Thursday, April 28, 2011

On A New Venture (Of Which I Am A Small Part)...

You may peruse details here, if that kind of thing interests you.

On The Week's Top Five

1. Royalties

You know what upsets me far more than garish ceremonies celebrating a vestigial institution? It's people who utilize garish ceremonies celebrating a vestigial institution in order to engage in self-righteous condemnation. Let us say, for instance, that you are a sports fan, and you condemn the royal wedding largely because it is an exercise in garish symbolism. Does this mean that you are also in favor of the abolition of marching bands? Of school mascots? Of player introductions? Of uniforms? At some level, myths and symbols infuse every aspect of our culture, but nowhere more than sports. You may argue about the need for/cost of such symbols, but to completely disregard the notion that these symbols hold emotional weight for a great number of people is as ignorant as declaring that pep rallies are a national embarrassment.

2. The Culmination of the NBA Playoffs...

Will be that moment when Kobe Bryant finally engages in physical assault on Pau Gasol.

3. Proof of Life

You know the best part of those early seasons of The Apprentice? It was those segments when Trump would deliver his advice on business and on life, because I imagine the advice Trump would give to young entrepreneurs is very similar to the advice Ahmedinejad would give to young terrorists, if Ahmadinejad played golf.

4. Listening to...

"The Envoy," by Warren Zevon. Because I am feeling especially cynical today.*

5. Reading...

"An Accidental Hero," by John Ed Bradley, SI.** 

"True Colors," by Malcolm Gladwell.

*See Number 3.
**I would argue that Bradley is one of the most underrated writers in that magazine's history. I have yet to read any of his novels, but his memoir about playing college football at LSU is outstanding.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. Giant Heads and Talking Basketballs

Does the person who concocted the NBA's advertising campaigns have some sort of fetish with gigantism? I don't know when or how oversized craniums became the rage among America's youth--appearing on posters and in the stands at college basketball games and now in these bobblehead advertisements and talking basketball soliloquies narrated by Moe Szyslak that resemble a Timothy Leary fever dream--but it makes me think the American advertising industry is in desperate need of some new ideas, preferably packaged inside a case of Benadryl.

2. Playoffs

I confess: I did not watch enough of the NBA regular season to determine with any accuracy which teams were the favorites coming into these playoffs, but here's what I've realized: It doesn't matter. All that watching the regular season would have done is confuse me, as (with the possible exception of the final 8-10 games) it seems to mean less than it ever has before. The talent among the top 16 teams is dispersed enough that an eight-seed seems fully capable of defeating a one seed, which is a great thing for the NBA, but further proof that college basketball is far better, since in college basketball, this happens in a single-elimination format every single year.

3. Predictions

That said, I will take O.J. Mayo's beard, followed by Pau Gasol's blithe nonchalance, followed by:

3.) Kevin Garnett's Nelson Muntz-like facial contortions.
4.) Derrick Rose's soon-to-be-depleted modesty.
5.) Knicks fans' delusional sense of self-importance.

4. Baseball's Problem...

centers entirely around the fact that Kyle Farnsworth is a competent closer.*

5. Goodreads

SI's Thomas Lake on the shooting death of Denver Bronco Darrent Williams.

The St. Pete Times' Ben Montgomery on the baffling disappearance of a local diver.

*And I say this as someone who drafted Farnsworth in a fantasy league, fully expecting to release him before tax day arrived.

Friday, April 15, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. Trump

I do not profess to understand this phenomenon, or what it might mean for Republican politics. I do know that if Donald Trump runs for president, it will be incredibly entertaining, in the way Hank's Look-Around Cafe was entertaining. Here is what I know: Among other things, Donald Trump's rampant egotism once murdered a second-tier professional football league. If the Houston Gamblers still existed, perhaps I would see a reason to take him seriously.

2. Manny

Back when I was a cub reporter in Akron, I wrote a long profile of Manny Ramirez, in which I discovered that when the O.J. Bronco chase took place, Manny thought people were talking about his teammate Chad Ogea. Manny misplaced uncashed paychecks in his locker; he left stacks of hundreds in the glove compartment of his car. I realize nothing is certain, but I don't think Manny took steroids back then because Manny did not need steroids back then, and Manny only took what he needed. I think, as he got older, as he came to realize that he could not live in a state suspended adolescence, he probably panicked and turned to artificial methods. But I think it's ridiculous to disquality him for the Hall of Fame because of this. If nothing else, Manny wasn't savvy enough to do these things without getting caught, and since we seem to condemn the guile behind steroid use more than the actual steroid use, that should count for something.  

3. The F Word

I have meticulously detailed the ignominious history of Penn State basketball on this blog. I admit that there is little to be proud of, save a flukish NCAA tournament victory approximately once every two presidential cycles. But there is a prominent exception to that rule. His name is John Amaechi. He played center back when I covered the team in the early 1990s, and he remains one of the most perceptive and likeable athletes I've ever interviewed. He also happens to A.) Have played several largely unremarkable years in the NBA,  and B.) Be gay, which is how he's become one of the most prominent--one of the only, for that matter--voices speaking up for the gay athlete in the big three American sports. Amaechi wrote an excellent and eminently reasonable piece for The New York Times about Kobe Bryant's use of a gay slur here. Though I fear that what Kobe's outburst signals most of all is that while there is certainly more societal condemnation of homophobia than ever before, we are nowhere near the point where an NBA, NFL, or MLB player will feel comfortable enough to out himself while still active in the league.

