After the flood the descendants of Noah did travel west across
the Tigris to the plain of Shinar, where they conspired to build
a tower to Heaven. And its name was called Babel, because there
the Lord was angered and did confound all the tongues of the
Earth and made each man a stranger unto his brother and assigned
unto each a different language, and a different nationality, and
a consumptive cough, and a temperamental laptop, and an Olympic
press pass and a golf shirt of many colors. And it was
And the descendants of these men and women did reconvene last
week in modern Babel, whose name is the International Press
Center in Sydney, where 3,900 sportswriters from some 170 nations
do hang about all day in smoke-filled wooden cubicles, like cured
hams, and watch the Games on TV. And they swear in Bulgarian.
And these wooden press cubicles, which do resemble the shower
stalls in M*A*S*H, were erected in a Sydney livestock pavilion,
which makes sense because the great woolly beasts of
sportswriting also travel in herds, produce dangerous levels of
methane and can sleep standing up. All while waiting for a bus.
And those Olympic bus drivers did receive an extra four dollars
an hour in pay when their routes required them to stop at the
Press Center, for the scribes are a profane lot, coarse in
manner. And woe unto ye who ask them to pay for anything.
And the scribes returned at night to their rooms in the Media
Village, which was previously a lunatic asylum. And they dined,
in their cells, on emu jerky, available for sale in the Press
Center commissary. And the Lord is not making this up.
September 24, 2000
And these sportswriters were sent to Sydney from the world's
great publications--from Aftenposten and Asahi Shimbun, from Blick
and from Bild--to gather the wisdom of the Earth's Olympians, so
that citizens of sundry nations might better understand one
another, as when a writer from a land beyond the seas said during
a Dream Team basketball press conference in 1996, "Question for
Meester Malone--why is basket worth two points instead of one?"
And the Mailman said unto the scribe, "That's just the way we do
it here, my man." And thus did two nations bridge a chasm.
And yet these scribes from scattered lands would not worship the
false god of objectivity last week, but would sing and shake
their fists and dance a wedding chicken dance whenever their
nation's athletes pleased them and spit ancient curses when they
did not. Or perhaps they were just ordering takeout. It was
difficult to tell, as everything--even lullabies--sound angry in
And the scribes all smoked discount cigarettes and presumed to be
experts on Rhythmic Gymnastics, when just a week earlier each of
them was second-guessing a coach in Green Bay or a cricketer in
Bombay or a jockey in Taipei.
And so the Seven television network in Australia summoned an
oracle to its studio and asked him how these motley journalists
might portray Sydney to their scores of millions of readers
scattered to the four winds. And the wise man did not hesitate.
"They have a tendency of hopping on little negative things,"
warned Greg Norman, "instead of talking about how great things
really are." And the man called the Shark knew scribes. And still
he was wrong.
Because last Thursday night, we scribes--for the author of this
epistle is himself a descendant of Babel--stopped torching our
cigarettes, our subjects and our colleagues long enough to watch
what half the Earth's citizens would also see on TV: an
Aboriginal woman named Freeman ascend a stadium staircase and
light the Olympic torch.
And our human skin was turned to gooseflesh.
And some scribes were moved to tears as the cauldron rose, of its
own accord, into the sky. And we dragged on our off-brand
cigarettes. And we blew Olympic smoke rings. And we watched
Freeman stand stock-still atop the stairway, which didn't quite
reach Heaven. But it came close enough.