Before you read the text, do the quiz and check your knowledge of American sport.
The Winner Takes it All
The traditional American values such as individual freedom, progress and free enterprise are all based on the principle of competition. Americans are born and raised with the competitive spirit as the prime driving force of nearly all human activity. They believe that competition will eventually bring out the best; whether it is between companies competing for markets, students competing for the best jobs, schools competing for the best results or professional sport teams competing for success and glory. And when the score is set and the points are summed up, there will be only one winner who can take it home, while the defeated opponents are determined to do better in the next round.
In the USA, European football is called soccer; American football is something completely different. A football game may look like a variety of British rugby, but the players will wear protection like helmets, face masks, and protective pads all over. The ball is oval and hard to kick precisely, but easy to catch and throw. There are eleven players on each team, and to an outsider the game may look quite chaotic as the players clash and end in a heap of bodies struggling to get hold of the ball. American football is about gaining territory and scoring points; it is about defending the field behind you and invading the field in front. Points are scored by bringing the ball across the opponent’s goal line (touch-down, 6 points) and kicking the ball between the opposing team’s goal posts (field goal, 3 points). There are also other ways of scoring 1 and 2 points.
The Superbowl, the final match of the National Football League, is the ultimate American sports event where superstars line up to perform in the break. Many of the audience come only for the intermission entertainment.
This particular sport has long traditions in the USA and is recognized as the national sport. Famous baseball icons such as Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio were national heroes whose status overshadowed both rock stars and Hollywood celebrities. Baseball is a bat and ball game between two teams of nine players. The teams take turns at being the fielding team and the batting team; the field is diamond-shaped with a base in each corner. The aim is for the batting team to score runs as the ball is thrown by the pitcher of the fielding team. One turn at bat constitutes an inning, and the team with most home runs after nine innings is the winner. Famous baseball teams are the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles; there is even a Baseball Hall of Fame where successful Major League players are honoured.
Sport on the Timetable
Other sports where US teams and athletes excel are ice hockey, basketball, swimming and golf. Soccer both for men and women is today the fastest spreading sport in the USA.
Sport is big in the USA – and one of the most obvious reasons is the position it has in the American school system. After-school activities are often more important than the curricular studies, and most high schools and colleges offer a wide range of sport activities for the students. In the USA, it is more usual to compete for your school than for a local team, and it is status to be selected for the school team. When the cheerleaders line up and the school teams confront each other there is a lot of prestige and honour at stake. Many colleges offer scholarships to promising sports talents, who later pursue a career as professional athletes. This is probably the most important reason why Americans rule in international sport.
Tasks and Activities
1 Topics for Discussion
- How will competition supposedly bring about good performance and quality?
- Discuss possible negative effects of competition as a motivating factor.
- Which positive effects can you see of the American system of after-school activities?
Explain the following expressions in English:
- to be at stake
- home turf
- to be invincible
- to take it home
- driving force
- an icon
- to overshadow
- curricular studies
- to pursue a career
1 to be at risk or in jeopardy
2 home ground
3 unable to beat
4 to win the trophy
5 a kick off, motivator
6 the break between the two halves of a game
7 a symbol indicating something bigger than itself
8 to dominate, be bigger than
9 characteristics or bench-mark
10 regular school work
11 girls who lead the crowd to cheer for their own team
12 to follow a professional vocation or education
The following sentences are in the active voice, turn them into the passive voice. (Example: The Yankees won the game / The game was won by the Yankees)
- The press usually covers a ball-game.
- The pitcher hit the ball.
- Millions of viewers follow the Superbowl on TV.
- American athletes top the medal ranking.
- Big clubs buy and sell players.
- The winning team bring home the cup.
- Two players broke the rules and the referee suspended them.
- More than eighty thousand spectators were watching the game live.
1 A ball game is usually covered by the press.
2 The ball was hit by the pitcher.
3 The Superbowl is followed on TV by millions of viewers.
4 The medal ranking is topped by American athletes.
5 Players are bought and sold by big clubs.
6 The cup is brought home by the winning team.
7 The rules were broken by two players and they were suspended by the referee.
8 The game was being watched live by more than eighty thousand spectators.