If the current trends continue it may well be that in the near future the only professional sport that is dominated by Americans will be football.
And I won’t pretend that I’m not bothered by this trend. I’m kind of a chauvinist about American sports and America. I don’t wish anybody ill will, but I can’t help but be a little disappointed about what’s happening.
Take a look at the statistics.
In baseball, more than 25 percent of the players in the major leagues are foreign born. Baseball is a big sport in South America, Mexico and Japan and that percentage is clearly going to keep rising.
In the National Basketball Association one in four players are foreign born. The league is aggressively pursuing global expansion for a game that is growing at an incredible rate around the world.
The National Hockey League has over 30 percent players who are foreign born. Hockey has a long history around the world but nobody can compete with American dollars, so the best international players migrate to the NHL.
If you really want to see the globalization of sports and the descent of Americans, take a look at the worlds of golf and tennis.
In mens golf, half of the top 60 players in the world are from countries other than the United States. In women’s golf only 12 of the top 50 players in the world are American. It gets even more dramatic in professional tennis.
John Isner, who is ranked 12th, is the only American ranked among the top 50 men's players. In the women’s game, Serena Williams is ranked first, but Americans only make up eight of the top 60 players in the world.
In the last 10 years American golfers have won fewer than half of the 40 majors. In tennis not a single American man has won a major in the last 10 years.
And the men’s soccer team in the United States, while getting better, is still miles behind the rest of the world.
America is the third largest country in the world, trailing only China and India. Ranked by gross domestic product, America has, by far, the greatest economy, doubling China which is in second place. We have an enviable university level sports program, as well as high school and youth sports programs that have been and are models for the rest of the world.
So how come all these other countries are getting better and making these serious inroads into American dominance? Are we getting worse? Are they getting that much better?
People far more expert than I have studied this issue and they’ve come up with enough different reasons to fill a couple of hundred books. They talk about the spread of sports to other parts of the world, about different sporting traditions and dozens of other theories.
I think that once you get past all the experts, you can look at one thing which best explains our fall from sporting grace:
Americans have become kind of soft.
Too many kids have it too easy. I don’t see the kind of widespread dedication that results in lots of superior athletes. Oh, the kids go the games, soccer and baseball and basketball. They may go play nine holes or they may take a friend and smash balls with their tennis rackets.
But any great professional athlete will tell you that the single most important thing in their development is the endless hours and days and weeks and months and years that they spent practicing.
Going out to play the game is fun and can spark interest. But it is only through good coaching and a crushing dedication to practice that you can really develop as an athlete. And I just don’t see that dedication.
Parents want their kids to have fun playing sports. They don’t necessarily want them to do the things you need to do to become great. I’m okay with that.
But without that kind of singular dedication, we’re going to sit by and watch as the rest of the world rushes into the world of American sports.
With a history in Milwaukee stretching back decades, Dave tries to bring a unique perspective to his writing, whether it's sports, politics, theater or any other issue.
He's seen Milwaukee grow, suffer pangs of growth, strive for success and has been involved in many efforts to both shape and re-shape the city. He's a happy man, now that he's quit playing golf, and enjoys music, his children and grandchildren and the myriad of sports in this state. He loves great food and hates bullies and people who think they are smarter than everyone else.
This whole Internet thing continues to baffle him, but he's willing to play the game as long as OnMilwaukee.com keeps lending him a helping hand. He is constantly amazed that just a few dedicated people can provide so much news and information to a hungry public.
Despite some opinions to the contrary, Dave likes most stuff. But he is a skeptic who constantly wonders about the world around him. So many questions, so few answers.