World view


Dhani Jones

Dhani Jones, the one Bengal who has played soccer at the site of the World Cup, says he'll check in occasionally on this month's pageant in South Africa.

But truth be told, soccer is his third most favorite sport behind football (American football, of course) and cricket. And he believes the best episode of this season's *Dhani Tackles The Globe *on the Travel Channel this coming Monday at 11 p.m. involves none of the three.

The segment from Mexico City highlights Lucha Libre wrestling as well as some scenes in the bullfighting ring.

"Other than that," he says, "you just have to watch because there's a little bit of everything. I can say it's the best one we did."

The Bengals' last voluntary workout on the field this spring is Thursday and the exercise of the past month shows why Jones' chosen profession stills leads his list at age 33 and in his 11th season. It combines brains and brawn and with the Bengals mixing things up at linebacker the versatile Jones has been getting a workout.

Before Rey Maualuga underwent surgery last week to clean out his lower leg before training camp, Jones saw some time in the middle even though he has started the Bengals' last 33 games at middle linebacker. But Jones has played both outside spots in his 141 games and it will be recalled that he started the last eight games of 2007 at WILL.

Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is spending the spring trying to get a feel for different guys in different packages and a big reason he can do it is because of Jones' savvy and experience all over the field.

"They're just rotating us," Jones said. "That's what we're trying to build at the linebacker position. Understanding that everybody has capabilities at being on the field at the same time whichever way they want to organize it or mix and match. Whatever Zim wants to do."

But as the most renowned world traveler in his sport, Jones better than most anyone else knows the impact of what is unfolding on and off the field in South Africa. Soccer is the one sport he has seen everywhere he's been. From Mexico City to just short of Mount Everest in Nepal.

"Soccer is a game you can play as long as you have a ball and some space," Jones says. "You don't need equipment. All you need is to be fleet of foot. In any culture, in any background with any amount of money, you can play a simple game. Any time you're able to bridge different cultures, different people, and different socioeconomic backgrounds into one sport, it's going to develop into the most watched sport."

As a black American, Jones also has a unique view of the South African venue that abolished Apartheid in 1994. He couldn't help but feel the racial tension as a member of an under 19 Dutch feeder team playing in Cape Town in an episode that aired this past Monday.

"There is black, colored, and white in South Africa," Jones says. "I wouldn't say there is a division because I believe they're becoming better. What (Nelson) Mandela was able to accomplish in unifying a country that was segregated for so long was an amazing feat. That doesn't mean there still isn't a disconnect. It takes a long time to establish it. You can still kind of feel it."

Jones says he's categorized as black there. Light-skinned people are "colored." White is white. He ran into all kinds of feelings on the issue but believes the decision to bring the World Cup is going to be another major breakthrough for South Africa.

"It's the same principle. If you're lighter and whiter, you have more money and are better. If you're darker and blacker you have less money and you're worse," Jones says. "There were different times, different places. It would depend if there was a camera with me. It depends if there's not a camera with me. Who I'm surrounded with. Who I'm working with. Who am I talking to. Then I open my mouth and I'm American. Then it becomes a different conversation.

"But because the World Cup is coming, because Mandela has done a phenomenal job, my point is the World Cup is saying to a greater extent, 'We're opening arms. We want to dislodge the notion we are the same people we were before. We want to create a new presence. We understand we've been through some things. But we've come a long way and now we're welcoming everybody to come to our country.' "

Jones believes that everyone is subject to prejudice. "Whites, blacks, Chinese," he says. He says there are more pockets of ignorance in South Africa than America in pointing to the timeline of the breakdown in segregation in each country. The Civil Rights bill in the United States came 30 years before Apartheid was banished.

"It's a very young process and it takes time for people to understand it when you're used to a certain way of life," Jones says. "Some would say it's wrong, some would say it is upbringing. There's a lot of ways to look at it. There's no perfect way to understand it, but the mentality as a whole is beginning to change and I think that's what this World Cup represents. It represents such a large amount of change and introspection from the South African standpoint that 'we want to become better people.' "

Magnify that by the biggest sports stage in the world.

"The World Cup is bigger than the Super Bowl," Jones says. "Especially this year. Huge. All the nations that are represented. Everybody has a say."

Including the NFL's most traveled player.

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