4. Frontline

Any neanderthal who doesn't believe PBS contributes to the public good probably wouldn't appreciate this show in the first place, but I happen to believe it produces some of the best journalism anywhere, as it did with this week's program about the perils of high-school football. It's a show that manages to frame issues in a unique and accessible way. And its narrator has one of the five greatest voices in television.

5. David Grann

Seriously. This story is amazing

Monday, April 11, 2011

On The Masters

I never really felt comfortable at the Masters. I covered it several times back in the late 1990s, back when mid-sized newspapers still had the budget and the inclination to send their writers to major sporting events, and it always felt like I was wandering into a '50s theme park, a conflation of blooming flowers and aging white men and especially low-priced pimento cheese sandwiches. There is a high wall that separates Augusta National from Augusta itself, and on the other side of Washington Road there are chain restaurants and car dealerships and waitresses like the one I spoke to at the Waffle House one year, who had never been beyond the wall and imagined Augusta National as a naturalistic utopia just beyond her reach.

Now I understand that Augusta National is a private club, and so, at some level, if they prefer to only permit members with cleft chins, they are protected by the law.* But there has to be a balance here, because Augusta hosts one of the three most prestigious golf tournaments in the world, because they are essentially one of the faces of professional golf. And they seem to think that it is enough if they present a beautiful visage for television, if they charge modest prices for tickets and for parking and for souvenirs and for pimento-cheese sandwiches. It's as if, because they roll back their profit margin to the 1950s, their anachronistic exclusivity should be faulted--as if two-dollar sandwiches excuse an utter lack of female members, which leads to incidents like the one that occurred yesterday, when Bergen Record reporter Tara Sullivan, attempting to do an interview, was denied entrance to the clubhouse.***

And maybe Augusta National is telling the truth when they say that Sullivan's barring was a mistake. Maybe it was an honest misunderstanding, but these misunderstandings don't take place in more enlightened atmospheres****. These misunderstandings occur because Augusta National still clings to an outdated mentality that is no longer socially acceptable outside the gates.

Here's an uncomfortable thought: It's been almost 15 years since Tiger Woods won his first Masters, and there were no African-American golfers other than Woods near the top of the leaderboard yesterday. It's been eight years since Martha Burk's protest, and Augusta National (as far as we know) still doesn't have any female members. All those years ago, when I covered the Masters, we presumed that Tiger would influence an entire generation of minority (and even female) youth, that Tiger's mere presence would change golf itself. But I have to imagine it is still daunting for certain young golfers to make their way in a world that is largely upper-class and overwhelmingly white, in a game where the keepers of its most prestigious tract of land refuse to acknowledge that the world has changed.

*Honestly, I have no idea if that's true. I did not attend law school, and I do not have a cleft chin.**
**Not that there's anything wrong with that.
***And if you think women should not be permitted equal access to open locker rooms, please note that it is the law. You either open your locker room for everyone or for no one, and anything else is blatant discrimination.
****And that is the first and last time I will refer to a baseball clubhouse as "enlightened."

Monday, April 4, 2011

On The Week's Top Five

1. A New Format

There are some things happening in my professional life (announcement coming soon) that may alter the already limited amount of time I have to dedicate to this blog. Therefore, I am at least temporarily resorting to the tactic that every blog resorts to when it realizes that writing coherent and complete thoughts is a far more difficult proposition than they realized: I will resort to making lists.

2. Very Tough Love

This might be one of the best episodes of This American Life in the history of the show. And in a weird way, it reminded me of college athletics.

3. Amateurism: 

How did a story about a draconian drug court judge in Georgia remind me of the hypocrisies of college sports, so documented by Frontline and Real Sports in recent days? Well, in the midst of his reporting, there is a moment when Ira Glass is discussing whether the stringent policies such as those favored by this particular judge actually work, and he refers to studies that found that low-level offenders tend to respond to such punishments by rebelling against the system. Which, it would seem, is the inherent problem with the NCAA--the perception is that the institution and its member schools are making more money than they ever have while simultaneously locking down student-athletes under a system of labyrinthine and indecipherable rules developed to stem decades of misconduct. And so the natural instinct, for both athletes and institutions, is to rebel, to attempt to subvert the system rather than allow it any credence at all. The best thing the NCAA could do is give a little--find a way to offer athletes a small stipend (as Joe Paterno has been advocating since the 1970s), or to offer them some sort of deferred scholarship money upon their departure from school.

Of course, I don't expect them to do it unless they are forced to, but given the pending lawsuits and the rising ire of fans and media and the players themselves, perhaps we have finally reached the moment when they have no other choice but to acknowledge that pure amateurism is an unachievable ideal. 

4. Joel Kinnaman

I had no idea who this guy was until last night, when I watched the premiere of AMC's The Killing. Kinnman is from Stockholm--at first he reminded me of an incredibly suave and charismatic version of Gareth from BBC's The Office. Then he showed up in two scenes--one in which he interacted with the main character's teenaged son, and another in which he flirted with a pair of teenaged girls in order to forward his investigation--and I thought, There is no way this dude does not become a major film star. Until he stars in a failed comic-book adaptation and winds up acting in B movies alongside Billy Zane, I will adhere to this prediction. In the meantime, I highly recommend The Killing, though given my track record for recommending television shows in the past year (Rubicon, Terriers, Lights Out), I suspect it will last only one season.

5. Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

You know those books you have on your shelf for years that everyone says you must read, and you keep thinking, I'll get to it eventually, and you watch a documentary based on this book, and you say, I'll get to it eventually, and you read an excellent book clearly inspired by this one, and then finally you start reading it, and you say to yourself, Why did it take me so long to read this? This is that book.