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Exposing a Closed-Minded U.S. Fan to Aussie Sports

The Doctor's In

By M.d. Stankiewicz

Sunday is Grand Final Day.

You know, it's the BIG ONE, for all the marbles, the championship game.

No, I guess you probably don't know about it. You're not aware that Sunday is the New South Wales Rugby Football League Grand Final, the Australian equivalent of the Super Bowl.

I wonder if Penrith will win--it's the first Grand Final appearance in the 23-year history of the Panthers. Last week, I watched Penrith halfback Greg Alexander help his team qualify for the Grand Final by ripping through the defending champion Canberra Raiders' defense in a 30-12 win in extra time. Alexander scored two tries and seven goals in an impressive 22-point performance for someone described as "not being able to win the big ones."

But this is all moot on this side of the Pacific. Ten days ago, I was sitting in the Sydney Football Stadium rooting on Mal Meninga and the Raiders.

Today, back in the United States, it's a different world for me. I listen intently (almost in a drugged state) to the Patriots game, not because I root for the hometown ho-hummers, but because it's football (or gridiron, as the Australians call it).

In Australia, the newspapers list American baseball scores every day. The Super Bowl is one of the most anticipated television sports events of the year. Every once in a while, you can catch a random gridiron game on TV, such as a Philadelphia Eagles preseason game.

Sure, American sports is a minor part of the booming Australian sports scene--almost disdained by some. It exists, though.

But there is no news of the Grand Final here. Having been exposed to it, I wish there were.

How ironic that Australia, a country that is so Americanized and takes its sports as seriously as Americans do, could also be a country so far away, so removed, so out of touch.

Symptomatic

But every country is so far away, so removed, so out of touch, when it comes to sports exposure in the United States. When you're in another country, you appreciate how little people and the media in this country pay attention to international sports.

Sure, local sports like rugby league, rugby union, Aussie rules football and cricket dominate the sports scene in Australia, but an incredibly high amount of time is spent on covering events such as the Milwaukee Golf Open or the Budapest Grand Prix.

Not so here in the U.S., where it's baseball, baseball, baseball, then football, football, football, and finally, off-season basketball, basketball, basketball.

While the entire country seems to be going the way of Harvard, internationalizing, the American sports scene is becoming increasingly self-centered. With the end of the Cold War has also come the end of the fervor over international sports rivalries. Only huge events such as Wimbledon, the U.S. Open tennis tournament and the World Cup soccer tournament manage to find a niche among the plethora of American-only sports news.

There is excitement in Australia for international sports, including minor sports such as cycling and squash--a fervent nationalistic support for Australian athletes abroad. There is tremendous pride when an Australian is successful in an international arena, such as Wayne Grady's win in this summer's U.S. Open.

But not so here, where "U-S-A, U-S-A" has been replaced by "Bo Knows" and "Air Jordan."

Maybe our almost-blase attitude about international sports results from the fact that American sport heroes don't necessarily play for the old Red, White and Blue. In other countries, almost all the national sports heroes do don their nation's colors. In Australia, for example, a team of the best rugby league players in the country is assembled every four years to compete internationally in what is known as the Kangaroo Tour. This year's Roos will be protecting an unbeaten string that stretches back to 1978.

And sure, it's probably justifiable to say that the American sports fan is already inundated with too much high quality sports entertainment at home to bother with international sports. But we used to notice great international athletes. Now we're missing out.

And having experienced the excitement of Australian sports for the last three weeks, I've seen what we're missing. You'd have to see Greg Alexander play to believe it.

Go Panthers!

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