Why Sports Help
At some point, it’s clearly best just to turn it off. These blasts of idiot panic on Twitter, all these self-appointed (and actually appointed) social-media editors burping up liveblogs of some in-studio haircut’s dunderheaded ad libs or playing some screeching game of telephone with police scanner chatter. Those aforementioned haircuts, speculating rankly to fill minutes of airtime or reciting now-familiar horrors over looped video of whirling sirens. These fucking clownish Infowars rage-loafs, staring down very real horror and frothingly appliquéing the usual black helicopters in the usual places, sad old children writing themselves into some raised-letter airport potboiler, swapping their asinine imaginary horrors for the world’s and calling themselves brave; these Reddit sleuths taking a clammy break from mapping the bleaker margins of the Friend Zone to slap some MS Paint on smudgy photos and misidentify some monsters. Turn it off, turn it off. There is nothing here, nothing useful to learn, only more of the guilty inertia that leads us to put this shit on in the background in the first place. We should care, and we do care. We should want to know, and we do want to know. But there’s nothing here for us, at the moment. So I’m going to a baseball game tonight, where it’s quieter and more human.
It’s a Mets game, so obviously it’s not really “quieter.” But no baseball game, even one featuring a team that currently plays defense with all the grace and efficacy of a corgi chasing a torpedo, is ever really quiet. There are tens of thousands of other people there at the game, murmuring and sometimes cheering and sometimes booing and asking each other if they want a beer and doing their best to explain to (rightly) confused kids how the infield fly rule works, and why Ruben Tejada, the Mets’ palpably aghast and supremely snakebit shortstop, just scooped up a grounder and whipped it into the mezzanine. There are the little farts of spastic reggaeton and strutting butt-rock and Drake-mewls that soundtrack the players’ approach to the plate, too, and various other uses of the public address system. At some point in the game, fans will probably get up and sing Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” as a sort of tribute to Boston, the locked-down and terrified/defiant city that invented this particular in-game ritual. I probably won’t sing it, because I don’t generally do that sort of thing, but I’ll stand up and sit down with everyone else. I think that will be enough for me, and probably for many others there, standing and sitting all around in whatever silence or sound they choose.
Neon Waters Run Deep
There’s nothing fundamentally offensive, really, about the new Odd Future Stone Wash Pajama Zubaz uniforms that adidas rolled out on Thursday in preparation for the NCAA tournament later this month. Aesthetically, maybe, there are some things to disagree with—the color-schemes apparently based on flavors Gatorade invented, like “Frost Cascade Crash”; the shorts that resemble something a Jacksonville-area steroid dealer might’ve worn in 1991; the Notre Dame uniform, which looks like a Shamrock Shake with a tall dude trapped inside it. These are reasonable things to notice and take issue with, although it’s useful to remember that these uniforms were made with that purpose in mind—ruffling people square enough to care about college basketball uniforms, and ruffling them into using the word “adidas” if at all possible. This has worked—I’ve now done it twice in this column, and did it elsewhere yesterday—although it would have worked less well if there was anything else to talk about in sports right now. So, mission accomplished. Remind me to tell you about adidas’s patented ClimaCool Zones, an exciting new fabric technology that might well solve forever whatever pseudo-problem it purports to address, for all I know.
There’s a certain baseline squickiness to non-stories like this, which are essentially and inescapably re-heated press releases served with a side salad of Hot Take. It helps (if that’s the word) that these uniforms are undeniably something-a-skateboarding-cartoon-dinosaur-would-wear gaudy and legitimately strange. But the conversation they generate is mostly crypto-promotional noise. It’s familiar, too—think of those popular videos that get posted to every traffic-seeking site on the web along with a couple paragraphs about how stupid this video-meme is; think of the branded factoids and drowsily re-reported press releases that are the stock in trade of the widely loathed ESPN Brand Enthusiast Darren Rovell. These things are forgettable spurts of spume generated by the internet’s relentless, affectless churn. It’s hard to know what percentage of the web consists of ostentatiously and unapologetically content-free content like this, but it’s a two-digit number that probably starts with a seven or an eight and ends with a LeAnn Rimes upskirt.
That’s So Jordan
Normally, there’d be something odd about all of basketball spending NBA All-Star weekend getting all misty, awed, wistful, and click-bait-slideshow-y about the 50th birthday of the man who owns the league’s worst franchise, and who is known as one of the most capricious and nastiest narcissists in sports history. This was not quite one of those Dictator Birthday Spectaculars—150,000 terrified civilians performing choreographed praise semaphore in some totalitarian urinal of a soccer stadium while brainwashed children sing odes to a blank-faced hemorrhoidal birthday-tyrant and the military marches its missiles around for seven hours—but also not totally not that kind of thing. That the 50-year-old in question is Michael Jordan explains a good part of it, naturally: He is the greatest basketball player ever, and that being more or less beyond dispute does not make it something basketball fans are less excited to talk about. But in the decade since Jordan’s last NBA game, talking about His Airness has become a different and stranger thing than it was.
