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The SportsThink Weekly Review #50
June 4, 2021
Hello and welcome to the fiftieth edition of the Weekly Review! The best to wear 50? It’s gotta be David Robinson, right? Honorable mention goes to Mike Singletary, who was quite the gentleman when I interrupted his game of shuffleboard on Disney’s Big Red Boat cruise in 1993.
50 issues of the newsletter also feels like a milestone worth celebrating! What began as a way to occupy myself early in the pandemic has become something I quite look forward to every week. I’d like to thank you all for subscribing, reading, and sharing your feedback; I hope you’ll stick with me for the next 50 and beyond. In honor of hitting 50 (ok, not really), I’ll be taking the next month to travel with my family. I may or may not fire off some random salvos from the road, but I am very much looking forward to the downtime and will be back regularly in your inboxes in mid-July. Thanks again for the support, and please, keep sharing with folks and sending me your thoughts!
On to the content!
Inside the Lines: My Favorite Sports Reads of The Week
Naomi Osaka and the Changing Power Dynamics in Sports, by Kurt Streeter, via the NYT. So this story has really blown up since I shared Howard Bryant’s tweet thread last week. There’s been a lot of good journalism on the subject, but I like this piece by Streeter. (This one is pretty good too.)
Osaka’s situation gives us much to think about. Streeter is right: the power of social media and personal branding has rewritten much of the traditional playbook when it comes to the role of the media in sport. There is, of course, no modern sports-world without sports journalism, but the star-making power of traditional media has waned a bit, and I think this is OK. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Mainstream media remains the gatekeeper in the perverse sports landscape, where journalism and broadcasting often come from the same source. For all but the biggest stars, to run afoul of mainstream sports media is to jeopardize your livelihood, to not extract the most value from a short career in the limelight.
There is also—and more importantly—the mental health aspect. We’ve come a long way in addressing mental health in sports in recent years and this is very much a good thing. But there is still a long way to go. Athletes on campus confide in me that they won’t seek counseling for fear their coaches or teammates will find out; there remains a general stigma that to acknowledge mental or emotional struggles is to admit weakness, to not live up to the athlete-as-warrior ethos. I think that the stigma is even worse for female athletes, who continue to feel the pressure to legitimize their very existence in sport in decidedly masculine terms; for a woman in sport to admit she needs help can feel like a concession that females just aren’t tough enough for the rigors of competition.
Finally, there is ultimately the question of the social contract elite athletes enter with the public (and by proxy, the media). What do athletes truly owe us, if anything at all? Is it the performance and all the hard work that goes into it? Is there a requisite sacrifice of private space and personal sanctity in being paid big money to play games? Does being good at a sport mean that you have to be a role model and live under a microscope? It seems that on some level, those who answer yes to the latter questions are operating from the realm of jealousy, foisting extraneous burdens on the precious few who possess the blend of genetics, hard work, and sacrifice to be truly great at something we all wish we could for a living. Or, in the words of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra: But most of all they hate those who fly. I’m not sure athletes owe us much beyond showing up, playing fair, and trying to win. If they want to play a bigger role in public life, that’s their right, but certainly not an obligation. I could obviously go on, but I’ll leave it there for now. Fly, Naomi, fly. Whenever you’re ready.
Michelle Wie West Was Ready to Retire. And Then She Got Mad. By Karen Crouse, via the NYT. Somewhat of a companion piece to the Osaka story, nice profile on the comeback attempt of the golfing great. And, not that we needed it, a reminder that Rudy Giuliani is really the worst.
N’Golo Kanté, Chelsea and Beating the System, by Rory Smith, via the NYT. Ok, really heavy on the Times this week, so send me a note if you use up your articles and need me to send you copy. As for this one: really solid analysis by Smith on the recent Champion’s League final. A smart critique of Pep Guardiola, but more importantly a celebration of Kanté, who is good to the point of ridiculousness. After the winning performance, I think Kanté is the best midfielder since Zinedine Zidane. There, I said it.
Sonic Thunder vs. Brian the Snail: Are People Affected by Uninformative Racehorse Names? by Oliver Metz, et. al., via the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics. Who says academic articles aren’t fun? In short: people tend to prefer horses with “fast-sounding” names, losing plenty of money in the process.
Kevin Durant and (Possibly) the Greatest Basketball Team of All Time, by Sam Anderson, via the NYT Magazine. More Times, couldn’t help it. The headline is wrong: the 86-87 (or maybe 2000-01) Lakers are the best team ever, but that shouldn’t stop you from reading this profile, which is really, really well done. A good companion to the playoffs.
Keeping Up With The Sports Page
What To Read While Your Intrepid Newsletteristo Works On His Tan
Regular readers know that I am big fan of Eric Nusbaum and Adam Villacin’s Sports Stories newsletter. It’s very good and you should subscribe and dig through the archive. You should also support them and pick up their first print offering, the Father’s Day Zine. Also great is Scott Hines’ Action Cookbook Newsletter, which covers sports, parenthood, and food, amongst other things. I’m not sure if I’m more jealous of the quality of Hines’ writing, or his prolific output. A bit of both, I guess. You can read and subscribe here; the free issues are plenty to keep you busy, but consider supporting and paying to get the excellent Friday editions, if only for the cocktail recipes and photos of readers’ pets.
As always, thank you for reading. Don’t hesitate to reach out if you’re having trouble accessing any articles, happy to send them directly your way. And, if you’re enjoying the newsletter, please consider sharing it with someone else who might like it.
See you next week,