Americans Abroad Bond over Sporting Events

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This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.

It happens that Americans working or studying abroad for an extended period of time sometimes turn to a major sporting event back home for a rekindling of the familiar. As much as one may appreciate a foreign culture, immersion in a strange land inevitably brings with it longing for a few of the comforting sights, smells, sounds from back home.

I was in the Caribbean over the denouement of the Final Four, on St. Maarten, and just a short walk from our apartment was a little grass shack of an outdoor restaurant, BB's, where the typical island scene was easy chatting among the locals, a constant flow of happy music wafting out across the neighborhood, several delectable choices of fresh fish from the local waters….and a small black and white television with iffy reception perched above the bar. Every time we passed by BB's, some soccer game from any number of countries was playing out on that snowy screen, the announcer's voice not quite audible over the Caribe melodies.

Well, BB's is just around the corner from the island's medical school, where many foreigners are pursuing their degrees, quite a few of them American. BB's is their only restaurant close by and many of them take their meal breaks there or hang out for a late-night beer or two after rigorous study hours. Coming across several of them over our stay, we learned that their choice of pursuing a medical career in the islands wasn't what we assumed, a desire to soak up the year-round sun and dive into the dazzling azure ocean. As is the life of med students everywhere, they are pressed and have very little free time all year long to really relax into the local atmosphere. BB's is a small slice of relief for them.

So is the occasional American big sporting event when these young people can close their books and set themselves free in a recognizable cultural moment they grew up with. Oh, the ardent sports fans among them can follow scores and highlights via internet, but those few big games, the Super Bowl, the World Series, are a chance for emotional bonding over fond memories of home. So we were there Monday when the men's NCAA final played out. The usual soccer channel was graciously switched by BB to the Duke/Butler nailbiter and, even though that game was touted one of the greatest basketball games of all time, watched by millions here in the States, I'm not sure anybody thrilled to it as much as those tired, homesick med students in St. Maarten.

And, by the way, on the heels of not only a perfect scenario of a final game, March Madness gave us a full month of compelling stories, Davids slaying Goliaths, bluebloods finding their heart. Yet now the NCAA is leaning toward expanding the tournament from 65 to 96 teams, thus meaning the stretch of time will extend beyond our attention span, many teams that don't belong will suit up, and student athletes already out of the classroom too much will be away even longer. March Madness is a precious gem. The greed of pushing it to an unnatural, unwarranted 96 teams, will tarnish it.

And now on to Tiger Woods. Can you believe the most famous athlete in the world, who embroiled himself in a tawdry sex scandal and left the game for almost six months, who made his comeback today at the most famous golf event in the world….and we could not watch his first eight or nine holes on live television? At any given moment, we can find some cable channel to bring us table tennis from Beijing, logrolling from Wisconsin, or Rugby Union League from New Zealand, but we can't watch Tiger Woods live in his historic return to golf? The Master's tournament controls its telecast and this was their power play. They must not be thinking about us fans far away from the zillion-dollar clubhouse in Augusta.

This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that's The Score.

Banner image: BB's Corner Grill



Diana Nyad