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The SportsThink Monthly Review #2
December 17, 2021
The SportsThink Monthly Review highlights my favorite sport-related content of the previous month. Between Monthly Reviews, subscribers receive the Weekly Read, featuring a sports article that I think is worth everyone’s time. Most articles and content are recently published, but some are not; the only rule is that I’ve read them within the past week (or the past month, in the case of the Monthly Review). Some are relevant to my day job as a professor teaching courses on the business, history, and philosophy of sports. Others are just plain interesting, relevant to my life-long obsession with the games we play. The newsletter is free, but comes with two requests. 1. I’m always open to suggestions, so send me the good stuff that you read! 2. If you enjoy the newsletter, please share it with other folks who might enjoy it as well. Finally, I try to focus on non-paywalled writing, but if you find yourself unable to access anything, just hit reply to the email and I’ll do my best to get you a copy. Thanks for reading!
Closing out 2021
Season’s greetings from Austin! Calendar jokes have already been exhausted in the pandemic era, but here we are: a “monthly” review coming out mid-month, after missing a month, etc. I was tempted to title this issue the “yearly review,” but I’ve tinkered with titles enough this year as it is, so I’ll leave well-enough alone.
I’m sure you’ll encounter your fair share of “the year in sports” type pieces, so before I get to the recommended reading, I’ll limit myself to a brief review of some predictions I made ~50 years ago, when the pandemic began. On May 14th of last year, I wrote this piece, on the “Pandemic as Accelerant.” Borrowing a term from Scott Galloway, I suggested that the COVID era would accelerate existing trends in five domains of the sports world. Let’s take a look at the scoreboard:
Broadcasting, streaming, etc. Ok, this one doesn’t exactly make me Nostradamus. The streaming/multi-screen/etc. revolution was well underway when the pandemic hit and the past two years have only amplified things. I just read this morning that ESPN will stream upwards of 22,000 live events next year (and they did 2,000 last month alone). In my original piece, I failed to acknowledge the potential of narrative content as a driver of fandom/consumption, which is now obviously a big piece of the sports media puzzle: the Netflix F1 show (amazing, by the way), is estimated to have more than doubled the US audience for the sport (this number includes my wife, who now screams at the TV on Sunday mornings).
Gambling. Again, not exactly Miss Cleo or the Latoya Jackson psychic hotline material here, but the rate of growth has been rapid and staggering and shows no signs of slowing down. More states legalized (come on, Texas, I’ve got money to burn!), more bettors than ever, more more more.
The NCAA. Ok, when you’re good, you’re good, but this all happened faster than even I expected. Conference realignments, insane salaries for football coaches, a new NCAA constitution, a bright spotlight on inequities surrounding female athletes, and of course, my beloved NIL. The players are starting to get their share and the ol’ ball coaches have suddenly become ethicists. Join me in raising a glass of eggnog to Reilyn Turner, the UCLA soccer star who just became Nike’s first NIL athlete. (remember when we were supposed to oppose NIL because the women wouldn’t make any money?). And congrats to Jackson State on signing the nation’s top football recruit. (remember when we were supposed to oppose NIL because the bluebloods would monopolize all of the talent?)
Youth sports. Bummed to have been correct. Even after taking the expected (and necessary) pandemic breaks into account, participation rates continue to decline, disproportionately so for underserved populations. Costs continue to rise. Shortages of coaches and refs, and so on. Let’s try to fix this one.
Politics and polarization. It’s the holidays, so let’s just leave it at: yes.
Not sure if this earns me an invite on your next trip to Vegas, but I think I did alright? I’ll also go out on a stable limb and suggest that we’ll continue to see rapid developments in these areas in 2022. I’ll cook up some bold predictions for next year and share them in January, but send me yours as well! Just hit reply to this email or send them to email@example.com
Before I get to the content, I’d like to thank all of you for reading: the longtime subscribers, the new subscribers, the non-subscribers (y’all, click that button!), friends, family, colleagues, students, and anyone else I’m forgetting. I appreciate you.
A Stuffed Stocking To Get You Through The Season
A gift under the tree is nice, but there’s nothing quite like digging through a stocking, clawing to the very bottom for that last little surprise. I made an attempt at organizing my favorite recent reads (and other treats) into some categories, but quite frankly, it got exhausting real quick. So consider this your oversized, literary holiday hosiery, with an assortment of reads both serious and fun, perfect to dig into while waiting for a flight, hiding from your family in the guest bathroom, or blissfully ignoring the emails that someone from HR had the gall to send out on December 24th. Hope you enjoy.
I have a lot of fun discussing youth participation trophies with my sport ethics classes. A topic divisive enough to make for good debate, but not that serious at the end of the day. I’ve long considered writing something up on the topic, but I’ve been relieved of that duty by the great Colleen English, who wrote this lovely take a couple years ago. It’s academic, but not too academic, and really well done. I believe credit goes to Tom Oates for sharing this with me recently.
