Whatever lull July and early August brought to my workload, it’s officially over. Softball season, volleyball season, fall baseball season, and of course football season — they’ve all begun. And that means plenty of sports and teams to choose from most days of the week (except Wednesday, when no one plays because they all go to church … seriously).
The challenge now isn’t finding a story – it’s finding time to do the story knowing I still have to spend a few hours paginating. Now, I don’t mind paginating — I enjoy the visual challenge of placing stories and photos in an eye-catching manner, and I like the idea of controlling not only the content of our sports pages, but the design for it as well.
But first and foremost, I’m a reporter. I still like writing more than anything else my job entails.
It’s been over six months since I last reviewed a volume of Glenn Stout’s Best American Sports Writing. Sure, I might have spent the interim 195 days reviewing other stuff, but there’s nothing I enjoy more than curling up with the cream of some year’s sports-writing crop, relaxing as I read about some random sport’s random athlete that I’ve never…. hang on.
Did that dude just say he was gonna chop someone’s head off with a machete?
Here’s BASW 2004, edited by Pulitzer prize-winner Richard Ben Cramer.
A Story That Needed to be Told
Every so often a true game-changer enters a sport — an athlete so talented that he or she evolves his or her sport, leaving it forever changed.
Babe Ruth was such a player. Michael Jordan was such a player. And so was Mia Hamm, but because of soccer’s lack of popularity (especially women’s soccer), I’ve never known much about Hamm the person — except of course that she was married to “Nomah.”
Gary Smith’s “The Secret Life of Mia Hamm” gives the full history of the most important women’s soccer player of all time. The reader really understands how Hamm’s upbringing in a family devoted to serving the needy created a player unable to say no to fans or the press but also unable to perceive herself as the marvel she truly was. It’s a fantastic story on one of sport’s true icons.
The majority of stories approach their subjects (no others as big as Hamm) with the same high level of care and craft we’ve come to expect from a BASW story. In Lynne Cox’s “Swimming to Antarctica,” Cox doesn’t skimp on the science, explaining how it’s even possible for Cox to swim constantly in near-freezing water. Joe Posnanski’s “Dusting Off Home,” meanwhile, uses great visuals and emotionally resonant comments from former MLB pitcher Tony Peña to show how in the Dominican Republic, choices basically come down to a life of poverty as a farmer or a life of riches as a baseball player.
And then there’s Michael Hall’s “Running for his Life,” about distance runner Gilbert Tuhabonye. Originally born in Burundi, the story recounts in horrific detail the night members of Burundi’s Hutu tribe locked Tuhabonye and some of his fellow Tutsi tribesmen in a classroom, set them on fire and hacked to death anyone who tried to escape. Tuhabonye and Hall’s visuals place you right in the classroom, burning and terrified, as Tuhabonye must have been.
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a BASW story more intensely or quickly. Desperate to reach the ending despite knowing Tuhabonye would survive, I simply couldn’t put the story down.
Once upon a time, boxing ruled in America. The sport appealed to everyone from Las Vegas millionaires to working-class dockworkers. Its events packed the world’s biggest arenas and drew millions more either to their local bars or around their TVs and radios.
Now, boxing barely matters here. What happened? The public became convinced every fight was rigged (June’s highly publicized Pacquiao-Bradley farce did nothing to dissuade us from that notion), and it became disgusted after watching the fall of Muhammad Ali, the sport’s greatest, smartest, funniest, handsomest athlete.
Granted, cycling’s popularity in the U.S. has never been remotely close to boxing’s. But cycling definitely made inroads in the mid-1990s and early 2000s, and Lance Armstrong was the biggest reason why.
Armstrong’s story – a cancer-survivor refusing to give in, an American dominating a sport ruled by Europeans, a quietly hilarious cameo in Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story — was one we could latch onto. And in a sport where drug use apparently rivals that of baseball, Armstrong proved that no matter how much an opponent might cheat, heart and determination and talent could still win out.
Nope. Turns out, Armstrong’s heart probably pumped red-cell enhanced blood, just like everyone else in an irredeemable sport.
Armstrong abandoned his fight against the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s decade-old allegations Friday, earning him an immediate lifetime-ban from competitive cycling. The International Cycling Union and Amaury Sport Organization – which organizes the Tour de France — have yet to clarify with USADA who decides Armstrong’s status as a seven-time Tour winner, but all of Armstrong’s yellow jerseys could easily go the way of boxing’s integrity.
Even if Armstrong ultimately retains his titles, it won’t matter: cycling as a general-interest spectator sport is effectively dead in this country. Armstrong was the last defense against the public assuming every great cyclist is just a great cheater breaking the rules better than his opponents.
Armstrong’s fall doesn’t exactly replicate Ali’s. Armstrong chose to break the rules, and even if everyone else also did it, that decision still deserves the full penalty of the law. Ali, meanwhile, fought his whole career ignorant of the damage all those blows to the head would have on his brain — in part because boxing’s organizers kept such information away from their moneymakers.
While the former athlete deserves the blame for his own downfall that the latter does not, Armstrong and Ali still parallel each other in that each was such a dominant athlete during his career that he came to embody his respective sport. Because of that, when those athletes withered, so did their respective sports’ popularity.
Here’s my weekly list of stories written for the McAlester News-Capital. After spending the last three weeks working almost exclusively on our football preview, I’m finally done! That means more sports, more teams, and more profiles for the coming weeks.
Maybe I’ll even get to see this Quinton softball team I keep writing about!
