August 14, 2014 3:03 PM EDT

The gazillion dollars spent on David Beckham notwithstanding, the idea of sports making Americans aware of the larger world is something of a contradiction in terms. We are the country that plays football with our hands and has a two-nation sports league that holds a “World Series.” But for decades Roone Arledge’s ambitious anthology assembled games from hurling to jai alai, gave weekend couch potatoes a global perspective long before ESPN, and set the standard for nonfiction TV production. WWS showed American fans that there was more to “the constant variety of sport” than the NBA, NFL and MLB—even if that poor “agony of defeat” ski jumper had to sacrifice himself to get their attention.

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