The SportsThink Weekly Review #81
January 27, 2023
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!
Hello everyone and happy Friday. There was a stretch of the newsletter where I’d start with a reflection on athletes who wore the same number as my current issue. As with most gimmicks, it seemed wise to let that one die a quiet death. But some of these numbers resonate, banging a gong somewhere in my consciousness. 81 is a big one, in part due to the older, more restrictive NFL jersey restrictions. It’s fair to say that 81 is rightfully owned by great wide receivers: Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Art Monk, Anquan Boldin, Torry Holt, and the best of the bunch, Raiders legend, Tim Brown. In the days before the strict numbering policy, there was cornerback Dick “Night Train” Lane, who wore 81 and also equals William “Refrigerator” Perry for the all-time best NFL nickname. (Honorable mentions: Reggie White, “The Minister of Defense” and Ed “Too Tall” Jones).
But let us not forget Kobe Bryant, who scored 81 points against the Toronto Raptors, 17 years ago this week. Still the second most points ever scored in an NBA game. My memory of this game is weird…I know I was at the Shark’s Cove in Manhattan Beach (but it may have still been called Manhattan Coolers; RIP to the best Chinese Chicken Salad). I was half-heartedly watching and while it was amazing, it was also…well, of course, that’s Kobe being Kobe. Who else was going to do it?
On a more somber note, yesterday marked the three year anniversary of Bryant’s untimely death in a helicopter accident (and let’s not forget his 13 year old daughter, Gianna, and the seven others who also lost their lives). Of all the celebrity deaths in my lifetime, this remains the most shocking. It was so unexpected and Kobe had a certain immortal vibe, like Prince or Bowie. It was a Sunday and Kobe inevitably came up in class that Tuesday. A lot of students were devastated, some meekly (yet bravely) questioned how we should/could celebrate someone who’s legacy was tarnished by allegations of sexual assault. Not everyone loved that perspective and things got heated. We get into some pretty dicey topics in my classes and this was the single most tense conversation I’ve ever had to navigate. I think I did alright; no one walked out, although I thought some might. A little more than a month later we were scrambling to react to COVID and move the universe online and that day mostly drifted into the haze of the past. But when it does come to mind, it’s a memory as visceral, intense, and conflicting as the man himself was. RIP Kobe.
Moving on to this week’s content…I don’t have a whole lot to share this time around. What’s here is pretty goofy. Some weeks are like that.
This Week’s Signs of the Apocalypse
For a large part of my youth, the arrival of Sports Illustrated in our mail slot was the highlight of my week. Without fail, I would start with this ‘This Week’s Sign of the Apocalypse,’ which always featured something bizarre and/or funny of the “you can’t make this up” variety. It was great.
This week, the sports world reminded me that we live in absurd and occasionally apocalyptic times. First, there was the briefly viral moment where people believed that the Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin had actually died on the field and the person in a luxury box at last weekend’s game was an impostor. The BBC literally published something titled, “No, Damar Hamlin Was Not Replaced By A Body Double.” Beyond the absurdity, what struck me was that this conspiracy theory doesn’t have an obvious ideological or political angle, as most conspiracy theories do. But I guess (and it’s a guess) that this insanity was favored by the anti-vax crowd, who wanted to attribute Hamlin’s alleged death to vaccine induced myocarditis, which is something these folks have trotted out for every single person who has died in the past year and a half.
Then there was “ubereats-gate” or whatever we’re calling this:
The commentary on the clip is definitely the best part. Some clarity is provided in this thread from a Loyola athletics staffer (thanks to Joseph Manero for the link):
So it was a prank, I guess. What ever happened to a good, old fashioned streaker??
Finally, we have this report of a Virginia elementary school banning contact and “semi-contact” sports during recess. "Principal Linda Shannon cited increasing conflict, injury, and poor sportsmanship as reasons for the change, and said the school is working to find ways to conduct the sports safely." I don’t know enough about this to really know what’s going on, but whatever it is, it’s lousy. The polarizing assumptions are either: kids sports have gotten so insanely competitive that the schoolyard is out of control OR the nanny-state is so out of hand that kids can’t play hard. Neither of these is that great and this story is more of a bummer than the first two, but a sign of the apocalypse nonetheless.
How About Them Cowboys?
I have no strong feelings about the Cowboys, but I pretend to when I teach. The team and it’s perpetual disappointments are perfect fodder to rankle the 40-50% of my students who are Cowboys diehards, despite the team not winning anything since the NAFTA era. Thus, it was hard not enjoy the disastrous trick “play” that smothered yet another season that began with high expectations for the team. In case you missed it:
The best part about that play is that it led to this excellent article from a few Defector writers, “Which of These Was the Worst Trick Play of All Time?” It’s a much more thorough analysis than you might expect for the subject, but pretty entertaining overall.
Department of WHOA
Here’s photographer Janaye Johnson going to work during a Vikings game at US Bank Stadium. From the catwalk. This is awesome and scares the daylights out of me. Watch it on loop a few times and it looks like the most twisted Sisyphean treadmill ever devised.
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See you next week,