Its Fourth of July weekend and we as Americans have so much to be thankful for in this great country of ours. Despite our struggles and our differences, we still have our freedom and a way of life that is the envy of the rest of the world. I for one firmly believe in the concept of American exceptionalism.
But just because we are exceptional as a country, does that mean all of our sports have to be exceptional as well?
Two weeks ago the media was gushing over Rory McIlroy’s performance at the US Open. The so-called “experts” were heaping praise on McIlroy while simultaneously lamenting the demise of American golf. “Where is the next great American golfer?” they wondered. “Is America losing ground to the rest of the world?” was a question of much debate among golf writers and analysts. Of course those conversations led to “is there an American kid out there who’s going to take over for Tiger?”It was one big pity party. It couldn’t possibly be that the rest of the world is catching up, could it? No, no something must be wrong with golf in this country.
If you’ve watched any tennis at Wimbledon over the last couple weeks, the conversation has been exactly the same. Hosts, reporters, and commentators all emphasizing the downfall of American tennis and wondering if it will ever get back to the level it once was when names like McEnroe, Connors, Evert, Sampras, Agassi, and Williams carried the dialogue.
I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but this doesn’t bother me at all.
No way am I losing sleep over the fact that two blokes from Northern Ireland have won the last two US Opens. I don’t feel any sense of shame whatsoever when I hear that Andy Roddick is the last American male tennis player to win a major all the way back in 2003. I don’t care and I’m not the least bit surprised. Individual sports like golf and tennis are being pursued by millions of athletes across the globe. This mentality of “we’re American, so we should be the best at everything” is simply absurd.
It’s also silly to tell me I have to always root for Americans. If I’m watching a golf tournament, I’m much more interested in someone’s personality than the flag next to their name. Let’s say McIlroy and Tiger are going at it on the back nine on the Sunday of a major. I’m pulling for the Irish kid with all I’ve got. Not because I’m anti-America, but because I’m anti-Tiger. At 22 years old, McIlroy seems kind, humble, and engaging. As far as I know, he doesn’t curse on the tee box, throw clubs, or make repeatedly bad decisions in his personal life. He’s easy to root for. That American guy? Not so much.
If Roger Federer meets Roddick in another Wimbledon final, I’ll be pulling for Fed. That doesn’t mean I’m going to apply for Swiss citizenship. It just means I love to watch greatness, I love to witness history and I want my favorite player to succeed.
Before you try to exile me, let me say I believe team sports are different. If Team USA is taking on another country in any sport, of course I’ll be cheering for the good ol’ red, white and blue. However, I think it’s important to know America’s athletic limitations and set realistic expectations. For example, the USA is never going to win the World Cup. It just isn’t going to happen. No need to act all disappointed, call for a coach to be fired, or examine how the structure of youth soccer needs to fundamentally change. Instead of a gross over-reaction when we don’t win, how about we accept the fact that there are talented athletes everywhere in the world?
Other than the NFL, team sports are also taking on a worldwide flavor. Players from Latin America and Asia are bringing their skills to Major League Baseball. NBA rosters are littered with foreign names, and some of basketball’s biggest stars are not from this country. Dirk Nowitzki (Germany), Steve Nash (Canada), Tony Parker (France), Manu Ginobili (Argentina), and Yao Ming (China), have all helped grow the game overseas. Hockey is no different. The ice was once dominated by North Americans, but now Swedes, Finns, Russians, and Eastern European players are some of the NHL’s most recognizable faces.
If you are upset that America is losing its athletic greatness and you are looking for answers like those in the media, then I’ve got an explanation for you. American kids are lazy. Not only are they lazy, they’re coddled and spoiled too. And you know what America? Kids in other countries are working harder than American kids. Maybe not as much in team sports, but in individual pursuits, it’s a fact. Why do you see so many foreigners on college tennis rosters in the United States? Because for our kids, college is a given. It’s taken for granted. To many of these foreign players, college tennis is a way out. It’s a chance to leave behind a poor country with limited opportunities to come here get a free education and earn a degree. When escape to a better life is your motivation, chances are you’re going to be on that court everyday instead of playing video games. You’re not going to have a coach, parent, or trainer constantly telling you how good you are and how special you are. No one is going to tell you that you’re God’s gift to the sport; you’re going to earn success.
I’m sure there are going to be many more great American athletes coming down the line, and I still believe the United States is the best sporting nation in the world. We don’t need to stop the pursuit of being the best, that’s what made our country great in the first place. Maybe we just need to work a little harder at that pursuit.
So this Fourth of July, put on the colors, wave your flag, belt out the anthem, and shoot off some fireworks to show your pride for this great country. Because no matter what happens in sports, we know we’ll always rule the world in tackle football.