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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

The Netherlands won eight gold medals in speedskating at the Winter Olympics. (PHOTO: Herbert Kratky / Shutterstock.com)

Did our passion for football kill our speed skating chances?


So, once we get done laughing at this tulip guy, maybe we should pause for a second and wonder if what he says may be the truth.

Of course, maybe we don't have to wonder. Maybe we should just lump this guy in with the last person who knocked on your door telling you that hell awaited unless you buy his magazines and his bible.

The guy I'm talking about is Jillert Anema, the speed skating coach for the Netherlands. He was talking about the shock we've felt over the fact that the United States won zero medals in speed skating at the Olympics.

Before we start here, let's understand that Holland, where tulips come from, is not the Netherlands. It's just one region, along with such others as Zeeland, Flevoland, Gelderland and the widely-known Limburg, after which a very smelly cheese is named.

But I digress.

This Olympic failure hits us in Milwaukee especially hard given our history of success on the oval with Bonnie Blair, Eric Heiden and Dan Jansen. Plus we have the Pettit Center.

What Anema said about American speed skating in an interview on CNBC is either the babble of an idiot or a message we might want to pay attention to.

"You have a lot of attention on a foolish sport like American football and you waste a lot of talent, athletic talent, on a sport that is meant to kill each other, to injure each other," Anema said in an interview on CNBC. "You're so narrow-minded and then you want to compete against the world (in other sports) when you waste a lot of time, good talent on a sport that sucks."

He added, "You've got all the money into that sport so there's not a lot of money in the other sports. Nobody in the world wants to compete in that sport with you."

Once he got done shooting his gun at football, he decided to take on the American ethic.

"Americans always believe they're right, always believe they're the best, but that's not true," he said. "When you go abroad and you look at the rest of the world, yeah, you can stay inside your own country and make your own game, like American football. Do it your own and think you're the best in the world."

"But no way. When you play soccer, man, you're just not half, you're not in the top 30 of the world. Every four years you come to Olympic stadium and you want to fight the rest of the world, then you know your place. You got zero medals. Zero, man."

So what about this guy? Is he hitting on a hard truth that our preoccupation with football (the Packers kind) dominates our resources and attention and that it detracts from the chances of our success in other sports, like rhythmic gymnastics or AK-47 biathlon?

I was listening to some sports talk radio person over the weekend who seemed very angry about everything, which is a way of life on sports talk radio. This person was outraged, "outraged, do you hear" about what he called the "Dutch Doofus." Yet another example of the pot calling the kettle black.

I, however have a different reaction. Rather than get angry over what Jillert said, I think we should just shrug it off and say, "yeah, so what?"

So, we don't pay much, if any attention to speedskating except every four years when we lock into television coverage of the winter Olympics. I mean we even watch two-man bobsled races, for God's sake. And that stupid three-person skating chase thing. And women shooting guns and cross country skiing.

Once the television goes back to sitcoms and cop shows and singing competitions, we forget about the Olympics. If Jillert thinks we ignore the winter sports, he'd be appalled at how we ignore the summer games. Name the best American shot putter or the women's discus champ.

It may earn a stamp of approval from Jillert, but we really don't give a hoot about the top women's trampolinist (or trampoliner), or who stands the best chance in the canoe slalom or even the best skip in Norway.

What we care about Jillert, is stuff that matters. We care about football, despite what you say.

Football. Eleven players on a side. A real football. Blocking. Tackling. Throwing and catching. Tough men going against other tough men, winner takes all.

So, Jillert, you're right about how we don't seem to care as much as you would like about these odd little once-a-year sports.

And there's one more thing that you said that is stark in its truth.

Talking about football you said, "Nobody in the world wants to compete in that sport with you."

Ain't that the truth.

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