As sore as our collective American arses must be right now — the all-natural result of having them kicked in virtually every recent international competition — you’d think we’d be tired of it. Admit it: You’re reading this paper standing up because the world has taken its belt to our backsides so much that it hurts to sit down.
» The U.S. men’s basketball team? Slapped at the world championships.
» The Davis Cup team? Bounced in the semis.
» The World Baseball Classic? So bad that even America Jr. beat us. (Yes, that would be Canada.)
» The World Cup? “Hey, what’s that round ball with the black spots laying out there in the yard?”
» U.S. boxers? There are four heavyweight champions right now. All of ’em are Russian.
» The U.S. women’s basketball team? See U.S. men’s team.
» The Ryder Cup? You know how Michelle Wie sometimes tries to play golf against men? She is us and we are she. The Euros are the men.
So what happened? How did we go from being the world’s only sports superpower to being the world’s junior varsity team? And more importantly, why doesn’t anyone seem to care?
I have to admit I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to my lack of righteous indignation. There was a time, shortly after 1992 when the first and only true U.S. Dream Team took the world apart in Barcelona, when I would have punched anybody who suggested that the world had caught up to us in basketball. I was one of those “We’re playing college kids against their professionals!” shills who just knew we’d be as dominant athletically as we were militarily if we wanted to.
Then we started trotting out second-rate versions of the Dream Team and our dominance waned a bit. Sure, we still won, but not as impressively.
Then our Dream Teams started losing — and many of us stopped caring.
Of course, those squads weren’t as dreamy as the originals, since some of our top-tier talent no longer had time for the Olympic grind, and we figured we’d be fine with B-team members. The rest of the world was just waiting for the opportunity, and bolstered by the confidence generated by wins over our backup Dreamers, they even smacked us when we sent our very best in 2006. Even LeBron James and Dwyane Wade weren’t good enough to restore the blue and white to our red-faced nation.
I truly believe the failure of our nation to maintain its dominance in the sport we created is what led to our downfall in nearly every other significant competition. We were suddenly vulnerable in basketball, and that made us suddenly vulnerable, period.
International baseball teams now laugh at us and our so-called “World” Series, knowing we’ve become inferior to them.
And the “world champion” San Antonio Spurs? Please. Say hello to the world champions — Spain.
Don’t think for a second that our failure in certain sports doesn’t impact the way we’re viewed in others, and don’t think that it’s going to change any time soon. Because one thing is painfully clear as the welts on our butts: Beating us means a lot more to them than it does to us.