Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

In Need of Another America's Team

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has exposed some of the fault lines in American society — divisions of race, class and even age. Commentator Frank Deford wishes for a little team spirit — on the national level.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The aftermath of Hurricane Katrina has exposed some of the fault lines in American society: divisions of race, class, even age. Commentator Frank Deford says there's something else that divides most Americans.

FRANK DEFORD:

I always thought that as much as we devoted ourselves to our myriad sports teams, that at least we Americans could be proud of ourselves that we didn't go gaga over any silly national team. Well, right now I wish we did have a national team or two that we could give our hearts to. We could use a little team spirit in the United States. It isn't just that we're so politically divided. We're so fragmented we don't even have any television shows we all watch together. Where are the "M*A*S*Hes" and "Seinfelds" of yesteryear? Whatever even happened to word of mouth?

What we need is a national team we can all talk about around that proverbial water cooler that's replaced the proverbial hot stove. Other countries everywhere on this warming globe all live or die with their teams. Oh, what it did for the little Czech Republic when it won the Olympic hockey gold. Why, that was better than throwing the Commies out. And last year, when Argentina became champion of basketball, even inflation went on the back burner.

And, of course, everybody but us benighted American souls are already consumed about whether or not their boys can make the finals of the World Cup of soccer next summer. We beat Mexico the other day to qualify, but who even knew we were in the World Cup?

In sports, for us, we are the world. They threw baseball out of the Olympics because nobody in America the beautiful gave a what for about our own national pastime's national nine. But you see now, now, maybe caring about a team that belongs to the whole country, not just the one that's for `my city' or `my alma mater.' Maybe that would revive our spirit.

We're so down and we're so divided, so doubting of our leader. Even for those declining numbers of us who want to stay the course in Iraq, the war is despairing. What happened on the Gulf Coast has shamed us, and as for the rest of the world, they can't even decide whether the great America is a bully or a blowhard. We're unsure, unloved.

It's revealing that the only time we ever truly got passionate about a national team was in 1980 when Iran held our hostages and we were generally as buffaloed and mortified as--well, as we are now. It was then that even Americans who didn't know a hockey puck from a badminton birdie embraced our skaters, and it was our hockey team, full of some kids who took heart, that lifted us up with them.

Sport is, by itself, insignificant, especially when our soldiers are vulnerable and our most vulnerable citizens are forsaken. But yes, it would help if we could have a team for all of us to root for, just like those nations who aren't superpowers do. Remember, on a municipal scale, it did matter to the people of New York that the Yankees played so wonderfully after 9/11.

Amusements mean little by themselves, of course, but when a nation is dispirited and riven, both, anything that we can share serves as an adhesive to better hold us all together till something stronger can lift us up again for real.

MONTAGNE: The comments of Frank Deford, senior contributing writer at Sports Illustrated. He joins us each Wednesday from member station WSHU in Fairfield, Connecticut.

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Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light The Score On Sports With Frank Deford