Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Sorry, but I detest the comments section...

so I'm going to continue the debate with another post. We should consider getting you guys passwords so you can just post rebuttals instead of commenting. Although then I guess we'd have to change the title to six guys who rarely agree.

Anyway, here's Pat's last comment on the last post:

I'm not racist, Ste.
I'm just saying that, to discount America as having only 6% of the world's influence isn't accurate. Corporate dollars and wide-ranging media -- not to mention the depth and variation of sport here -- makes the country's athletes more influential on a global scale than those of, say, Thailand or Cote d'Ivoire.
I would hardly accuse most sportswriters of "xenophobia, racism, and a grossly inflated sense of entitlement and importance."
The nature of media in itself is either to cater to a niche market (sports, baseball, curling) or to a region (Tucson, Abu Dhabi, etc). That does not make any institution "xenophobic" -- it means they're writing to their audience.
To have a true global worldview, the Philly papers would have to run Nippon Ham Fighters gamers next to their Phillies stories.
That's not happening, but it's not because they hate the rest of the world or have an inflated sense of importance. They're writing about what their audience cares about.
To assume that sportswriters, in particular, do not espouse a broader worldview doesn't make sense to me -- in what situations, exactly, have you seen them be given the opportunity to? (And no, the "David Beckham's coming to America, but Soccer Still Sucks!" columns don't count; those are stupid).
And how is arguing for Tiger Woods and not white Michael Schumacher racist? If anything, I've said that the influence of Woods as a black American has changed the way his sport operates across the world. I don't care if he's American or British or even French Canadian.
I'll pose this question to you again -- do you know what Michael Schumacher looks like? If Ronaldinho walked into the bar and ordered a drink, would you give him a second look?
I say no.
I brought this up to Doyle earlier; NASCAR, as an inherently American "sport" -- not ubiquitous (that's No. 3) -- will never have any kind of global pull. Dale Earnhardt Jr. won't be popping up on billboards in Germany.
There are sports in America -- damn near all of them -- that only matter here. I do in no way suggest that those athletes will ever be popular on a global scale.
I'm just saying that Tiger Woods is, in part because he happens to cull American advertising and television exposure.
This week's Match Play is on TV in 180 countries; the PGA COO told me the other day there was no way there would ever move it out of the country because it doesn't make sound business sense, TV-wise. And golfers, as they did in Austrailia in 2001, won't go to Match Play then.
Do we penalize Tiger for this? Of course not.
Stupid Xenophobic media.

And my response:

Pat, what the fuck are you talking about? Your writing and arguments generally make sense to me, but on this issue you're all over the place. First it was biggest sports star, then it was best athlete, then it was biggest athlete in America because nowhere else matters, and now you're presenting some twisted false binary about sports journalists having to choose between covering a region or having an international appreciation of sports.

First of all, I want to return (yet again) to the original point, which was your claim that Tiger Woods was the biggest sports star in the world. You didn't say he was bigger than any sports star from Thailand or the Ivory Coast. You didn't originally say that Tiger Woods was the best individual athlete in the world (this is where you continue to muddle your argument re: Beckham and Yao). You didn't originally say that Tiger Woods was the best currently active sports figure. You said none of those things, so stop changing the terms of your original claim, on which everybody else's arguments are based. You said Tiger Woods was the biggest sports star in the world. I say he's not. The rest are red herrings. Don't be a sophist about it.

As far as sportswriting and racism/xenophobia/etc. goes, I really don't think that's a topic I want to discuss here. Sportswriting has its problems, but society at large has the same problems.

What I will say about sportswriting is that your argument about sportswriters lacking the opportunity to espouse a global worldview is total horseshit (isn't there a World Cup and Olympics every four years?). It's the classic cliche trotted out by the media: we're not responsible, blame our readers for wanting it. And your example about Nippon Ham Fighters is even worse. Your whole argument depends on false binaries: for example, the idea that the media must either cover local events or espouse a global worldview. It doesn't have to do one or the other -- espousing a global worldview doesn't mean running sumo wrestling recaps.

