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

America's Provincial Sports Fans Blind to Greatness

Golfer Tiger Woods and tennis player Roger Federer have something in common: each is perhaps the best to ever play his sport. Yet one of them gets significantly more attention from American sports fans. The reason is a simple accident of birth.

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LYNN NEARY, host:

Whether it's swimming, tennis or golf, Americans prefer American athletes. If you don't think so, consider this from commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: Suppose, just suppose, that instead of having an American father and a Thai mother, Tiger Woods had an American mother and a Thai father? Yes, suppose Tiger Woods had grown up Thai? Can you just imagine what mere cursory attention he'd be getting in the United States? Why most of the media would probably be falling all over itself wondering if Davis Love III or Chris DiMarco could finally improve their games to catch up with that what's-his-name Asian guy.

And suppose, just suppose, that Roger Federer had come from Maryland instead of Switzerland. Why our kid from Bethesda would already have a new Cadillac model named after him and Paris Hilton and Joe Lieberman would be leading the new American tennis boom.

Instead, when Federer, the defending champion, four-time Wimbledon winner, played a key match at the Open a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Tennis Association put him on the lounge court while scheduling an American, James Blake, in the stadium. Blake, to use that wonderful British word, is a useful player. And Federer may be the greatest artist in the history of his sport.

But Federer's slighting is what's to be expected here. How strange that we are such a narrow, jingoistic sports country. Us, this cherished land of immigrants. Is it against the Patriot Act if I want to cheer for Vijay Singh or Ernie Els in some golf tournament?

But here's the strange twist. While we're only allowed to root for Americans in individual sports, we really don't care all that much when American teams play other nations. Hey, what matters in team playing in the U.S. is only our strictly domestic stuff. Maybe that's why we were losers this year in ice hockey, baseball, soccer and basketball in world championship competitions.

It's always dangerously facile to make political analogies out of sport. But it's hard to ignore the point that our current American tendency toward arrogance and imperiousness seems to be reflected in the way that we look at international sport. We've been assured we're best; so if somebody else wins, it must be some kind of aberration.

Oh well, the U.S. Ryder Cup team starts play in Ireland in a couple of days against the Europeans. And because Tiger Woods really is an American and, like Federer in tennis, very possibly the best ever in his sport, most of us are paying attention.

About the only blemish on Woods' record is his dismal performance in the Ryder Cup. His interest in international team play seems to have mirrored that of most of his countrymen. But now even Tiger's pride seems to be pricked by how the aliens have been whipping up on us lately in golf and everything else.

Hey! We're actually underdogs now. Get used to it!

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

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Lynn Neary in for Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

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