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Sports nation of jingoists

Posted: Wednesday June 1, 2005 3:35PM; Updated: Wednesday June 1, 2005 6:22PM
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Rafael Nadal
Spain's Rafael Nadal will face Switzerland's Roger Federer in the French semis, and most Americans won't pay attention.
Bob Martin/SI

Here's the big news of the week in international sport. Annika Sorenstam of Edina, Minn., just missed winning yet another LPGA tournament. Ohio's Michael Schumacher, the famous Cincinnati Flash, still mired in his first protracted slump, nevertheless vowed to roar 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 No. 1, Roger Federer of Salisbury, Md., 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 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 wienerschnitzel. 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 attention.

Because if it's foreigners playing sports, even our own favorite sports, it doesn't really count.

If there was a position known as U.S. 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 pet that Sorenstam doesn't receive the adulation Tiger Woods does. Listen, ladies, it's not a plumbing thing. It's a passport thing. Sorenstam speaks perfect English, she lives much of the year in the U.S., and she's been married to an American. Yeah, that and a krona will get Annika a cup of coffee. Woods, though: 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 for the Tour de France next year when our guy Lance isn't riding? Then it'll 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 drive Toyotas and Volvos and Beemers, but, by God, when we go to see cars race, we wanna see 'Mercan cars driven by 'Mercan drivers.

We do, grudgingly, give out some green cards to let foreigners come over here and play in our team games. After all, we had to learn to put up with all those Canadians just because they happened to have invented ice hockey. But Ichiro and Nowitzki and those fat Samoans in the NFL are merely tolerated as visitors helping out their American teammates.

Federer may play the most beautiful game of tennis ever seen on a court. Nadal may be a reincarnation of Jimmy Connors and John 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?

Of course, there's an exception to every rule. American sports fans -- excuse me: male American sports fans -- followed Anna Kournikova and now watch Maria Sharapova with passionate interest. Not even American jingoism can top sex.

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