFord says American sports fans are missing out — by being jingoistic about their sports stars.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

If you've been reading the sports pages this morning, you'll know that the Detroit Pistons beat the Miami Heat last night and that in tennis, Mary Pierce beat out top-seed Lindsay Davenport in the French Open. If you are not tuned into the world of sports, commentator Frank Deford has some news for you.

FRANK DEFORD:

Here's the big news of the week in international sport. Annika Sorenstam of Edina, Minnesota, just missed winning yet another LPGA tournament. Ohio's Michael Schumacher, the famous Cincinnati Flash, although mired in his first protracted slump, nevertheless ...(unintelligible) roared to another Formula One championship. And all Americans were glued to their television sets, anticipating the first big grand-slam showdown in Paris between the indisputable number one, Roger Federer of Salisbury, Maryland, and Tampa's Rafael Nadal, the glamorous new teen-age southpaw phenomenon in the clam-digger pants.

Well, yeah, that's not quite true. I just fibbed a little. Sorenstam isn't really from Minnesota. She's Swedish. Schumacher is not the Cincinnati Flash. He's as German as strudel and wiener schnitzel. Federer is Swiss and Nadal is Spanish, but when they face off later this week in the semifinals of the French Open, most American fans won't look up from the day's baseball box scores to pay any attention, because if it's foreigners playing sports, even our own favorites sports, it doesn't really count. If there was a position known as US ambassador to international sport, John Bolton would be the perfect guy for the job.

We Americans, sensitive children of immigrants, are the most parochial sports fans on the globe. Women get all in a fit if Sorenstam doesn't receive the adulation that Tiger Woods does. Listen, ladies. It's not a gender thing. It's a passport thing. Sorenstam speaks perfect English, she lives much of the year in the US, and she's been married to an American. Yeah, that and a krona will get her a cup of coffee. Woods, though, now his mother may be Thai and he married a Swede, but he's 100 percent red, white and blue. He's ours. Sorenstam is just a nice diversion until that true niece of Uncle Sam, Michelle Wie, gets on tour.

How much interest do you think we'll have in the Tour de France next year when our guy Lance isn't riding? Then it will be just a bunch of nobodies on stupid two-wheelers. The rest of the world loves Formula One, but not good enough for us. We may all ourselves drive Toyotas and Volvos and Beamers, but by God, when we go to see cars race, we want to see American cars driven by American drivers.

Federer may play the most beautiful game of tennis ever seen on a court. Nadal may be a reincarnation of Connors and McEnroe rolled into one. What a rivalry they promise, the best in men's tennis in 30 years. But, hey, they're a couple of no-names from old Europe. Click!

Who do you like in the Vegas All-American Poker Tournament(ph)?

INSKEEP: That's the all-American commentary of Frank Deford. His newest book is "The Old Ball Game" about baseball in America at the start of the 20th century. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut, in the United States.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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