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The SportsThink Weekly Review #94
August 28, 2023: Smells, cheating, and other disappointments
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 lifelong 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!
Good morning, folks. I’m trying a move to Monday delivery for a little bit, please let me know if you have any thoughts on changing up the schedule. While the weather would say otherwise, this weekend felt like the beginning of the of the non-stop barrage that is fall sports consumption. A mellow weekend in the household with some folks under the weather, so I watched some or all of contests from college football (not great), the Little League World Series (great), MLS (not great if you’re in Austin fan, amazing if you saw what Messi did), Premier League (always good), Serie A (what’s up with Roma?), MLB (totally fine), and Formula 1 (most entertaining race of the season so far). It’s a lot. And we’re still 10 days out from the NFL and a couple months from NBA and NHL action. This is the best, if not most exhausting, time of year to be a sports fan.
On to the reading!
Sports-adjacent, but really good. On the idea of scent-memory: why don’t hockey rinks and bowling alleys smell the way they used to? I’ll admit, I’m kind of a sucker for this topic and I’ve been in a nostalgia-spiral as of late, so the timing was perfect here.
Some years ago, I read that scent is our strongest sense when it comes to generating/triggering memories (this was allegedly backed by functional-MRI research). This knowledge has had a firm grip on me ever since. There are certain exhaust-asphalt combos that transport me to Istanbul when I’m in Austin; moth balls are always grandma’s house. I think it also works the other way, where other senses trigger scent-memories (scentsations???) that aren’t really there: I can’t walk by soccer shin guards at Dick’s without getting a whiff of the pleasant-offensive popcorn funk of a game-worn pair. Ok, maybe yours didn’t smell like that. Anyway, read this, it’s cool!
As the regulars know, a Franco piece is an auto-share for me. I’ve said that Mirin Fader is the best profile-writer in sports today, but Roberto is right up there. As with Fader’s work, he has a way hitting all of the boilerplate content a profile requires without making it feel like you’re reading a boilerplate profile. This is talent. Yes, there’s biography, struggle, narrative arc, and so forth, but if you leave the average profile feeling like you know more about the subject, the good profile writer fools you into thinking you actually know the subject. Randy Arozarena is the subject this time around and he’s got a hell of a story, from Cuba to Mexico to the Minor Leagues and superstardom, all so well told by Franco.
Sports Illustrated used to arrive in my mailbox every Wednesday and without fail, the very first thing I turned to was “This Week’s Sign of the Apocalypse.” It was a great section. If SI was still weekly—or relevant—I imagine this story would have featured as a sign of the apocalypse. Decent piece, but you can also just shake your head at the headline and move on. A reminder that adults are actually the biggest problem in youth sports, not participation trophies, Tik Tok, or video games.
It’s hard to not feel bad for the Spanish women who just won the World Cup. They played beautifully and earned the right to be called world champions. And yet, most of the conversation in the days since the final has been focused not on the women who won, but on the malfeasance of the association and leadership they play for. Dipshit numero uno in this case is Luis Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Football Association, who was not only kissing players on the mouth after the win, but had the class to grab his crotch alongside the Spanish royal family. FIFA finally suspended him, but he’s not going down without a fight; his mother is locked in a church, on a hunger strike in his support. I can’t make this up.
As these things go, this wasn’t a one-off. If you’re wondering how things got to this point, Smith’s article gives a really nice overview of the hot mess that led up to the tournament and what the women were able to overcome en route to glory. Good article and reminder that the on-field progress in women’s sport is often outpacing (or obscuring) needed institutional progress.
From one mess to another. Even if you’re not a big football fan, there’s a good chance you’re familiar with the movie version of The Blind Side, the more-or-less-biopic-feel-good-story about a Memphis couple taking in a young black man and his path to the NFL. Michael Lewis’ original book was as much about the evolution of football playbooks and salaries as it was about that young black man (Michael Oher) and the couple (Sean and Leigh Ann Tuohy), but their relationship provided quite the narrative hook and made a Hollywood version inevitable; Sandra Bullock won an Oscar.
The current state of affairs is that this may not have been such a feel-good story after all. Fletcher’s piece above broke the news and Nerkar’s is a good dive into the situation. At issue, briefly: Oher alleges that he was mislead by the Tuohy’s into granting them conservatorship over him, thinking he was essentially being adopted. There are of course huge financial implications at play and more, including the characterization of Oher as an intellectually feeble charity case. (Dear reader, you don’t play offensive line in the NFL for years if you are a dummy, it’s one of the most cerebral positions in sports.) Also at stake is Lewis’ reputation…there was always a dicey element in this story, given his longstanding relationship with the Tuohy’s and how angelic they came across in the book. It’ll be too bad if it comes out that Lewis was intentionally deceptive, casting a long shadow over his work, which has generally been pretty good.
As always, thanks for reading. Please share the newsletter! Send me good articles, feedback, and hot takes, I’m here for all of it.
See you next week,