If it's not our star and our sport, U.S. just doesn't care
Posted: Wednesday September 20, 2006 3:01PM; Updated: Wednesday September 20, 2006 4:40PM
If Roger Federer (left) were American and Tiger Woods weren't, would our attitudes about their respective sports be different?
Harry DiOrio/Getty Images
Frank Deford will periodically answer questions from SI.com users in his mailbag.
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 U.S.? Why, most of the media would probably be falling all over themselves wondering if Davis Love III and Chris DiMarco could finally improve their games to catch up with that whatshisname 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 U.S. 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; 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 -- we, this cherished land of immigrants. If the U.S. Tennis Association was in charge of music instead of tennis, Placido Domingo would be singing at a suburban Ramada Inn piano bar while Snoop Dogg worked Lincoln Center. Gee, even Woods dared root for Federer. 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. What matters in team play in the U.S. is only our strictly domestic stuff: Yankees-Red-Sox, Texas-Oklahoma, Central High-Eastside High. 'Mercans vs. 'Mercans -- that's where it's at. Who cares 'bout them silly furriners?
Maybe that's why we were losers this year in ice hockey, baseball, soccer and basketball in world-championship competitions. In tennis, we've lost the Davis Cup 10 years in a row and are expected to lose again in Moscow this weekend.
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 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 there ever was in his sport, more 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.