Another week, another Weekly Roundup! I’m supposed to write new articles every day, but our regional football preview has taken up a lot of my time recently. I spent a good 75 percent of Saturday, for example, banging out articles on the non-football programs (cheerleading, pom squad, band) at McAlester High School, all of which had to be written (including cuts for photos) by today.
I’ll spend this coming week on the seven actual football teams I have to preview, plus spend most of Friday at an MHS scrimmage on the road. I also have to produce a story for our “Quicksilver” special section, which is geared towards our older readers.
While I have two viable ideas for Quicksilver, I haven’t done more than make initial contact with either person, so I’ll also need to interview, write, get photos and caption everything before this coming Thursday.
I figure I have one more week of diminished daily production, then I should get back to producing about 10-12 stories a week, hopefully on a wide array of sports and teams. Until then!
During his tenure as International Olympic Committee President, Juan Antonio Samaranch used to “grade” the Olympics in his Closing Ceremony speech. It was a somewhat meaningless grade, considering he called every Olympics except for Atlanta’s “the best Olympics ever,” and Jacques Rogge (who, while maybe an a-hole, at least isn’t an actual fascist) abandoned the practice when he took over as president.
Were he to appraise these Olympics, Rogge would have to call the Games of the XXX Olympiad the “best Olympics ever.” From an Opening Ceremony that managed both elegance and humor to a Closing Ceremony that rocked like none other (not even Sydney, despite Men at Work and Slim Dusty), these Olympics thrilled, satisfied and entertained like none before.
Watching Sunday’s Closing Ceremony, I kept observing over and over how much fun the athletes and spectators at Olympic Stadium seemed to be having. Screaming and clapping, dancing and singing, every athlete wore a smile that could rival Gabby Douglas or Missy Franklin.
And why shouldn’t they? Kim Gavin’s masterful musical line-up matched Danny Boyle’s, and the crowd seemed to go wilder for every new rock star that appeared on stage. I especially liked the appearance of One Direction – not because I like boy bands (though “What Makes You Beautiful” is pretty catchy), but because it shows a concerted effort to appeal to a younger crowd.
Many past Olympics drew exclusively from an older, classic-rock heavy cast of musicians. That may draw the dads (or grandads), but it turns off the tweens, teens and 20-somethings who just grew up with different music. Alienate too many young people, and they may lose interest in the Olympics as they have with other gala events (the Oscars, for example).
By bringing in One Direction and Artic Monkeys, by doing a section of his Opening Ceremony on young romance in a technological, smart-phone-saturated world, Gavin and Boyle helped include the younger generation – who make up the grand majority of Olympic athletes, remember – in the Olympic spirit. Another generation will grow up loving the Olympics, and Gavin and Boyle are two reasons why.
For two weeks every four years, the entire world unites in a celebration of pure athletic ability. We spend hours on the couch or at our computers, rooting for people we’ve never heard of in sports we barely understand (how is dressage a sport?),
Watching t.v. makes us patriots, and for two weeks, “patriot” no longer seems like such a loaded, co-opted word.
And then, just as quickly as it begins, it ends. Two weeks fly by faster than Usain Bolt, but what two weeks they are.
So on the penultimate night of the 2012 Summer Olympics, here are my five favorite and least favorite moments from London.
I’ll start with the negatives and end on a positive note.
5) Diving: I’ll never argue that diving isn’t a sport, and last-qualifying David Boudia denying China was kinda cool, but this sport just does nothing for me. Other sports (synchronized swimming, some of the cycling) don’t excite me either, but the diving competition always gets a much larger chunk of the prime time broadcast. To me, it’s just the same thing repeated like 50 times.
4) Tom Brokaw: All of Brokaw’s pieces boiled down to “old people doing old people stuff.” England’s pivotal role in WW2’s outcome? Undeniable. But that same day, Mary Carillo did a story on a young South African female runner dealing with accusations of being a man, and in general all her stories were on modern England. As such, her stories spoke more to me.
I think even Bob Costas wished Brokaw had chosen more contemporary topics. In his wrap-up interview with Brokaw after the WW2 piece, Costas basically said, “All these people made their impact on the world 70 years ago and haven’t mattered since. Doesn’t that suck?”
I remember the day so clearly. Aug. 15, 2004. I was visiting my grandparents in Wisconsin, setting the table at my maternal grandparents’ house for breakfast. The 2004 Summer Olympics played in the background, but morning broadcasts rarely mattered, so I didn’t pay much attention.
I glanced up at the TV at one point, and some Americans I’d never heard of were playing beach volleyball. Misty May and Kerry Walsh. Who were they?
I’d always liked volleyball, my college “career” having ended just a year prior when its demands conflicted too much with my Ultimate off-season training. So I started to watch.
Another week with fewer stories than I’d like, but this time I have a good excuse: our annual regional football preview. As point man for it, I spend nearly half of every day doing something related to it: driving to practices, interviewing, taking photos, writing articles, writing cuts, etc. And with nothing bigger going on in the city right now, devoting the extra hours to this project seems like the best use of my time.
However, the fall high school season has begun, which means… the return of recaps! I feel like I have these down to a science at this point, and I look forward to showing the community what I can do with them.
The first two will be part of next week’s roundup. Until then!
Just kidding, of course I’m talking about Pennsylvania State University, the former stomping grounds for Matt Anderson, Megan Hodge and Christa Harmotto. Three Nittany Lions on the U.S. volleyball roster make PSU the second-biggest Olympic feeder behind Long Beach State.
It’s no coincidence that PSU alumni make up essentially an eighth of U.S. Volleyball: the school has one of the best volleyball programs in the NCAA.