Brian Viner: God help us if we ever follow America's holier-than-thou sports coverage

Yesterday, I arrived home from a couple of days in Las Vegas. I went there to interview Butch Harmon and to present my golf swing to him for fine-tuning - although, worryingly, he saw a need to replace the spark plugs, carburettor and rear axle. Harmon, a former coach to Tiger Woods, runs a golf school in the swish Vegas suburb of Henderson. I have been trying to bag an interview with him for a while, but have been unable to nail down any time with him on this side of the Atlantic. So, since the mountain wouldn't come to Muhammad, Muhammad went to the mountain. Not that I told US customs officers that my name was Muhammad and I was visiting a mountain. They questioned me robustly enough as it was.

Anyway, while I was in Vegas I also devoured just about every printed word I could find on the subject of American sport. I don't follow it much from England, but, having lived in the States in the 1980s and become hooked on basketball, baseball and, to a lesser extent, American football and ice hockey, I try to catch up when I am over there. Besides, devouring the sports pages was preferable to devouring the MGM Grand's $18 (£9.50) All-American breakfast option of Three Eggs Your Way with Hash Browns, Apple-Smoked Ham Steak, Sausage and Warm Cheddar Biscuits. Although only just.

I hasten to add, before rubbishing the quality of American sports writing, that I would have prostrated myself at the polished brogues of the late George Plimpton, had I been lucky enough to meet him. And in Westbrook Pegler, O B Keeler and several others, I know that America has produced some of the greatest sports writers ever to wear out a typewriter ribbon. On the other hand, if you were subjected regularly to the sports pages in US newspapers, you too would cry Hosanna on opening The Independent. I did, at Gatwick Airport yesterday morning, much to the surprise of the woman behind the till at WH Smith.

It's not that the sports pages of American newspapers are badly written, exactly. More that there is a wearisome excess of earnestness and a lamentable absence of scepticism and wit.

Take Super Bowl XXXIX, which takes place tomorrow, in Jacksonville, Florida, between the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. On Tuesday, the Eagles' wide receiver Terrell Owens insisted that he would play in Jacksonville, even though the surgeon who helped to repair the leg he broke as recently as 19 December had advised him not to. "I've got the best doctor that anybody could have,'' he said, "and that's God.'' Owens is the Craig Bellamy of American football, a fine player perceived to be more interested in personal fulfilment than team achievement. "God laid this plan out for me... It was His plan for me to be controversial, and I accept that.''

In not one of the many reports I read did the writer venture the slightest surprise that Owens had dragged the Almighty into a discussion of the Super Bowl, let alone respond sceptically. But that is as much to do with the nature of America as the nature of American sport; in the dry-as-dust sport section of The New York Times, I also read about a brilliant young High School quarterback from Louisiana, Ryan Perriloux, who has recovered from a blown anterior cruciate ligament and, erm, a near-fatal bullet wound in the chest, incurred when he jumped out to scare his sister as she returned from a date one night. Inconveniently, the date shot him.

There is, too, an uncomfortably pious attitude towards sport in America, perfectly summed up in a book I bought at Vegas Airport called "The Games Do Count: America's Best and Brightest on the Power of Sports". It contains dozens of interviews with famous people, who reflect on how their own sporting achievements, however modest, helped to propel them to the top of their chosen profession. Unwittingly, it's a hoot. "I hate to lose,'' says Donald Trump. "I am the Michael Jordan of real estate.'' Even George W Bush adds: "I find out what sport different world leaders play before I meet them... The Prime Minister of Denmark is a fit guy [and] at our last Nato meeting the Prime Minister of Norway was talking about how he still plays soccer.''

Nobody loves sport more than I do but if the President of the United States takes time before meeting a foreign leader to find out what sport he (or she) plays, implying it may make a difference to the way their relationship unfolds, then may God help us all, not just Terrell Owens.

b.viner@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'