A Very American Coup By Michael – Louis Ingram, Editor-in-Chief...
Let’s Treat All Losses Fairly
The United States gets unceremoniously bounced out of the World Baseball Classic and nobody seems to care. Needing a win to advance to the semifinals, an All-Star studded team manages just three hits in a 2-1 defeat to Mexico.
Was it just me or did anyone else notice the similarities to the 2004 Olympic men’s basketball team that famously flamed out and was derided for being selfish, lazy and arrogant millionaires who couldn’t play together.
At least they came home with a bronze.
While playing in the easiest bracket, on American soil, and enjoying a couple of favorable calls from umpire Bob Davidson, the U.S. delivered bupkas. Nada. Nothing. Zilch.
So where’s the public outcry?
Cue the silence and chirping crickets.
Our surprising lack of patriotic pride seems a little strange considering we darn near deported George Karl, Paul Pierce and Baron Davis to Fiji when Team USA finished a disappointing sixth at the 2002 World Championships of Basketball in Indianapolis.
Yet, nobody rips Roger Clemens, who was far from great in what might have been his last appearance on the mound.
Manager Buck Martinez has apparently gotten a pass, even though the Americans went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position and pushed across just one run in an elimination game.
Even perennial whipping boy Alex Rodriguez went unscathed.
C’mon, something is going on here. Can’t you see it? Or is it just me?
Maybe we’ve become more understanding as a sporting viewing public or we’re distracted by the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Perhaps Chris Webber got it right when he said: “In baseball, we recognize that there are a lot of great Dominican players and there’s a lot of great Cuban players. I think in basketball, we tend to think that it’s just Dirk Nowitzki, AK-47 [Andrei Kirilenko] and just a few.
“So when we lose, people want to jump off buildings and it’s like the sky is falling. I’m in an uproar because I don’t think the rest of the world has caught us yet. I think we don’t put players out there, we put names out there. So that’s where my frustration comes from. But I do recognize that there’s probably other factors going on that we don’t want to talk about.”
Two years ago, Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock wrote a piece for ESPN.com, which suggested American fans and media unfairly treated the ’04 men’s basketball team because of the color of their skin.
Whitlock wrote: “There’s a lot of convenient denial going on. No one wants to deal with the truth because they’re having too much fun blasting a bunch of black millionaires for being lazy, unpatriotic and stupid.”
While thought provoking, I didn’t put much stock into Whitlock’s opinion at the time, perhaps believing that we’d made significant advances as a society since Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.
Two occurrences in the past two months have caused me to re-think my position.
The U.S. men’s hockey team, filled with NHL superstars, goes 1-4-1 at the Turin Olympics and hardly a peep gets mentioned. But then, it’s hockey for crying out loud, and we don’t lose much sleep over hockey in this country.
OK, maybe pucks on ice falls far below the sports radar, but baseball is the national pastime. And if we’re honest, the U.S. team that lost its second game to Canada and should have lost to Japan, was outplayed in the tournament. And don’t give me these excuses about bad timing in the baseball schedule and how other countries take the WBC more seriously than we do.
The bottom line is, if you’re going to play, then if and when you lose, be prepared to be second guessed. The NBA players who have traveled abroad know this lesson far too well.
No one accused Derek Jeter of being an ugly American the way they ripped into Allen Iverson. Is it Iverson’s cornrows and tattoos that make him Public Enemy No. 1 while Jeter’s wholesome demeanor is far more palatable, or is it something else?
If it’s Iverson’s one-dimensional game and inability as a point guard to inspire greatness from a collection of the world’s greatest players, then I accept that. The NBA system just doesn’t work in international competition, which is the reason managing director Jerry Colangelo revamped the selection process for the 2008 Games and bypassed a phenomenal scorer such as Iverson.
But if it’s something more sinister at work, then that’s another issue that needs to be addressed.
“The race thing, that’s a serious question and before anyone goes around throwing the race card, you just need proof,” said Phoenix’s Shawn Marion, a member of the ’04 basketball team. “I was there. I know how hard Allen played and how hard we all tried to win the gold and to me, none of it [the criticism] was warranted.
“I mean, people attacked us in the press and everything like we stole something. No one volunteered for that kind of abuse. That’s something these other teams don’t have to live with. If they lose, no one’s ripping them.”
And you wonder why some players decline invitations to wear the red, white and blue and represent their country.
Webber doesn’t believe race has anything to do with the high expectations placed on the U.S. basketball team. He says the disparity is the result of past success and points to the Americans’ dominance in Olympic competition, obviously excluding the most recent Games.
Still, he’ll admit that “it’s easier to criticize a black athlete. Just look at Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire. We go after one and ignore the other. Why is that?”
And why do we adhere to the ancient belief that Olympic gold in men’s basketball is our birthright when it’s not?
Keep that in mind this summer when Team USA travels to Saitama, Japan, to compete in the FIBA World Championships. And should they advance to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, remember that patriotism shouldn’t be convenient.
I’ll defend anyone’s right to cheer for whomever they please, but when dishing out harsh accusations and labeling our multi-millionaire athletes as spoiled and lazy, let’s at least be fair.