Passing the Buck

The press release announcing the new uniforms for the Milwaukee Bucks explains the significance of the shade of blue that wraps around the inside collar of the jersey: “The inside of the collar features a blue stripe, representative of the blue collar work ethic of not only the Bucks, but also of the city and state that the team proudly represents.” And indeed, perhaps no state has become more synonymous with the working class (and its struggles) than Wisconsin, which passed one of the nation’s first workers compensation laws in 1932 and was the first state to allow public employees to form…

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Wild Horses

We were standing outside the magnificent striped Duomo in Siena, Italy, when my father decided to buy a souvenir from one of the many carts alongside the church. They all had the same scarves hanging on racks. My niece Sophia wanted the blue scarf with a shell on it, the scarf that represented the Nicchio neighborhood. She made this choice for aesthetic reasons (She is nine. She likes seashells), but I also knew she was on to something. It was the day before the Palio, the bareback horserace that pits the colorfully named neighborhood associations or contrade…

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The Orwellian Anti-Pageantry of a Game without Fans

Yesterday was an historic day for baseball, as a major league game was closed to the public for the first time ever, when the Baltimore Orioles hosted the White Sox to an eerily empty stadium. Watching the game that afternoon, the temptation to make this a metaphor for race relations in America was inescapable. It’s a commonplace to point out that America mythologizes itself through its national pastime, endlessly churning out pastoral fantasies of simpler and more innocent times through various baseball novels, songs, and films. But, as the radical novelist John Dos Passos wrote in 1936,…

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The Ultimate Sports Villain

Many of you have probably seen one or more of the films in ESPN’s sports documentary line, “30 for 30.” Since a different person directs each film, they vary widely in style as well as substance and quality. Some of them rather blithely reinforce the notion that sports convey objective truths—in effect, that there is an empirically “correct” way to interpret these narratives. Others are more sensitive to the fans’ ability to make something more from the action on the court. “I Hate Christian Laettner,” a recent film in the series directed by Rory Karpf, provides an…

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History Lessons

On the occasion Eduardo Galeano’s passing we present this offering, originally published on July 20, 2006. “All Uruguayan babies are born crying, ‘goal’,” the Uruguayan writer and soccer aficionado Eduardo Galeano said over coffee recently. Perhaps, that’s how a country of three million or so could have won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals. It also helps explain the country’s level of despair after Uruguay’s dramatic World Cup elimination at the feet of the Australian Socceroos last November in a penalty shootout. (President Tabare Vazquez told reporters after the game: “We have an obligation to…

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Big Data Meets the NBA

A little over a month ago, Charles Barkley went on a tirade about NBA analytics. He called analytics a creation by “nerds,” “who ain’t never played the game” and “who never got the girl in high school.” The attack combined just about all the rhetorical fallacies you can reasonably imagine—ad hominem attacks, straw men, petty name-calling—into a four-minute speech. Sports media swiftly attacked Barkley’s rant for being “completely useless” and Barkley himself for being an “idiot.” His argument, the nerds said, was yet another instance of a former player not understanding or wanting to understand the more complex statistical…

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Elegy Written in a Coaching Graveyard

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen, And waste its sweetness on the desert air. —Thomas Gray, “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard” (1751) The day after the NFL regular season ends is often referred to as “Black Monday” because it’s the day on which many coaches are fired. Among those fired this year were Rex Ryan of the New York Jets, Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons, and Marc Trestman of the Chicago Bears. (Dennis Allen of the Oakland Raiders was fired during the season, and Jim Harbaugh and the San Francisco 49ers decided…

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Experimental Football

“A generation that had gone to school on a horse-drawn streetcar now stood under the open sky in a countryside in which nothing remained unchanged but the clouds, and beneath these clouds, in a field of force of destructive torrents and explosions, was the tiny, fragile human body.” –Walter Benjamin, “The Storyteller”   Last week, in Brooklyn, before a crowd of hundreds, the Brooklyn Bolts defeated the Omaha Mammoths, 15-13. The two teams play in the FXFL, the Fall Experimental Football League, playing its inaugural season. I’d happily link to a write-up of the game, but I can’t…

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On Bad Faith in the NFL

Last Monday morning my news feeds were full of the inequity-slash-reverse-sexism of U.S. Soccer’s refusal to bench Hope Solo. Solo faces assault charges for striking her seventeen-year-old nephew and sister-in-law during a drunken family brawl (she’s pleaded not guilty), and many think it’s a piece of hypocrisy for the sporting establishment to overlook the legal troubles of Hope Solo while condemning the likes of the NFL’s Ray Rice. USA Today called media silence over the charges “unseemly,” and the Washington Post called Solo’s case “the domestic violence case no one is talking about.” But Twitter was a…

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Football, Dogfighting and How the NFL Helps Us Get Off on Violence and Feel Really Good about Ourselves

Earlier this month NFL commissioner Roger Goodell punished Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay with a $500,000 fine and a six month suspension for driving under the influence, possessing unprescribed narcotics, and having $29,000 in cash in his car. The punishment came some seven years after U.S. District judge Henry Hudson sentenced Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick to 23 months in a federal penitentiary for his role running a brutal, violent and for profit dogfighting ring. No consideration was given to punishing Irsay for his role in running a brutal, violent and highly profitable business that does to…

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