In fact, it can mean as little as not believing (I'm not talking about saying it in a lead, I'm talking about actually believing) that the biggest star in America is also absolutely and necessarily the biggest star in the world. It can mean acknowledging foreign athletes and sports as more than curiosities -- Yao's the Chinese basketball player, Ichiro's the Japanese baseball player -- or admitting that they're relevant even though they're not relevant here (Schumacher, the soccer stars). That's why it doesn't matter whether I would recognize Ronaldinho. That's my whole point -- it doesn't fucking matter! Even if your average American sports fan doesn't recognize his face, he can still be the biggest sports star in the world! America might count for more than 6% of global sporting influence, but that's the biggest false binary of all: just because the US has a lot of influence doesn't mean it has it all. It doesn't mean it single-handedly decides and defines the global worldview.

And I don't give a rat's ass if some PR shill says the Match Play Championships will be broadcast in 190 countries. Let's see the ratings for televised golf even in the U.S., the country where it's probably most popular. I bet they're dismal. Nobody fucking cares about golf. It's a rich man's game, and the world is mostly poor.

And that's what really pisses me off, is the implication that everybody else in the world just follows us because we're so powerful and wealthy and great. That we're the Worldwide Leaders in everything. It's true to a point -- though that point is much duller than most Americans think -- but it's also a xenophobic and small-minded thing to think, and it's also the reason most of the world hates us.

You want to ask whether an average American would recognize George Weah? OK, the answer's no. They wouldn't, because as a culture, we don't follow soccer. But what if an average American sports star -- hell, what if just an average American -- walked through the streets of Liberia? Me or you could do that and be openly gawked at like some kind of celebrity, because we represent a completely different world. Their world is not the same as our world. And yes, while that is a source of their fascination with us and emulation of us, it's nothing but xenophobic, racist, and grossly egotistical to say that when we speak, we also speak for their world. Their world doesn't give a fuck about golfers.

And yes, I would recognize David Beckham if he walked down the street.


Pat said...

Great story: Two years ago, Pfeifer did an interview in Bonita Springs, Fla., with Dan Wheldon, who had won the Indy 500 six months earlier (beating Danica Patrick in her first race). He sat in a Starbucks with Wheldon and five PR flaks/hangers-on/friends who wore shirts and hats that read "Chip Ganassi Racing." Not one person recognized Wheldon. The guy sitting next to Wheldon never looked up from his paper and latte.
And I don't have the time to debate every one of Ste's previous points, but I will quote what I wrote Sunday — "The biggest sports star in the world was annoyed."
I think sports star implies the fact he is an active athlete. To parse this into Americans vs. the World or Team Sport Athletes vs. Individuals is part of the fun of the argument.
I wrote "XXXX is the biggest sports star in the world," and I said it was David Beckham or Yao Ming or Ronaldinho, it never would have made it past the first copy editor. Everyone would have wanted to have the same argument we've been having for four days.
No one would have been able to keep reading; they woulda gone, 'Is this guy nuts?'
With Tiger, no one questioned that line. Does that mean we all need a broader worldview?
For me, to be the "biggest athlete" in the world, you have to have a nexus of unbelievable accomplishment, worldwide recognizability and some social relevance.
I believe that person is Tiger.
But, apparently, that's because I can't see through my star-spangled sunglasses to give Beckham his proper respect.
Fact is, I respect Beckham. And Wheldon.
Which is why Pfeifer's story is so great.

St said...

Oh, OK, so now it's the AZ Daily Star copy desk which decides whether it's fair to say that Tiger is the biggest sports star in the world. Nobody there thought it was questionable -- only some of your readers did.

Dude, seriously, ditch the semantics bullshit. It's not working. Sports star does not imply "active" in any way, shape, or form. What do we call retired sports stars, then? Nobody calls Jordan a "former basketball star." He's a legend, an all-time great, etc.

And Wheldon doesn't have anything to do with anything, nor does Pfeifer's story. I just don't get your argument here. You have yet to give one logically sound reason why Tiger is the biggest sports star in the world -- one that doesn't have to do with dithering about definitions of words or implications or making sarcastic cracks demeaning foreign sports or countries.

Pat said...

Tiger Woods is the greatest golfer to ever live, and he is just approaching his prime. And golf is an international game — at the very least, far more international than any sport that gets regular media exposure in this country.
Through his dominance — and, granted, global marketing — he is among the most recognizable sports figures in the world. Entire countries that don't know what the hell a four-iron is know who TIger Woods is.
He is the world's leader in endorsement money, making almost double that of Beckham.
His dominance in the sport has changed the very cultural makeup of kids trying to learn golf, and had a palpable social impact in America, if not the world.
No one else tops that combination. Some might be better in other categories, but nobody's got it all.