It’s not that Jordan lacked complexity back when he was great and vicious and dazzling as a player. Jordan was known both as an impossible-to-solve athlete who dominated the NBA and a businessman who first crafted and then actually personally became a vanquishment-oriented global luxury brand. He berated and belittled teammates, he gambled and philandered extravagantly and did all the other things that professional athletes do, he coupled his unreal physical grace with heavy anger and gnashing narcissism. Whatever illusions once existed about Michael Jordan not being a warped, rageful asshole—the Ayn Rand ideal of a prime mover come to implausibly elegant and predictably brutal life—were clearly illusions even at the height of his beauty.
But then there’s high school football, where very young people make mistakes and older people sit in the stands and yell the worst things they can think of at other people’s children. Again, it’s your life and your thing, and if confessing in a scoutish, authoritative tone to a bleacher neighbor that some 15-year-old you’ll never meet “kind of fagged it up” on that play is what you need to do, then certainly good luck getting well. But if we’re going to draw a line, we might as well draw it here. Or maybe slightly further out, somewhere around the increasingly overstated and reliably depressing stretch that culminated earlier this week with college football’s National Signing Day.
This week, David J Roth compares the Lakers to LA, fights on Bravo reality shows, the US Senate, Ocean’s 11 crossed with a Lars von Trier film, and the way we live now. He also points out that Kobe possesses the eyes of a psychotic teddy bear and Steve Nash would rather be listening to Wolf Parade. All that, plus jokes about Cialis packs and Anthony Keidis wearing a dumb hat!
Hall of Lame
“We don’t take sports seriously enough” has to rank behind “many dumb people are heavily armed,” “many of the people who are heavily armed are also popping pain pills like Mike and Ikes” and “Congress” on any list of the problems facing our culture. Pretty far behind all those, in fact. It could be argued, actually, that as a general rule we take sports entirely too seriously. Somewhere, a grown man has been on hold for hours so he can get through to some Beefer and the Squelch sports-talk radio show to ask his “question,” which is, “LSU is all faggots.” Somewhere else, there is an adult planning to walk around outdoors on Sunday in a big goofy nylon mesh football jersey with another person’s name on the back. There are—and I am sorry to remind you of this but it does us no good to ignore it—Philadelphia Eagles fans, and they’re already drunk.
But this type of unserious too-seriousness, the loud and backwards binge-drink-y kind, is not necessarily the problem. It is a problem, in the way that Adam Sandler’s movies and face are a problem, but it’s not a pressing issue; we can’t stop sports fans from behaving like peevishly entitled kidults any more than we can stop moviegoers from wanting to see Sandler’s new film, Guy in Khaki Shorts Has Smutty/Heartwarming Gay Panic Misadventures on Vacation. We, ourselves, don’t need to do either of those things. Under-reasoned overexuberance of that sort isn’t the reason for overly serious, fatuously righteous sport-idiocies like the Baseball Writers Association of America’s collective decision not to induct anyone into the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this week, despite a ballot full of deserving candidates. But low-grade, high-volume too-seriousness—the superfan’s goonish arrogation of the first-person plural and the right to send dickish @-messages on Twitter to players after poor fantasy showings; the calculated stupidity of ESPN’s pretending-to-argue programming—has more in common with the high-minded too-seriousness of the Hall of Fame voters than those voters might think.
Superficially, of course, these are two different things. The doofs happily sitting on hold in hope that they might get to tell the world some 19-year-old they’ll never meet is a gutless loser are ridiculous—loud, simple avatars of dimwitted entitlement and misplaced priorities, casually making outrageous demands of strangers in the name of no-excuses toughness. The baseball writers who refused to vote for qualified Hall of Fame candidates—whether because players even flimsily connected to the sport’s steroid scandals of the last two decades should just have to wait a year because something something “the sanctity of the game” something something, or because the voter in question is huffily fighting a rearguard action against the last 30 years of human history—are… well, this part is complicated. Like talk-radio types, these voters are blithely holding others to impossible standards in the most self-righteous way possible, and define “getting tough” as “accusing people you barely know of being cheaters instead of dealing with a complex issue.” The difference between the two groups is that, on balance, the talk radio people are slightly more drunk.
Who do you root for if you don’t have a team in the postseason? While there are no wrong answers to this question (except for “the Yankees”), if you’re not cheering for the Oakland Athletics, you’re probably a jerk.
