Sports reads: Second (and last) chapters of great athletes

What’s a book without great characters? Nothing. Although sports provide many enjoyable aspects of non-character based entertainment, like tactical board games or impressive modern dance, the same is essentially true for following sports. The more interesting the characters are, the more people will enjoy following them in a sports context. This week, we’re featuring three character studies of former athletes who continue or continued to be impressive people worth knowing about even after their playing days were done.

From Hot Takes to Watch Tape: Cris Collinsworth and the Evolution of NFL Broadcast Analysis

by Bryan Curtis for Grantland

If you watch a lot of sports on television, you almost inadvertently become a critic of television commentators. Chris Collinsworth, the analyst paired with legendary play-by-play announcer Al Michaels for the Sunday Night Football broadcasts, is one of the best. In this article, Curtis places Collinsworth’s work in a proper historical context and describes his unique approach to the job.

The Collinsworth of Sunday Night Football shows how the old hot-take model of TV analysis is slowly changing. “The entire environment of television is so different than the ’90s,” said Gaudelli, the Sunday Night Football producer. “All these 24-hour networks — people are criticizing people all the time, or building them up all the time.”

If hot takes no longer seemed unique, neither do we assume the ex-jock’s knowledge of the inner workings of the game. The new breed of football writer — the Schatzes, Barnwells, and Browns — revealed that TV talkers were doing a Regular Joe gloss rather than real analysis. Some analysts were holding back; some didn’t seem capable of real analysis at all.

The new paradigm required an analyst who could marry ’90s brio with the new tools of research. The old analyst’s boast was, “I’m not afraid to speak my mind.” The new boast — repeated by Collinsworth, Ron Jaworski, and Mike Mayock — is, “I watch tape.”

At 65, Bobby Orr is focused on doing good — quietly

by Bob Hohler for the Boston Globe

It’s always interesting to learn about what athletes do after they retire – the bigger the star they were when they played, the more interesting their second chapter becomes. Hockey player Bobby Orr was a giant mega-star, the likes of which hockey rarely creates. This article describes a second chapter that is highly disciplined, principled, and kind. It’s inspiring and, perhaps even more important given the cynical baggage intelligent readers bring to this type of flattering profile, rings true.

In the sports world, there are many charitable superstars and many others for whom philanthropy is a masquerade, an exercise in image-buffing. Then there is Orr, who has created a model for giving back that embraces the power of true connection, of responding when the need is greatest.

When social studies teacher Christa McAuliffe died aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1986, Orr learned that members of her family were Bruins fans and he quietly traveled to Concord, N.H., to visit.

When former Bruin Ace Bailey died aboard a hijacked airliner that struck the World Trade Center in New York during the 2001 terrorist attacks, Orr turned up the next morning at the door of Bailey’s widow, Katherine.

“Bobby will always have a place in my heart,’’ she said.

When Orr learned last year that James Gordon, a hockey player at Hingham High School, was fighting testicular cancer, he called Gordon’s mother, Terry, and asked to visit.

Orr chatted for several hours with James, his family, and friends, spending much of the time holding Terry’s daughter, Jenna, who has Down syndrome.

Orr posed for pictures with everyone in the house. He later mailed them autographed photos with personal messages, having remembered the name of each family member and friend as if he had known them for years.

Terry Gordon, still in awe months later, said, “Who does that?’’

Moses Malone: 1955–2015

by Chuck Klosterman for Grantland

I pay attention when Klosterman writes anything. He is at his best when writing about a subject he has great affection for. In this brief ode to basketball player Moses Malone, who just died, Klosterman’s affection comes across palpably.   

Malone was the greatest rebounder of the modern era (a counterargument could be made for Dennis Rodman, but that argument would be wrong). His brilliance was grounded in the simplicity of his approach, deftly explained to Frank Deford in 1979: “Basically, I just goes to the rack.” There has never been a better seminar on the art of rebounding. He wasted no motion and expressed no ulterior agenda. Malone was a workaholic, so it would be unfair to claim his glass-eating to be somehow intuitive or instinctual or devoid of consciousness. He made himself into the person he was. But there was never a time when he could not do this one thing.

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