Sachin Tendulkar, A Ton of Tons, and American Exceptionalism

Sachin Tendulkar scored his 100th 100 in international cricket today, against Bangla Desh. Before I go any further, let me simply say, WOW! A former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly suggested that it was a feat which “will not be matched in the future – ever.” Another commentator on India’s NDTV said, “Whenever the world thinks of India they think of Sachin.” It will be factually incorrect to say that by any standard Tendulkar’s achievement is news worth reporting.  By the standards of the American media it simply isn’t worth reporting. However this lack of reporting on one of the greatest achievements in sports is not the problem; it is a symptom of a much deeper problem. Accolades have been coming in from all over, except America. This is an unfortunate example of American exceptionalism.

For all the talk of globalization, a flat world, and integration, the most ‘advanced’ country is rather closed and content marking its own brand of brilliance. There is a deep parochialism that is part of the American psyche which gets translated into a claim of American exceptionalism. Rejecting the claim of American exceptionalism is not to suggest that there aren’t wonderful things that American stands for and projects. It simply is a rejection of the suggestion that by definition only America can stand up for motherhood and other good stuff!

As a nation and society America fails to acknowledge and admire the achievements of others, does not listen to what others might have to say, and does not recognize that there is much that is good and wise with the rest of the world. This insular mindset is best seen in the sporting world where the World Series, and the World Championships are between teams both of which come from the U.S. It is hard to imagine the English Premier League claiming to be the World Championship of Soccer . They wouldn’t do it not because they are British, with a stiff upper lip, but because the claim will be inaccurate.

So why does this matter? First, because it is simply bad form. Second, the lack of reporting on global sports is simply another example of the larger problem of the American media not reporting on political, cultural, social, and other important global issues. The sharp contrast in what TIME and NEWSWEEK cover week to week in the rest of the world and in the U.S. is as stunning as it is old news. For those of you who may be in the dark, please go to http://thesocietypages.org/socimages/2011/12/02/american-vs-international-news-time-and-newsweek/

Earlier today I wen to the websites of CNN, ABC News, and ESPN to see whether any of them had a link to Tendulkar’s feat. This piece would not have been written if they did. I then went to the BBC site and what I saw was

I then went and did a Google search on Greatest Sports Achievements and one of the first non-American sites I came upon was the London Evening Standard (http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/news/standard-pictures/great-sporting-achievements-7360914.html?action=gallery&ino=1), which listed in its top 12, the achievements of Babe Ruth, Wilt Chamberlain, Don Larsen, and Michael Jordan. It is worth noting that the NFL, NBA, and MLB are followed by non-negligible number of people in the rest of the world, and the results of the Super Bowl of the World Series are reported by the media in countries where American football and baseball are not played.

When the rest of the world looks at American sporting achievement it is not a sign of America’s strength – it is a sign of the the rest of the world’s openness. Whenever American defines its parochial sporting events as world championships, and ignores glorious achievements in the rest of the world, it is simply a bad amalgamation of arrogance and ignorance. Given that the world is shrinking, how well the U.S. integrates may determine its economic and geo-political success.  America will do well to start opening up and acknowledging the success and achievements of others. Tipping ones hat to Sachin is a good start.

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