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Persian? Arabian? Let's call the whole thing off

As a sports fan, one of the things that has always appealed to me the most about the games we play is the unifying nature of team sports. Seeing athletes of different nationalities and fans from all walks of life coming together as one to achieve a common goal is the sort of thing that warms the cockles of my heart.

There’s nothing better, in my opinion, than watching a Japanese pitcher make a Puerto Rican batter hit a grounder to a Venezuelan third baseman, who then steps on the bag and fires the ball to a Dominican second baseman, who avoids a sliding African-American runner while throwing on to an Italian-American first baseman to complete a triple play against the Red Sox and tick off 40,000 drunk Irish-American fans at Fenway Park. That’s multi-culturalism at its finest, right there.

Sadly, though, two recent news stories have shaken my faith in sports just a little bit, for it seems there are some gulfs so wide that not even athletic events can bridge them.

The first story involves an actual gulf, in this case the Persian Gulf or, as much of the Arab world calls it, the Arabian Gulf. You see, that notable body of water doesn’t just separate countries in the Middle East physically, it separates Muslims ideologically by its very name alone.

It was announced Monday that the Islamic Solidarity Games, which were to have been held in Iran in April, were called off because of a dispute over the accepted name of the Gulf. Yes, you read that right: The Islamic Solidarity Games were canceled because Iran calls it the Persian Gulf and Arab nations call it the Arabian Gulf. That, to me, is an ominous portent, because if Shiites and Sunnis suddenly can’t agree on something, what hope is there for the rest of us?

It seems the Iranian organizers of the games included the disputed Persian name on logos and medals without getting approval from the Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, which is based in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. This problem first came to light in the fall, causing the games to be postponed in October while both sides worked out a deal. When no compromise could be reached, however, the event, which is meant to strengthen ties among Islamic countries, was scrapped. Solidarity indeed.

If I could play referee in this particular misunderstanding, though, I think I’d have to side with Iran. After all, there is already a very large body of water adjacent to the Gulf called the Arabian Sea. It’s not very sportsmanlike of Arabia to try to hoard all the salt water around it. So, as much as I like seeing the Iranians get jilted, I have to agree with them on this one.

The second story making news this week came courtesy of the Augusta (Ga.) Chronicle, which reported on a start-up professional basketball league that is seeking to locate one of its franchises in Augusta. The Atlanta-based league, dubbed the All-American Basketball Alliance, hopes to start its inaugural season in June with 12 teams located throughout the Southeast.

What will make the AABA different from other basketball leagues is the fact that, according to a recent press release, “Only players that are natural born United States citizens with both parents of Caucasian race are eligible to play in the league.”

Yes, you read that right, too: the AABA will be an all-white basketball league, because that’s what the public has been clamoring for, apparently.

AABA commissioner Don “Moose” Lewis swore that racism has nothing to do with the reasoning behind the league’s roster restrictions. “There’s nothing hatred about what we’re doing,” he said. “Here’s a league for white players to play fundamental basketball, which they like.”

I’m guessing Moose hasn’t watched any WNBA games, which are full of fundamental basketball that no one seems to like, based on its pitiful TV ratings and huge financial losses. And I think he’s wrong about white players liking fundamental basketball. I imagine if they could dunk, white players would probably like that a whole lot more.

But to play referee once again, as misguided and racist as he might be, I think Moose should be allowed to form his all-white league, provided he can find 12 cities willing to accept a franchise. Because when no one shows up to watch his Caucasian shooting guards make layups and bounce passes, maybe he’ll finally understand what a stupid idea his league really is.

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Todd Hartley

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01 2010

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