- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 1, 2002

There are no nations! There are no peoples! There are no Russians! There are no Arabs! There are no third worlds! There is no West! There is only one holistic system of systems, one vast and immanent, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars! Petrodollars, electrodollars, multidollars, Reichmarks, rubles, yen, pounds and shekels! There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide and Exxon. Those are the nations of the world today.

From Paddy Chayefsky's classic film, "Network" (1976)


I found myself thinking of those words while watching the U.S. go down in flames on the final day of the Ryder Cup. I must admit, these international extravaganzas have less and less allure for me as the years go by. The Ryder Cup, the Davis Cup, the world basketball championships all of them. And it's not just because I'm becoming an old fogey.

We like to blame the athletes for the indifference that has crept into these competitions. The indifference that forced the U.S. to send its third- or fourth-best team to the world basketball championships. The indifference that caused Andre Agassi, our best clay-court player, to skip a Davis Cup semifinal against the French at Roland Garros and that prompted Tiger Woods to say he'd rather win a World Golf Championship than the Ryder Cup.

But it's not just the athletes. It's us. It's the modern world. These events simply don't have the novelty they once had, and here's why: Because we see these players go against each other on almost a weekly basis now. Sergio Garcia, Bernhard Langer and Jesper Parnevik have been fixtures on the U.S. tour for years, and Colin Montgomerie, Darren Clarke, Padraig Harrington, Lee Westwood and Thomas Bjorn are familiar faces, too. That's three-fourths of the European Ryder Cup team.

Also, it takes something away from the competition some of the Us vs. Them aspect when so many of Them are living among Us. Florida is home (at least part of the year) to Langer, Parnevik, Nick Faldo and Presidents Cup regulars Greg Norman, Nick Price, Ernie Els, Retief Goosen, Craig Parry and Stuart Appleby. In fact, they're probably bumping into Tiger or David Duval or Mark Calcavecchia or Scott Hoch or Jim Furyk all the time at the local Winn-Dixie.

The same holds true in basketball. American hoops has been infiltrated, if not invaded, by Europeans in the last decade the same Yugoslavians and Germans who finished ahead of the U.S. in the world championships. Ask yourself: How pumped up could Michael Finley and Raef LaFrentz have been to face Dirk Nowitzki, a guy they see in practice every day with the Dallas Mavericks? Answer: About as excited as the fans, who stayed away from Conseco Fieldhouse in droves.

What it comes down to is this: Nowitzki's real team is the Mavs. In the old days, his real team would have been the German national team and some club in the European league. It's a totally different dynamic now. In sports, particularly, there are no nations. There are no peoples. There's only Nike and Titleist and Adidas and Buick.

The world, it seems, isn't divided into hemispheres anymore. It's divided into East, Central and West divisions. In the East you have Ichiro Suzuki, Yao Ming and Se Ri Pak (among others). In the Central you have Els, Nowitzki and Jaromir Jagr. And in the West you have Tiger, Michael Jordan and Pedro Martinez. But the main thing is, it's all of a piece, all interconnected like a gigantic Lego.

Thirty or 40 years ago, the Ryder Cup and Davis Cup might have been looked upon as a clash of cultures. If you entered the British Open in the '60s, for instance, you were required to play the smaller British ball. But now athletes around the world use the same equipment, watch ESPN on their satellite dishes and model themselves after Tiger or Jordan or Agassi or whoever their current fancy is. The culture of sport has become, if not universal, darn close.

Getting back to Woods, has there ever been an athlete who was a better reflection of his times? A self-described Cablinasian (part Caucasian, part black, part Indian, part Asian), he's a walking United Nations and a living reminder that the sports world is getting smaller and smaller, making it increasingly difficult to distinguish the Americans from the Scots and the Germans and all the rest. More and more, in events like the Ryder Cup, sports are becoming a celebration of our similarities. And in the era of Osama and suicide bombers, is that really so bad?

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