Friday, June 11, 2010

Good Sports

And now for something (completely?) different: USC vs. North Korea

As Brian and I like to remind each other, courtesy of a fabulously hilarious Onion commentary, "Professional sports is very interesting." (You should definitely click on that link to read it after you read this blog entry of mine.) There is certainly a lot of sports excitement swirling around me right now. For one thing, the Chicago Blackhawks just won the Stanley Cup after a decades-long drought. Good for them! I witnessed much joyous revelry just outside our apartment windows on Wednesday night after the Blackhawks' victory. Then, of course, there are the NBA Finals, although I am still a little too devastated by the Phoenix Suns' loss to really get into the whole Amazing-Happening. I really, really thought one-eyed Steve Nash and his team of BFFs were going to do it this year. Crushing! Steve does get to report on the World Cup from his birthplace, South Africa, though.

And that is biggest of all, of course, right now: the World Cup started today! (And I correctly predicted the 1-1 tie between South Africa and Mexico!...on some silly Facebook app that rewards me with nothing.) For those who haven't heard, I even went so far as to invest in the World Cup this time around. Ever since attending a World Cup qualifier while we were in San Pedro Sula, I have deemed myself a new fan of the Honduras national team and I am cheering for them, in addition to the U.S.A. In consultation with Brian, I placed a small wager on Honduras getting out of their group, and we think that has a chance.

I also have what most call a foolhardy bet on North Korea to win it all, because, as I joked, with a mere $10 bet I could pay off my law school loans if I win. In case you aren't aware, that's because North Korea is the longest of shots. Not only are they not a powerhouse, and maybe not even good, but they are in the toughest group, with Brazil, Portugal, and Ivory Coast. (For those not in the loop: yes, the Cote d'Ivoire is good, too. North Korea is totally cursed.)

Here's my point: yes, part of me acknowledges that my North Korea bet is a bit of a sarcastic move. But there is more to it than that. It is also a symbolic statement about the way much of the world - and I daresay many of you - write off North Korea in the geo-political scheme of things. When I first went to (South) Korea (it's one country, people! It should be again!) and read about the extremely limited options for visiting "The North," the general response from people was one of horror: "Why would you want to go there?!" I hate that mentality. I got a fair amount of it about Cuba a decade ago and hated it then, too. First of all, if you've got issues with a country's government, you don't have to hate its citizens. They are just people, too! I was similarly adamantly opposed to any and all threats to boycott the Olympics in Beijing. The best thing you can do is gather dozens of countries together for the Olympic games, in peace and friendly competition. (Or have your Korean students write about it.)

In fact, the minute someone ever says, "Why would you want to go there?" I take it as a sign that I most definitely want to go "there," wherever it is, because people in the world need to travel, and need to meet other people in the world, and should be free to visit any country they want to. ANY country - including Cuba, or Iran, or North Korea.

Travel embargoes may be the dumbest thing I've ever seen passed off as legitimate national policy. The thinking seems to go like this: "We, the U.S.A., are awesome and free. That country there? They are not free. They are bad and terrible and monstrous. Just to prove how awesome and free we are and how not-free they are, we forbid our citizens to go there." Hello?

Because North Korea is such a "pariah" and really, more accurately, such an unknown entity to so many, I will cheer for them even more.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, my alma mater USC is having a little trouble in its own sports departments, you may have heard. The institution and some of the athletes - who were decidedly not supposed to be professionals and/or getting paid - committed a bunch of dastardly deeds and are now being punished -- oh, wait. Actually most of the wrongdoers have LEFT THE UNIVERSITY and the punishment is being meted out on some athletes playing there or being recruited to play there now. I know a two-year ban on post-season play sends quite a message, but it doesn't really effectively punish its target. In that sense, it's a lot like some U.S. foreign policy.

Meanwhile, just as things were getting underway in South Africa, tragedy struck. Nelson Mandela's great-granddaughter died in a car accident, now under investigation for possible drunk driving guilt by the chauffeur, on her way back from the big, celebratory, star-studded World Cup kick-off concert. Nelson Mandela himself understandably did not therefore attend the South Africa-Mexico match today. I have been thinking so much about him over the past year, and especially in connection with his nation's sports after seeing Invictus and reading Playing the Enemy. I am so sad for him, and wonder how much tragedy and sorrow one amazing, peaceful, brilliant man has to suffer in his lifetime? He is so much more newsworthy than Reggie Bush and O.J. Mayo's egos.

Let's all think about our sanctions and bans and boycotts, and more importantly, let's all come together to watch the world play nicely, in friendly competition. Let's admire the magic of professional sports, where people are pushed to be better than they are. I hope that the guilty Trojan parties can acknowledge that they made mistakes, and then strive to be better. I hope the NCAA can acknowledge its mistakes, too. I hope that North Korean political leaders can acknowledge their mistakes, and most of all I hope the bullying U.S. can be kind enough and open enough and honest enough to acknowledge its many U.S. mistakes and give North Korea a reason to play along, nicely.

I shall cheer for my team U.S.A. - but I shall also cheer for "my" other teams. I like the World Cup. I like the world.

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