SBJ/February 15 - 21, 1999/No Topic Name

MJ the most popular athlete of all time?

I am taken aback by the ignorance of the sport media in the United States. It seems that yet again they are either indifferent or just plain egocentric, and fail to recognize there are other sports and athletes besides Michael Jordan.

Jordan well deserves all the accolades he is getting, but to call him "the most popular athlete of all time" and "the most important sports figure of this century" may be a little too much.

While foreign media do cover American sports and popularize their outstanding accomplishments, the U.S. media remain unconscious of other sports with rich histories that are immensely popular in large parts of the world. Soccer, rugby and cycling come to mind. Our media's attention to track and field and bicycle racing is totally restricted to big-event coverage. We get plenty during the Olympics or when an American wins the Tour de France, then they completely disappear from our sport news.

While judging the popularity or influence of soccer in the United States is almost impossible, worldwide statistics prove that soccer stars are watched by more people more often than any other athletes are.

I am astounded that in this age of global communication we have such little regard for what the rest of the world considers important. The world's media named Pele the athlete of the century long before Michael Jordan ever set foot on a basketball court.

Yes, Jordan is a world figure and an awesome athlete who has elevated basketball to new heights. However, Jordan's presence did not cause the parties in a war to call a cease-fire just so they could watch him play, as Pele did in Nigeria during the Biafran civil war.

U.S. journalists demonstrate just how out of touch they are with the nonstop references to the fact that Jordan is recognized throughout the world. That, to soccer players, is almost as old as history itself.

Enjoy your retirement, Michael, and thanks for the memories.

Jaime Orejan

Center Valley, Pa.

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