Thursday, February 07, 2002


Some sports take it too far

        On the off chance you didn't get enough overproduced patriotism from the Super Bowl, be patient. The Winter Olympics are just around the jingoistic corner.

        No one does excess like the NFL, but the Olympics is surely the silver medalist. During the next three weeks, Salt Lake City will be the world capital of pious platitudes, fervent flag-waving and nationalistic nonsense, to say nothing of triple toe loops.

        Personally, I just want to watch the hockey games.

        Don't get me wrong. I love my country and several of its citizens. But I cringe each time some commercial athletic endeavor girds itself with Old Glory and presumes to speak for society at large.

        Lately, I've been cringing a lot. If patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel, as Dr. Johnson observed, it has become the first reflex of sports.

        In the post-Sept.11 America, our games are engaged in a crass competition to see who can present the most stirring tribute to our shared values, our common goals and our collective resolve. Like the declarations of love King Lear demands of his daughters, the result has been neither spontaneous nor convincing.

        Baseball got things mostly right, preferring the simple to the showy and the heartfelt to the hyped. When the New York Mets adopted ballcaps bearing the insignias of the city's police, fire and rescue workers, the silent gesture spoke with unusual eloquence. The NFL, with more time to plan and more air to fill, was bound to go overboard.

        Some of Sunday's Super Bowl pregame show was touching, but a lot of it was tacky. Paul McCartney's “Freedom” is a composition as tuneless and uninspired as was his impromptu duet with Terry Bradshaw. Marc Anthony and Mary J. Blige gave us an “America” at the top of their lungs with no feel for the lyric. And whoever decided to juxtapose a U2 halftime concert with a list of the victims of an epic tragedy should have sought a second opinion from someone with taste.

        Given this recent, over-the-top example of Yankee ingenuity, some members of the International Olympic Committee were clearly concerned Friday's Opening Ceremonies in Salt Lake City might devolve into an inappropriately political pageant. Though the Olympics are inherently political, and their popularity derives largely from acute nationalism, organizers frown on formal demonstrations.

        Accordingly, the IOC initially rejected a request to include in the ceremonies the tattered flag found in the rubble of the World Trade Center. Inevitably, this decision was seen as insulting and insensitive to the host nation, or at least to that segment of it reflected by talk radio.

        That conflict, happily, has since been resolved. The Trade Center flag will not lead the American delegation, as was originally proposed, but will make a separate entrance following the parade of nations.

        “The Ground Zero flag will enter solemnly during the opening ceremony,” IOC director general Francois Carrard said Wednesday. “It will be carried by an honor guard of American athletes and other heroes, policemen (and) firemen. This will be a solemn, dignified entrance.”

        Dignity has its place. In American sports, it's typically about the size of a postage stamp.

        Contact Tim Sullivan at 768-8456; fax: 768-8550; e-mail:


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