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American Sports Take Beating in Britain

HASTINGS, England - What's with the English? Every other person seems to be wearing a New York Yankees hat. But just try to find one word about baseball in the dailies. A word that is not discouraging.

Not too long ago, you could pick up a copy of the Times of London, which for the record printed edition No. 70,305 on Thursday, and in the agate type find the ball scores. Not the "football'' scores, soccer, their game. Baseball, our game.

That's finished. The scores, I mean.

What you found Thursday in the Times, now a tabloid, was two pages on the decline and fall of American sport, our charming NFL and NBA lockouts - "Battle over profits puts gridiron and basketball into dangerous limbo'' - the trial of Roger Clemens and our failings in golf, tennis and just about everything other than the Nathan's hot-dog-eating contest.

A big story - a column, actually - about that too, by the clever Giles Smith, with the headline, "Hard not to scoff at display of mastication dedication."

They've got ESPN on this side of the Atlantic, if a different version, and Smith, needing to fill space about all those people filling their stomachs, was mesmerized by the mastication. Something upbeat about the United States on what we call the Fourth of July and the Brits call Independence Day.

Otherwise, it was Trash America Time, with the usual search for a local angle. The Tampa Bay Bucs, owned by the Glazer family, also in charge of Manchester United, are to play the Chicago Bears on Oct. 23 at London's Wembley Stadium.

If, however, the lockout is not resolved by Aug. 1, the game will be in Tampa, to the dismay of the Brits and most likely the delight of the Bucs and Bears, who won't have to survive jet lag. That's assuming there's an NFL season, and, yes, you may make the assumption.

These are tempestuous times, certainly, and much of it has to do with money. Over there. Over here.

Soccer star Carlos Tevez, who is never happy and has gone from West Ham to Man U to Manchester City, wants to change partners once again. He says he needs to spend more time with his daughters. In Argentina.

That's why he may be sold to Inter Milan in Italy for $80 million? Or perhaps swapped for a couple of Yankees hats.

"American sports have long been admired for their profitability and stability,'' wrote Tom Dart in the Times, "but basketball and American football are frozen in suspended animation as players and team owners squabble over their shares of vast revenues."

The article is accompanied by a photo from the Super Bowl in February, Packers against Steelers, but there is no reference in the caption.

Baseball did get a mention, if not the sort Bud Selig and/or Roger Clemens would prefer.

"Major League Baseball's tarnished reputation will take another hit in the weeks to come,'' wrote Dart in a separate piece "as one of the greatest-ever pitchers goes on trial accused of lying to Congress when he denied using performance-enhancing drugs."

The Brits take this drug thing seriously. They are outraged that Justin Gatlin, the Athens Olympics gold-medal sprinter, had his suspension lifted and is competing again as if he had done nothing, which he claims is the truth but not what authorities in England believe.

So, even though Clemens and our pal Barry Bonds play a game that has nothing to do with Britain, columnists here are appalled that the U.S. in effect shrugs off all the accusations.

"With sordid details likely to emerge in court,'' Dart said about the Clemens trial, "and the potential for a hero's reputation to be utterly destroyed, it promises to deal another blow to the standing of American sport."

We will see. Reputations are not so easily destroyed in U.S. sports. Bonds still walks around with the home run records. Mike Tyson, despite jail time, has regained his celebrity status. Marion Jones is out of the clink and on the basketball court. We don't hold grudges.

Now, as far as the innocent and ineffective, there's the column from Gabriele Marcotti in the Times under the headline "Why dominance of the 20th Century is not likely to be repeated.'' This we know. The Chinese and the Serbs and the Northern Irish are proof enough.

"It was the most recent twin debacle of the U.S. Open golf and Wimbledon tennis that, once again, brought the discussion to the fore,'' Marcotti asserted. "Rory McIlroy's victory at Congressional extended the run of majors won by non-Americans to five, the longest streak.

"Wimbledon came and went with only one American quarterfinalist among the men and women combined, Mardy Fish, and he was quickly dispatched. But the soul-searching was not limited to golf and tennis. Americans, once so dominant across the board, are not the juggernauts they used to be."

We'll just have stick to eating hot dogs and selling Yankees hats to the English.

As a reporter since 1960, Art Spander is a recipient of the Dick McCann Memorial Award -- given for his long and distinguished career covering professional football -- and a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He's also honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award by the PGA of America. His columns appear in RealClearSports on Wednesdays and Fridays.

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