The Beauty of Sports Has No Boundaries

Posted: July 19, 2011 in Uncategorized

I’m as red, white and blue as the next guy. Stars and stripes forever. I love, honor and salute Old Glory at every opportunity. I’m American through and through and damn proud of it. I believe if you hate America you have two options: Vote to change it (and live with the results, whatever they are) or get the hell out.

That said, I’m thrilled with this summer of feel good sports stories even if none of them have produced an American champion. These stories are further proof that sports do, indeed, have a positive social impact and are much more than victories and defeats. The world of sports has played a major role in bonding races, religions, genders, life styles and national boundaries.

I went to sleep last night happy Darren Clarke of Northern Ireland won the British Open while being pursued by a bunch of American golfers. I felt badly about the American women losing in the World Cup soccer finale, but I was happy for the Japanese women. A month ago I was pulling for German Dirk Nowitzki to lead the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA championship and was thrilled that Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy won the U.S. Open.

Our world is becoming smaller every day thanks to mind-boggling technology. The globalization of sports becomes greater each year. Major League Baseball led the team sports in this with the invasion of Central and South American players followed the arrival of Japanese players. NBA rosters are loaded with international players. Golf and tennis has featured star players from every corner of the globe for years. NASCAR has welcomed international drivers although none has yet emerged as a star. The NFL remains the most American of all of our sports although foreign-born kickers started arriving in the 1960s.

As I watched the British Open I found myself pulling for the 42-year-old Clarke, not even thinking about his nationality or the fact most of his closest pursuers were Americans. Clarke is from the Arnold Palmer-Nick Price School of likeable guys in golf. He has that Everyman quality. He’s one of those rare athletes about whom you never hear a negative word, even from the men he competes against and the media that cover his career.

He was a top 10 player in the world when true tragedy struck. I’m not talking about a triple bogey. I’m talking about losing a wife to cancer and unexpectedly becoming a single parent with two young sons. He vanished from the world stage when he should have been in his prime. It appeared expectations greatness would never be fulfilled. He became a forgotten athlete even in his own small nation as countrymen Graeme McDowell and McIlroy won major championships.

Clarke didn’t even qualify for the last three major tournaments prior to the British Open. He fell out of the top 100 players in the world. It’s safe to say few expected him to lead the Open after 54 holes. Even fewer expected him to hold the lead and raise the Claret Jug.

He won by three shots even bogeying his last two holes, but the final round wasn’t a care free walk around Royal St. George’s Golf Club. Phil Mickelson put on a Tiger-in-his-prime-like charge on the front nine and pulled into a share of the lead with a birdie on No. 10. The atmosphere was electric, but then Phil the Thrill missed a 3-foot putt and collapsed. Long-hitting Dustin Johnson charged, got within two shots of Clarke and was in position to get within one shot on the par-5 14th. But instead of his 2-iron shot landing on the green and setting up a two-putt birdie, Johnson did what he’s fast becoming known for: Messing up in the final round of a major. Johnson‘s2-iron landed out of bounds and before he made a double bogey who could hear the whispers of the most dreaded word in sports: choker.

I felt for Mickelson and Johnson, but I was glad Clarke won.

In the women’s World Cup, the USA had the lead and was minutes away from the title. I wouldn’t say I developed women’s World Cup fever, but I have followed the USA team with pride. But Japan rallied late and then won with penalty kicks.

I felt badly for the USA team but happy for the Japanese women who were playing for a country devastated earlier this year by two natural disasters, an earthquake and a tsunami, that killed thousands, left millions homeless and did billions of dollars in damage. The Japanese need anything to feel good about. The American women were gracious after the heart-breaking loss and understood how important the victory was for Japan. It was a crowning moment for sportsmanship and how sports can be uplifting for reasons other than money and bragging rights.

The Mavericks’ NBA title lifted a heavy burden off of the shoulders of Nowitzki, perhaps the finest European player ever. He’d been close before but performed poorly at crunch time. More of the same was expected. No one ever questioned Nowitzki’s skills and his class, but his heart and toughness had been scrutinized and not favorably. He was the NBA poster boy for good guys who can’t win the big one.

Meanwhile, the cocky, showboating and mouthy Miami Heat was the overwhelming favorite. LeBron vs. Dirk was considered a mismatch. When Dirk became ill during the championship series the cynics – who included LeBron James and Dwayne Wade – mocked him. Nowitzki shut them up the old fashion way: Making big shots, grabbing important rebounds and playing tough defense.

I pulled hard for Nowitzki. His nationality was irrelevant. The fact I feel that way is a major part of the beauty and importance of sports.

It’s been a wonderful summer.



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