U.S. Sports Teams Suffer String of Global Defeats
MIKE PESCA, host:
From NPR News, it's DAY TO DAY.
The golf course is quiet, the divots all replaced. The players have left in their private jets. But this past weekend's Ryder Cup competition in Ireland still resonates through the sports world. Team Europe convincingly won its third-straight Ryder Cup, beating an American team that included the biggest names in golf: Tiger Woods, Jim Furik and Phil Mickelson. It was the latest in a string of defeats for the U.S. sports teams in international competition. So how did U.S.A. become U.S. - ehh?
NPR's Tom Goldman found out.
TOM GOLDMAN: You know your country's is in trouble when the best competitor it can offer up to the world is left sounding like, well, like a tiger with his tail between his legs.
Mr. TIGER WOODS (Pro Golfer): What am I, 1-3 or 1-4 in Ryder Cups? So no, it doesn't - it doesn't sit well, and - nor should it. We went out there, we played, and they just outplayed us.
GOLDMAN: That was American golfer Tiger Woods on ESPN after the Ryder Cup thrashing. But it could have been any number of U.S. stars offering the we-were-outplayed explanation during the past year: from the men's national soccer team that lost in the opening round of the World Cup; from the men's basketball team that lost in the semi-finals of the world championships; from the women's team that did the same; from the Davis Cup tennis teams that lost to Russia. What to make of our sports stumbles?
Theories abound, such as a societal malaise is spilling into our games, or - a bit more optimistic - we're playing in an increasingly connected world. Alex Wolff is a senior writer for Sports Illustrated.
Mr. ALEX WOLFF (Sports Illustrated): More than to the failures of the U.S., I think maybe if there's a common denominator to this, it's globalization. There's so much more interaction that national labels probably don't mean quite as much anymore, and everybody knows everybody's instructional tips.
GOLDMAN: Or there is the Bill Simmons theory.
Mr. BILL SIMMONS (ESPN): I blame President Bush. I think since he took over, you know, our international sports scene has just deteriorated. And I think it's his fault.
GOLDMAN: Bill Simmons is kidding, of course, which he does professionally as a columnist for ESPN, the magazine, and ESPN.com. Here's his take. Baseball and men's basketball players make fortunes in the U.S. and don't really care about international competition. Soccer? Fans may want to plug their ears.
Mr. SIMMONS: Our best athletes don't play soccer. We're never going to be good at soccer. Nobody cares. Like if you're an eight-year-old growing up in let's say inner city Chicago, how are you possibly going to play soccer? How is that chain of events ever going to unfold?
GOLDMAN: And golf? Simmons says the only way to loosen up Tiger Woods and his Ryder Cup pals is to name a couple of avid players as co-captains: Michael Jordan and his barrel-of-laughs NBA buddy, Charles Barkley.
Mr. SIMMONS: They fill out the line-up. They heckle the other teams. They intimidate. And they just get in the other team's heads. MJ's smoking this giant's stogie the whole time. I really that could work.
GOLDMAN: Here's something else that might work for disappointed American fans, says Sports Illustrated's Alex Wolff. Adjust expectations. Embrace second and third place. Don't assume the United States can dominate world sport just because it's big and rich.
Mr. WOLFF: Then where the heck are we going to be to assert our dominance? I guess we just have to get used to it.
GOLDMAN: Or may be not. This past weekend, West Virginian Phil Pfister beat two-dozen other athletes at pulling buses, pushing cars and lifting huge stones. Pfister won the World's Strongest Man Competition, the first American champion in 24 years. Yes!
Tom Goldman, NPR News.
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PESCA: And yes! DAY TO DAY returns in a moment.