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

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now, what goes on the locker room, and on the field or the court, can complicate fans' feelings about their teams. So, too, can national pride.

Here's commentator Frank Deford.

FRANK DEFORD: I just heard from my friend, The Duchess, who, you'll remember, seeks to keep sports proper and well-mannered. The Duchess eschews email, writing me in her beautiful cursive hand, in her favored teal-colored ink. She's on a round-the-world cruise, and this letter was posted from Dubai. The Duchess had just learned that back in September, many Americans in San Francisco had been rooting for the New Zealand boat in the America's Cup and this set her to pondering.

My Dearest Frank, she wrote: Is this not appalling, if not downright unpatriotic? I understand that if you move from one city to another, as a fan might go from Boston to Miami, one can retain your childhood allegiance to the Red Sox rather than cheering for whatever dreadful nouveau team it is down there. But surely, a true-blue patriot must always be true to his or her nation's compatriots on every field of play, even should that field be water.

As usual, the Duchess has struck a sensitive target. Does a citizen of any country, not just the good ol' USA, have an obligation to support its national teams? For goodness sake, it's just a game, not Horatius at the Bridge standing between us and national defeat.

The fact is, too, that because the U.S. is so powerful, our team is usually the favorite - and hey, it's natural to root for the underdog. Somehow I don't think it makes you a traitor if, say, you take a liking to somebody like itsy-bitsy Lithuania, when it battles our juggernaut of NBA All-Stars in international basketball competition. After all it's not the Nationalism Broadcasting Company that brings us the Olympics.

But aha, the reverse also applies. In a sport like soccer, where the U.S. is no powerhouse, then you must give your all for our brave, little outmanned underdogs. Not naming any names here, but I know well that when it comes to soccer, some Americans cheer for the team representing their heritage - as I replied to The Duchess: bad form that.

I also mentioned to her that back at the U.S. Open, America's top tennis player, John Isner, was irked when much of the crowd was obviously and loudly behind his French opponent, Gael Monfils. Isner won, but he professed disappointment that his country-people would support a foreigner.

Well, sorry, I go with the crowd in this case. It doesn't make you a traitor if you don't cheer for every American person in sports, anymore than you have to be for an American actor who's up for an Academy Award against some foreigner. Am I supposed to ipso facto be for Meryl Streep instead of Dame Judy Dench every time? No, in our world of global entertainment, I say that passports don't matter and that taste trumps nationalism.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: Commentator Frank Deford joins us on Wednesdays and uses ipso facto like no one else.

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

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