Both authors made valid points. Jones was correct in his assessment of Allen Iverson as someone that the United States should be proud of. Sidman was correct in her judgment that the basketball team simply was not as good as the players and coaches had thought.
However, my point is not to hash out both their arguments. So then, why bring it up? Jones concluded that “[the U.S. Olympic basketball team] went to represent their country and they did so by winning a bronze medal. For anyone else this would be okay, but for this all-black American team, only gold would have been enough to silence the critics.”
American writers criticize, not because of the ethnic or racial make-up of a team, but because of performance. If Team USA was made up of Bob Sura, Brian Scalabrine, Shawn Bradley, Jon and Brent Barry, Andrew DeClercq, Matt Harpring, Wally Szczerbiak and Keith Van Horn, critics would still have lashed out at Team USA if it didn’t win the gold. Make no mistake about it, journalists are not race-blind, but I also don’t think they are looking for reasons to blame failure on race. This is the United States of America we’re talking about here. Second place is the first loser in the good ol’ USA. If you win, critics don’t care if you’re black, white or green. And if you lose, critics don’t care if you’re black, white or green. The key component is winning.
Again, I must clarify; this column is not about race and basketball. So what then is it about? (I know I’m 300 words into my column without a point. Don’t worry, the point is coming.)
The point is, the United States Ryder Cup team, a team of 11 white golfers and one Tiger Woods, got absolutely destroyed by a team of European golfers this past weekend. And, even though this team was composed of 11 white golfers, no one is praising the team for its effort or blaming the loss on international rules. Critics are blaming the players for bad play and bad teamwork. When a group of elite athletes such as the U.S. Ryder Cup team or the men’s basketball team fail to perform up to their abilities, journalists would not be doing their jobs if they did not criticize.
If you watched the Ryder Cup this weekend, you saw Europe open up a can of whoop-ass on the Americans. No one can blame the course (in Michigan) or the weather (again, Michigan weather) or the format (match play is still about who has the fewest number of shots per hole). What we can blame the loss on was the Americans’ lack of team unity and cohesion. If you’ve ever played a team sport (yes, even golfers like myself have played team sports in the past), you know that even with all the talent in the world, you will not win without teamwork. Teamwork, friendship and chemistry can sometimes even make up for lack of ability.
On the PGA Tour, players take private jets to and from tournaments. They stay in private homes or exclusive hotels. They take escort limo services from the hotel to the course every day. Players socialize, but only in small cliques. The top players play their practice rounds with only their caddy and swing coach, or on rare occasion, with one close friend.
On the European Tour, in comparison, players often travel together from tournament to tournament on trains and buses. Players stay at the same hotels, eat together, socialize together and play practice rounds together. It’s a different world on the European Tour-a world much more conducive to learning about the competition’s, or in many cases, friend’s game.
While the American team had 10 of the top 25 golfers in the world, they did not have the same chemistry, friendship and familiarity that the Europeans had. (By the way, the world rankings is heavily biased towards the PGA Tour, so that statistic is very misleading-most of the European team plays almost exclusively in Europe and not in the U.S.)
In addition, the U.S. just got outplayed. Tiger Woods cannot dominate match play in the professional ranks the way he did as an amateur. Phil Mickelson was not the same player using Callaways as he was using Titleists. The U.S. played like crap. Plain and simple.
So what’s the solution? Well, first of all, the Ryder Cup points system rewards players for winning a big tournament, but does not reward players for consistency. Had Justin Leonard won a playoff to take the PGA Championship after a mediocre season at best, he would have made the team. Todd Hamilton finished 19th in the points standings, but can anyone remember any other top finishes for the British Open Champion? I can’t.
Just like the USA men’s basketball team, the USA Ryder Cup team disappointed fans and lost. And they didn’t just barely lose-they got demolished, embarrassed and should have been booed off the course, even on their home turf. In golf, upsets are more common than in other sports because of the small talent differential between the best and the mediocre. However, when the (arguably) more talented team is on the wrong side of the most lopsided Ryder Cup defeat of all time, the critics have every right to be out in hoards.