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The SportsThink Weekly Review #70
September 30, 2022
Welcome new readers! The SportsThink Weekly Review highlights my favorite sport-related reading of the week. Most articles are recently published, but some are not; the only rule is that I’ve read them within the past week. 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. I also occasionally share articles and assorted musings on Twitter. 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!
Greetings everyone, hope your week is wrapping up nicely. Another busy week at SportsThink HQ, but I was able to squeeze in a really cool visit to the Austin FC training facilities and spend some time learning about their youth development academy (thanks to friend, colleague, and occasional SportsThinker Matt Bowers for putting together the trip for our students). It was pretty far out. I’m not that old, but it’s amazing how far elite youth sports have come in my lifetime. Sharing a facility with the professional squad, Austin FC’s youth setup is certainly on the extreme end of things, but it was fascinating throughout. Perhaps most importantly, all of the young athletes seemed happy and healthy; there was tremendous energy and good vibes across the board.
It’s one thing to know how cutting edge and quasi-professional elite youth sports have become, it’s another thing to see all of the technology and resources up close. If you’ve been with me for a while, you know I have plenty of misgivings about the state of youth sports: high costs and demands of time and energy, with decidedly mixed outcomes. But after I got over my self-pity (IN MY DAY, WE DIDN’T HAVE ANY OF THIS STUFF), it was painfully easy to see the allure of such a place and the opportunities it provides. What parent wouldn’t want their talented kid playing with the best, learning from the best, in a world class facility, despite the nearly impossible odds against big time success? I get it. For a few minutes, I envisioned the drills I’d be setting up for my son in our yard the next day. But by the time I came home and saw him sleeping with his mouth agape, I had come back down to earth.
Three weeks ago, we had a mini-Olympics in our yard. Every night for a week, there was strong demand for t-ball, soccer, basketball, and of course, ‘who can throw the ball higher than tree?' Then it stopped as quickly as it began; we’re back to Lego and garbage trucks. And that’s totally fine. Good, even. I applaud Austin FC and their peers who are doing top-level youth development the right way: holistically and with the child at the center. And that’s the lesson for the vast majority of us and our (occasionally) sporting kids. In the event that talent, genetics, interest, luck, and timing come together in just the right way, we can hopefully find a world-class outlet (it’ll probably find us). But if we think that we can make these things happen from sheer force of will or private coaches or whatever genius plan we concoct? Pain and suffering await. And I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Some good reads came through the pipeline this week. I’m unintentionally heavy on pieces from Defector.com, where I believe you get four free per month if you don’t subscribe. I’ll give you a nudge toward subscribing though. This is the site run by most of the talent that made Deadspin great, founded upon their departure following an extremely stereotypical corporate takeover. Effectively employee owned and operated, it’s an outlet worth supporting. I’ll admit, there’s something about the tone of some of the writers that doesn’t always jive with me and there are stretches where I don’t find a ton of value beyond conceptual support for the site. But then there are spells where they put out so much good stuff. Endorse.
Scandals, Scandals, Everywhere
We still don’t know the full story behind Celtics head coach Ime Udoka’s yearlong suspension. Infidelity is involved, but there seems to be a lot more than that. What we do know is that the sports media has made a great mess of it. Big surprise. Sports “journalists,” at least those on the scoop beat, are generally sensationalist sycophants with far greater reach than they should have. The Udoka story—as with Favre below—is a reminder that scandals are second-order phenomena. There is first a moral wrongdoing, then that wrongdoing becomes a scandal, through what sociologist Ari Adut calls the “disruptive publicity of transgression.” The media is essential here, which is good when attention is brought to legitimate public concerns (Favre and co.) and just a hot mess when the average sports journo gets involved. Very good summary and critique here from Smith.
How’s that for a title? I first shared a story about the welfare scam that Favre is involved in back in April, but things have gotten decidedly spicier and uglier in recent weeks. Magary is brutal and deservedly so, Favre is a lousy human.
Sports adjacent, but relevant and fascinating. Perhaps you’ve seen that the chess world is up in arms about allegations of cheating at the highest level? And perhaps you’ve seen that one of the allegations involves the use of a sex toy? Seriously, I can’t make that up. A timely and pretty cool survey of the ways in which chess players have tried—with mixed results—to cheat.
Some Good News
Redford again, another good one. On the Kenyan marathoner’s obliteration of his own record. Truly insane stuff…26.2 miles at a 4:37 pace. Puts my week’s accomplishments into stark perspective (I wrote some emails AND loaded the dishwasher). Some discussion of Kipchoge’s unofficial sub-two-hour marathon as well, which feels radically recontextualized by this recent performance.
And also this
Worth a watch. John Daly is a national treasure.
As always, thanks for reading. I’d appreciate if you share the newsletter.
See you next week,