American Olympic Favoritism
Megan McArdle offers a defense of Americans from the charge that Americans are only interested in Olympic sports in which Americans are strong medal contenders, noting that we’re a large country with established team sports loyalty and so forth. It’s all true.
More fundamentally, though, I reject the premise that Americans’ America-centric view of sports is problematic. As Sir Paul McCartney, a Brit, put it some years back, discussing another subject altogether, “What’s wrong with that, I’d like to know?”
I’m a pretty big fan of American football. I try not to miss an NFL game involving the Dallas Cowboys or a college game involving the Alabama Crimson Tide. But given the opportunity, I’ll watch any other NFL or major college game that’s on. Even the Arena League will get a few minutes of my time if I stumble on a game. Ditto Canadian football. Or Brett Favre throwing warm-up to high school kids.
I’m a casual fan of baseball, meaning I’ll watch a game in which I have a rooting interest. I used to watch pretty much every Atlanta Braves game that aired, which was to say pretty much every Atlanta Braves game played, until moving out of their coverage area and, especially, getting married. But, even when I was rabidly watching the Braves, I never watched a non-Braves game unless it was the World Series.
The same is true of basketball, except that I’ve never really had a team. I tend to follow particular athletes, from Julius Irving to Larry Bird to Michael Jordan. I caught quite a bit of Jordan’s career, especially. I’ll watch college ball, too, once the tournament season starts, but don’t really mind missing a game. If I’m in a pool or a team I’ve got some reason to care about is alive in the tourney, I’ll catch those games, too.
Were it not for the Olympics, I would quickly forget that archery, badminton, BMX racing, canoeing, cricket, croquet, diving, equestrian, fencing, handball, judo, modern pentathlon, rowing, sailing, shooting, synchronized swimming, table tennis, triathlon, water polo, weighlifting, and (real) wrestling existed as sports. To say that I’m even a casual fan of any of those events, on their own merits, would be an overstatement of tremendous magnitude. So why, exactly, should I suddenly get interested in it every four years lacking a rooting interest?
The same, incidentally, is true of non-Olympic periodic sports, like the World Cup. If Team USA is alive, I’ll watch out of the corner of my eye. If they advance to the late rounds, my interest will pique. Once the red, white, and blue is done, though, so am I.