- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

Operation Iraqi Freedom is under way, along with the NCAA tournament.
The Bush administration is encouraging Americans to embrace the games as they would have before the night air in Baghdad flashed the first signs of hostility.
The games are a tiny indication of America's resolve at home, the poke in the eye to the terrorists and the tyrant who mean us harm.
Hope is the connection between the homeland and abroad.
Let's go about our business, however we choose to go about it, by remote control in most cases.
That turns out to be Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and ESPN.
The games mean whatever they mean to Americans at the moment. They are there to be sampled for those who need a release from the nighttime goings-on in Baghdad.
There is no guidebook on this. There is no appropriate response. There is only the comfort level of each person.
The sense of uneasiness in the initial hours of the conflict in Iraq has not been processed and assimilated into a workaday pattern.
There are reporters wearing gas masks on one channel, reacting to another siren, and there are reporters in blazers at courtside, responding to the sight of Bob Huggins being ejected from a game. There is all this solemn talk of the "shock and awe campaign" on one channel, and there is all this giddy talk of Gonzaga orchestrating yet another upset in the tournament.
This is a strange time in the land of plenty, customarily in the mood to work and play and leave the problems of the world out of it. There is always another big game to embrace, or another piece of gossip on Jennifer Lopez to lighten the mood, and let's leave it at that.
Political apathy is a compelling symptom of America's largesse. We are a fat and happy people who prefer to whine over the darnedest things, such as the impending parody at Augusta National inspired by Martha Burk. We sometimes seemingly protest to amuse ourselves.
But now there is nothing amusing about the images being beamed from the Middle East.
There is just death. Uncertainty, too. We are on Code Orange alert.
This is an unsettling position for the vast majority of Americans who missed the Great Depression and World War II and equate sacrifice to skipping a second helping of mashed potatoes. The epiphany associated with September 11 was overstated in hindsight.
Some of our most prominent entertainers, from their insulated cocoons in sports and Hollywood, appear to be having a hard time adjusting to their version of the real world. The threat to our homeland is the great equalizer. We do what we do and then, at the end of the day, we are all left to hope for the best.
"The NCAA tournament is fun and games," one of the players said. "The real world is out there."
The games, in their best moments, reflect some of America's best qualities. The games are a stage for the workers, the dreamers, the overachievers and the highly gifted. Each game, in its small way, reveals the quality of their purpose on a particular day or night.
The games, spirited as ever, are lacking their normal hold on us.
The young men who compete under the NCAA logo feel it, too.
Creighton forward Kyle Korver has a friend from high school who is with the Army in the Middle East.
As Korver put it before the Creighton-Central Michigan game last night, "If I mess up, it's no big deal. If he messes up, he could die."
Talk about trying to establish a rhythm.
The NBA stopped all its games as President Bush addressed the nation on Wednesday night.
Karl Malone, the Jazz forward, said it felt "weird" to resume play following the president's somber announcement. That word works as well as any.
Yet the games, all the games, are being held, as scheduled.
Already, the tournament is delivering a joyous tonic to the awfulness overseas. How about that California-N.C. State game in overtime?
Maryland and UNC Wilmington play tonight in Nashville, Tenn., in one of those intriguing matchups so prevalent in the tournament, pitting a major conference program against a quality program from a mid-major conference. These games often have a habit of meeting expectations, as Terrapins coach Gary Williams undoubtedly has reminded his players.
It is what it is, a game no more or less than ever it was, which goes to show us where our heads usually are.

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