SI’s cover story this week is about the central tension in the NFL as a product and spectacle – the desire of fans to see big hits, and of players to deliver them, set against the potentially devastating health impact of being on the receiving end of a serious body (or head) blow. Tim Layden profiles, as it were, seven big hits from the 2006 NFL season, describing the particulars of the play, how those on the dishing out and receiving end experienced it, and putting it in the context of a sport in which “bloodlust” is an undeniable feature of the game. It’s an interesting article, but with a very disturbing and misleading slant, as I’ll discuss below.
Archive for July, 2007
Two recent articles beautifully de-construct two myths central to contemporary baseball discussions, one Hank Aaron vs Barry Bonds and the other on Cal Ripken vs. “the modern ballplayer.”
This baseball season, it fell to the sporting press to drag a reluctant Hank Aaron once more into public view, the occasion being Barry Bonds’ slow-motion pursuit of a stationary number. Now, anytime an old baseball personage hobbles back into frame, he is invariably described in awed, petrifying language better suited to, say, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The treatment of Aaron hasn’t been any different. A spin through the sports pages over the past few months reveals that he is a man of “cool dignity,” “quiet dignity,” “innate dignity,” “immense dignity,” “eternal dignity,” “unfettered dignity,” “unimpeachable dignity,” the very “picture of dignity” who “brought so much dignity to baseball” and who, “having exuded dignity his entire life,” continues to this day “exud[ing] class and dignity.”
Is Pat Tillman’s fate a sports story? As more disturbing details emerge of how he died, including the new revelation that he might have been deliberately murdered by his own men, does sports media have anything left to say about him? When Tillman first walked away from the Arizona Cardinals and a $3.6 million contract in 2002 to join the Army Rangers, it certainly was. Tillman’s decision was unprecedented in modern sports and, as a then well-known sports figure, his decision was naturally part of the sports news cycle.
But, it was also an easy story five years ago for a sports media obsessed with the spoiled, pampered, character-less contemporary athlete. Tillman’s selflessness, his commitment to something larger than himself, his obvious disregard for wealth were viewed as the perfect contrast to the typical athlete of today.
The 2nd annual Bada Bling weekend for charity hosted by the Chris Webber Foundation in Las Vegas happened to be one of the most incredible weekends fit for royalty. From the cream 2008 Escalades that chauffeurred everyone in attendance to and from the airport, to the weekend’s swank highlight, The Soiree’, hosted by funny man Charlie Murphy, everything was top notch and white carpet tight. The weekend kicked off Friday evening with a charity poker tournament that included everyone from Rip Hamilton of the Detroit Pistons to last year’s winner Miss California, Tamiko Nash. Hip Hop poet Nas, comics Charlie Murphy and Marc Curry, boxer Zab Judah, model/actress Claudia Jordan and a bevy of athletes and entertainers rounded out those who chose to spectate and mingle with their celebrity peers. The night concluded with a sick welcoming party at club OPM. Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick the Ruler performed their all time classics with old school tracks spun by Biz Markie.
A lot of ground to cover, but below I’ll cover the ESPN town hall on Barry Bonds in some depth.
It’s been a crazy few days in the world of sports. Last week, in a post about ESPN, I complained about the police-blotter approach so common these days in sports journalism. That was after the Vick indictment, but before the Tim Donaghy investigation became public knowledge. Those two newsmaking events, plus the ongoing homerun chase, featuring the intensely polarizing would-be king, Barry Bonds, still the subject of an endless grand jury investigation, has led many sports commentators the past few days to wonder which of the three major commissioners has it roughest right now. There’s an obvious answer – David Stern faces a threat to the integrity of his sport in a way that neither Roger Goddell or Bud Selig does. But, it’s all a dream come true, in a way, for sports media, as July is generally lamented as a slow sports month, and if you’re not a baseball fan, it’s the month many sports fans consider the worst of the year. With basketball in the rearview mirror and football tantalizingly close but still not under way, July is purgatory for the sports news cycle. Until this week, anyway.
This past weekend, while attending Chris Webber’s Bada Bling in Vegas, I conducted an interview from my hotel room with newly signed Atlanta Falcon fullback, Ovie Mughelli. With all the controversy swirling around Flowery Branch, Ovie has taken the initiative to let his play do the talking on the field. Being a new Falcon, he doesn’t feel it’s responsible to comment on Michael Vick’s situation because of the federal investigation and all the uncertainty surrounding what has become a dark era in Atlanta professional sports. His thoughts remain positive and he hopes his upcoming season optimism will resonate with Atlanta fans. He thoroughly enjoyed his time as a Baltimore Raven and has his heart set on becoming one of the best fullbacks ever. His punishing linebacker devastating blocks gave former Raven, Jamal Lewis huge holes to rumble through in helping the Ravens become one of the most feared teams in the NFL because of their close knit spirit and fourth quarter clutch play. Poised to enter medical school after college graduation, Ovie, through NFL teams unexpectedly contacting his coaching staff and athletic director, chose to take on another challenge and play in the NFL.
Following up on my post from the end of last week, Newsweek wasn’t the only major media outlet to question the direction of ESPN this past week. Sports Illustrated had a satirical send-up of the much-maligned “Who’s Now?” series. I can’t find the piece on-line, but three quick samples here:
1) on how the panelists were picked: “based on such factors as who was not on vacation, you selected three Nestor Chylaks of NOW-ness. At rehearsals, I’ve heard, panelists received mild electric shocks whenever they said either apples or oranges. It worked! Now 12,000 to 14,000 times a day, one can view a kind of Algonquin Round Table minus the tiresome wit.” (Chylak, by the way, was an MLB umpire from 1954 to 1978).
2) on how the “winners” of each round are selected: “People say Internet voting isn’t scientific, but it can tell alot about America. For example, the daylong deluge that lifted Jeff Gordon past Barry Bonds said something about just how many unemployed white people there are out there.”
3) on flaws in the series: “By giving credit for buzzed-about affairs, [the show] unfairly penalizes the competent adulterer.”
To sum up, author Charlie Leerhsen’s conclusion: pull the plug. NOW.