Twelve Minutes and a Life, by Mitchell S. Jackson. On Ahmaud Arbery. This was published last year and won a Pulitzer and National Magazine Award this year. I was so bummed out by the Arbery story that I was only able to bring myself to read it recently. When you’re in the right mood, you must read this one.
All Of the Other Reindeer, by Scott Hines, via his Action Cookbook newsletter. I’ve sung Hines’ praises before, as he is a prolific newsletteristo on a range of topics (sports included). An incredibly executed Christmas story.
Sports Stories by Eric Nusbaum and Adam Villacin. Another newsletter I’ve shared countless times. If you haven’t subscribed yet, do so now. If you have some arbitrary limit on the number of free sports emails that you sign up for, unsubscribe from my list and join theirs.
In the midst of the “great resignation,” headlines on Starbucks’ union busting, etc., this piece on the MLB lockout by UT History PhD candidate Gwen Lockman is as timely as it is well done. Really good read.
Some of you are probably tiring of my obsession with NCAA name-image-likeness, but if you can’t get enough, this resource from Global Sport Matters is excellent and has plenty to read.
If you—like me—enjoy piling up books that you will someday—hopefully—get to, here’s a wonderfully exhaustive list of sports books to look out for next year.
One of my 2022 sports predictions will inevitably touch on NFTs (and maybe we’ll finally figure out what they actually are). Here’s a brief look ahead from Deloitte.
In high school, most of my soccer teammates were not fans of the game. That is to say, they liked playing soccer, but would be hard pressed to name a team that wasn’t the LA Galaxy or Manchester United. The couple of us who were devotees could catch games on a bootleg Arabic satellite feed at the El Gaucho Argentine grocery. (I also had a VHS tape that had like 70 minutes of an Ajax-Barcelona Champions’ League match that I watched with some regularity.) Today, anyone with a basic cable package can watch dozens of games from the world’s top leagues every week. I still have a moment of shock when my channel guide pops up with something like Galatasaray vs. Gaziantep. So, it shouldn’t be a surprise that I really enjoyed this piece on the ebbs and flows of the American relationship with soccer.
RIP Virgil Abloh, a rare visionary worthy of the title. Here’s a cool little piece on his involvement in founding a Ghanian skatepark and a really nice take on his legacy from the always solid Sam Reiss.
RIP Dave Draper, the Blonde Bomber, whose “Brother Iron, Sister Steel” remains my favorite book on life and lifting. While overshadowed by fellow greats like Arnold, Franco Columbo, and Serge Oliva, Draper was a legend of the golden era of bodybuilding and a lifelong evangelist of the benefits of heavy lifting, clean eating, and good energy. He had a knack for writing; no one ever made a set of leg lifts sound like such a romantic and noble endeavor. An early mover on the fitness internet, his newsletters and forums nurtured legions of lifters long after his competitive prime. As tribute, I might start the new year with a round of his tuna and water diet, which is as awful and effective as it sounds.
A couple book recommendations: Kyle Beachy’s The Most Fun Thing was far and away my favorite sports book to come out this year. It’s about skateboarding, so maybe not for everyone, but wonderfully written. I also really enjoyed Jeff Pearlman’s Showtime, on the glory days of the 1980s Lakers, which I somehow took years to get around to, despite my obsession with those teams. Read it now before watching the upcoming HBO series based on the book (which looks excellent). Find them at your local bookstore, but I’m sure Papa Bezos can get them to your doorstep tomorrow if need be.
For the sport business folks and sport management students, here’s a solid piece on the somewhat mythical economics of franchise valuations. And another on the dubious (and potentially criminal) valuations of soccer players.
If you’ve heard of Alpine, Texas, it’s likely because you drove by on your way to wear a funky hat you just bought and glamp in Marfa (no judgment, I’ve done it too—minus the hat). But Alpine is also home to Sul Ross State University, a tiny college known for a solid rodeo team and highly regarded academic programs in equine kinesiology and meat sciences. Oh, and they somehow won the first two national championships in women’s volleyball. Very cool story, but I must add the corrective that the second title was won under the leadership of Athletic Director Paul “Red” Pierce, who stepped in as coach mid-season. Dr. Pierce was an all around badass, who also won an NAIA football national championship at Sam Houston State.
The SportsThink blog took a backseat to other projects this year, but I’m still pretty proud of this piece, on the weirdness of sports, which I think provides an essential perspective for young folks looking to enter the sports industry.
Speaking of the blog, I was honored to share Scott Jedlicka’s “We Can Dance If We Want To”, which offers a perspective on sport in the modern moment that should be anthologized for years to come.
Alright. I think that’s enough to read for now. If you need more, there are always the newsletter archives. I’ll once again recommend issue #4, which probably has enough absolute classics to keep you busy for an entire year.
And here it is, the treasure in the tippy-toe of our Costco-sized stocking: Bowie. Bing. Merry Christmas.
See you next year!!