With our nation's 230th birthday upon us, I found myself considering the American qualities we've come to love in sports . . . and a few that aren't so American. As you read the following, feel free to hum "God Bless America." Or at least "Born in the U.S.A."
American -- Sunday afternoon at the ballpark. The closest I know to bliss these days is the leftfield bluff at AutoZone Park with my wife and two daughters as the weekend winds down. Even with all the money-making twists and ventures that rule the big leagues, Sunday afternoon tilts are every bit as common here in 2006 as they were in 1906. And that is magnificently patriotic if you ask me.
Un-American -- Sunday night college football. I will not dignify the schools who are playing under the lights September 3rd by naming them. (It's bad enough the University of Memphis and Ole Miss are playing that afternoon.) You see, the idea of college football is for our bright, energetic student bodies to have an outlet at the start of their weekend, three hours to do things their professors (and parents) might otherwise frown upon. But the last three free hours before Monday morning classes? Come on, NCAA!
American -- Youth-league soccer. Ahh, the beloved Soccer Mom. First political demographic defined by a sport. (Think there are football mums in England?) If you have a child under the age of 20, you know full well life revolves around soccer schedules. If it's not your own Jane or Jimmy pulling on the shin-guards, one of their friends will be, every Saturday, the rest of your natural life.
Un-American -- World Cup soccer. Okay, let me see if I remember this correctly. In a must-win World Cup showdown with Italy, the United States team lost two players to red cards, forcing them to play with only nine. Easing their plight, the Italians lost one of their players, too. So, you have what hockey fans would call a power play for an entire half of soccer, 45 minutes. And the game ends up with the same score -- 1 goal each -- as nearly every other bleepin' match. What is the point of this, folks?!
American -- NBA dunks. Dr. Naismith may have been limited by the 10-foot doorways in his gym, but we American hoop fans will be damned before we watch any roundball played below the rim. A three-pointer drained by Reggie Miller was a thing of beauty, no doubt. But Michael Jordan on a breakaway, nothing in his way but a poor net, clinging to its orange ring for life? That, my fellow Americans, will raise the roof.
Un-American -- NBA officiating. Basketball refs deserve more credit than they get, as the game has become simply too quick -- and large -- for them to follow with any degree of consistency. But here's the bottom line: watching a free throw is the most boring sight in spectator sports (American or otherwise). To see so many games decided by an act around which nine other athletes are standing still is, quite simply, sad. Let 'em play!
American -- Major League Baseball All-Star Game. Doesn't get more American than a sports spectacle where the players are selected by ballot! Who cares if Barry Bonds or Ken Griffey Jr. has missed two-thirds of his team's games . . . we love him, so he's an All-Star! (The parallels to our current mess in Washington are simply too easy here. I'll leave them for you to ponder.) Whoever heard of a sporting even designed . . . for the fans? Beautiful.
Un-American -- Home-field advantage in the World Series determined by All-Star Game. If I didn't know Bud Selig was behind this decision, I'd be convinced it was the New Coke guy. Again, let me stress: the players who start the All-Star Game do so based on POPULARITY. The baseball brass -- starting in the commissioner's office -- is allowing the game's signature event to be influenced by a popularity contest. We love democracy for the All-Star Game. But the World Series? Workers of the world, unite!
American -- Football in the rain (or snow) at Lambeau Field. The Green Bay Packers have somehow managed to become the symbol of classic, grind-through-the-mud, win-by-a-field-goal football . . . to the point of becoming corny. So what if they've won but a single championship in 38 years? If you don't have a favorite NFL team, you make the Packers your favorite. Vince Lombardi invented the game, didn't he?
Un-American -- Football under a roof. I'll grant a concession to artificial turf, as science has come closer and closer to replicating God's green stuff. But blocking and tackling with shadows cast merely by light fixtures? In the good name of Johnny Unitas, let the Colts play outside!