Picking at Scabs - by David Roth
It happens in every NFL game: During a lull in the action, the cameras find the team owner’s private box. These boxes mostly look the same, and the owners—or what’s visible of them behind the light-washed glass that separates them from the rest of the people at the game—mostly look the same. White hair, white (or tanned) faces, the country club casual favored by a certain type of a certain generation of plutocrat, sometimes a fluffy nimbus of poshly soused nephews and in-laws distributed at a respectful difference from The Man Himself. If NBC’s Al Michaels or CBS’s Jim Nantz are doing the game, viewers are treated to a little thumbnail Forbes profile of the owner in question. This will be about the owner’s bravery in sticking with a coach or a GM, his Dedication To Winning, some sort of humanizing you-know-he-actually-flies-his-own-plane detail. If you want it to be, this casual, time-filling handjob artistry can be tacky, actually offensive, or emblematic of the NFL’s high-volume dedication to being as mainstream as possible. But mostly it’s just something that shows up on television when there’s not any actual football happening.
There have been a great many of these lulls in the action, even by the NFL’s usual grunt-and-pause standards, over the first three weeks of the NFL season. This is thanks to the familiar weekly Antietam of injuries, the squirming masses of turf-pounding players with their scrambled knees or steamrolled ankles—or, more frighteningly, the more serious injuries of the stock-still and backboard-loaded sort—which take us solemnly from silent stadiums to commercial breaks where Denis Leary sneers out truck-plaudits from J.D. Power and Associates and Sam Elliott slowly describes a beer that tastes like carbonated bathtub fart as if it was the liquid embodiment of American Exceptionalism.
That’s when football is working like it should. This season’s NFL games have not been up to par; they’ve dragged and slackened into something altogether more static and claustrophobic and chippy and shouty-shovey than most fans have ever seen. That responsibility falls, in the most immediate sense, on the scab officials NFL owners brought in after locking out the referees union over what appears now, in the wake of Monday’s calamitous/amazing “Let Them Eat Cake” game between the Packers and Seahawks, as an amusingly/depressingly small pension-related afterthought of an issue. That’s the game that caused the internet to rise as one and yell, “Are you kidding me?” as a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the game resulted in one ref calling an interception and one calling a touchdown, both hip-deep in boos. The (non-scab) replay official ended up upholding the touchdown call as literally every single other person in the football world looked on in disbelief. TJ Lang, the Packers lineman, summed it up nicely in a statementthat got retweeted nearly 80,000 times: “Fuck it NFL. Fine me and use the money to pay the regular refs.”
It’s unarguable, of course, that the scab refs lost the game for Green Bay. The agonizingly slow play and inevitability of suspect results, however, are just as much the fault of the men in those owners’ suites, and those have been occurring all over the league. The replacement refs have struggled bravely and futilely to peel opposing linemen off each other after seemingly every play. They’d throw flags and refrain from throwing flags seemingly at random; last week’s scariest injury—a sniper-shot of a helmet-to-helmet blindside tackle on Raiders wideout Darius Heyward-Bey that ended with the receiver giving the crowd a thumbs-up from a stretcher—was not flagged at all.
The Mercy Rule - Unlimited Juice by David Roth
Say what you will for or against drugs, but chances are you take them. This is not so much saying something about you, but more an obvious thing about the way people actually live. In our day-to-day lives as debased and alienated servants of global capital’s misery-machine/individuals endowed with free will, most of the drugs we take aren’t strictly performance-enhancing. Unless it is your job to be Clammy Hallucinating Person Rapidly but Unwittingly Clearing the Room at a Party or Jaw-Grinding Person Telling a Long, Loud Story Without a Clear Endpoint—and if it is, congratulations on weathering a shitty economic climate like a champ—chances are good that drugs are not really helping you in your line of work. There’s no reason why you should be getting the following bit of advice from a sports column, but to the extent that drugs are making it difficult for you to more effectively or joyfully be yourself, you should really probably limit your intake. If they don’t, then you should probably have a blast exactly as you wish, with this column’s blessing, given that you’re an adult. It is not this column’s job, or anyone else’s, to tell you what to do or how to do it. Unless you are a professional athlete, in which case: some bad news.
The last week or so has been a bad one for athletes who take drugs. These are not the rare and random wild-card athletes who get nailed for “drugs of abuse”—the baffling and sad heroin-addicted minor league baseball palyers or NBA party-monsters like MDMA/throat-tattoo aficionado Chris “Birdman” Andersen. These are athletes who, for reasons that usually come down to making more money playing sports, get in trouble for taking performance-enhancing drugs. A decade ago, in baseball, this meant good old anabolic steroids, which in turn meant sub-average backup catchers showing up at Spring Training with freshly minted home run power, giant puffy wrestling muscles, and new and terrifying backne and anger management issues. In cycling, which is more or less the opposite of baseball insofar as it’s a slow and opaque thing Europeans love and Americans don’t understand, it generally meant blood doping. In recent weeks this has meant season-ending positive tests for San Francisco Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon, and the lifetime ban and retroactive un-immortalizing of seven-time Tour de France champion Lance Armstrong. This is news, but it’s not at all new.