Sports reads: Experiencing football

Each fall, football colonizes the minds and hearts of sports fans around the country. Football is simultaneously one of the most compelling and confusing sports. It has so many different layers – the player experience, the coaching experience, the television or in person viewer experience, the gambler’s experience, the fantasy football experience, and more. Today we’re featuring three stories that peel away a few layers of football and examine one in great and exciting detail.

The Oral History of Joe Theismann’s Broken Leg

by Luke Mullins for Washingtonian

The breaking of Joe Theismann’s leg, which happened during a nationally televised football game 30 years ago, is one of the most famous sports injuries ever. This oral history covers not just the ordinary gruesome fascination but also some behind-the-scenes and after-the-fact areas that are completely new.

“From the day I got hurt, people have always come up to me and asked me about the injury. All the time. They ask, ‘How’s the leg?’ And I say, ‘It’s a little crooked, it’s a little short, but I’m able to use it.’ And whenever someone suffers a severe leg injury in sports, I always get phone calls from reporters to discuss it… What the injury did for me, it basically became my identity. I’m basically the godfather of broken legs. “If somebody breaks a leg, I usually get a phone call from the media. And by remaining relevant in this way, it gives me a chance to hopefully help people through a very difficult time. Doctors will clear you when your body is physically ready to go, but then you have to clear yourself through the mental hurdles. And that’s really where I try to offer assistance if I can.

The Comprehensive Illusion of Football

by Nicholas Dawidoff for The New Yorker

Dawidoff spent a year researching his book on one of the least accessible layers of football – the one coaches obsess over, which virtually only they have access to. He gives us a tiny fascinating hint of it in this article.

Football on television is an entity unto itself: the comprehensive illusion of football, far from the full picture. As a result, there may be no activity that draws closer public scrutiny that the public knows less about.

To see the full truth of a football game, you’d have to enter an N.F.L. facility on Monday morning and watch the game film along with the coaches. Coaching film has no audio and is shot from end zone and sideline angles at sufficient depth that coaches can see what all twenty-two players are doing. Football involves large, fast men navigating a limited patch of land over and over again, with a map designed for each one of these brief excursions. The coaches have made the maps, and they spend their film sessions scrutinizing every player’s every movement, assessing what worked, what didn’t, and why.

My Fantasy Football Nightmare

by Jason Gay for The Wall Street Journal

I’ve written a lot about fantasy football and I hope I’ve been able to make it more understandable but I imagine it’s still a subject of curiosity for most non-fantasy football owners. In this article, Jason Gay, a long-time sports columnist, describes his first experience with fantasy football with humor and a great deal of insight.

And see this is another thing: Fantasy Football makes you do crazy stuff. You now have a stake in meaningless contests you’d never consider watching in the past. That Vikings-Niners game was about as entertaining as watching a goat take a nap. And yet there I was, as the clock pushed midnight, because it suddenly mattered. Sort of. Even worse, I am irrationally mad at Torrey Smith for giving me no fantasy points Monday night. Until now I had no beef with Torrey Smith. Sorry Torrey!

(Fantasy has also lent clarity to a lot of NFL coverage. In the past, I didn’t realize why things like Dez Bryant’s busted foot got covered like a mission to the Moon. But now I know: because there are a bazillion fantasy players who want to know exactly how Dez Bryant’s injury impacts their fantasy team—if they, you know, need to swing a deal for Jerry Lee Pasadena. One week on fantasy has lent great clarity as to why Adam Schefter is now more powerful in this country than the Supreme Court.)


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.

Sports reads: Is winning everything? Is it anything?

The topic of winning is a natural one in sports. Sports are, after all, one of life’s few activities that have clear and objective winners and losers. That’s one of the appeals of sports. It’s therefore very interesting when things happen to subvert the reward of winning, even within sports. This week, we’re featuring four articles that approach the topic of winning from a different point of view.

Fuck Winning

by Albert Burneko for Deadspin

Burneko got his start on Deadspin writing about food and quickly became hotly anticipated must-read-out-loud material in my household. Recently he’s made the move to non-food commentary and his stuff is just as good. This week, he responded to James Harrison, and NFL veteran, who publicly and triumphantly returned a participation trophy that one of his children had been given. 

The big grown-up world is coming up behind my children—behind James Harrison’s kids and yours, too, if you have them. To sort them: those who will prosper, or falter; those whom the barbarism we have enshrined into our way of life will reward, and those it will devour; those who will strive with their whole selves to make their way in that grown-up world and then unknowingly choose to attend the same prayer meeting as Dylann Roof and be snatched out of it in violence and fear and confusion, whether they got trophies for participating in sports or not.

For now, for now, for as long as I can have it, the reason to do things—to play sports, to do work, to get out of bed in the morning—is because the privilege is a fucking miracle, because it might allow my children to be children now, now, today, before the least consideration of long-term goals and competition and getting ahead may intrude upon the impulse a little kid gets to put a balloon inside his shirt and make another little kid laugh.

Soccer’s Poor Little Rich Clubs

by Joshua Robinson for the Wall Street Journal

Although European countries tend to be more socialist than ours, European club soccer is way more capitalist. The movement of teams from one level-league to the next higher or lower carries with it incredible financial consequences. For smaller teams, just making it into the top league, even if they then lose all their games, is a giant victory.

Europe’s major leagues all operate on a system of promotion and relegation. The bottom two or three clubs every season are demoted to the division below and replaced by the best teams beneath them. In the richest leagues, it’s like a revolving door to the billionaires’ club… 

And as television revenue reaches new heights, the microclubs all make the same bet. A couple of seasons at their country’s top table can translate to years of financial stability. It isn’t about winning titles. It is about surviving—even briefly.

Roger Goodell vs. Tom Brady: The Ultimate Revenge-of-Mediocrity Story

by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone

In court, no one wins, not even the winner. That’s the message of this acerbic article about the continuing Deflategate “scandal” in the NFL.

If Goodell wins this court battle, sports pundits will line up to talk about what a “brilliant” PR strategist Goodell is, how he’s “masterfully” scored a public relations “knockout” of the once-iconic Brady.

Except this Iago-esque campaign of diabolical leaks, secret indictments and double punishments has been conducted against his most marketable player for…why exactly? What other business would spend such an awesome amount of time, money, and most of all cunning undermining its key employees?

It’s like concocting a brilliant plan to break into a supermax prison. Hey, you made it, congratulations, that’s a hell of a tunnel you built there. Now what was the point again?

Medieval Times: The Armored Combat League Makes Sport Out of Swords and Shields

by Jason Concepcion for Grantland

Concepcion spends a fair amount of time marveling at the wild sport that people have forged from a history of armored combat, but its his ironic take on the appeal of this history that caught my eye. 

Once upon a time, the subset of Americans who are drawn to the ren-faire-style wizards, wenches, and knights trappings of medieval Europe were looked upon by their countrymen with collective fascination, if at all. Such behavior existed under the general umbrella of Nerd Shit. But now, after the one-two punch of the Lord of the Rings trilogy and Game of Thrones becoming a global phenomenon, a not-insignificant portion of Americans have a cursory knowledge of heraldry and feudalism.

For all its courtly affectations, Europe’s medieval period was essentially a religiously fractious, war-torn dystopia… Which is to say, its appeal has never seemed more obvious.

Women in sports: the plight and the fight

With the women’s World Cup firmly in the rear view mirror and Serena Williams cooling her heels for another couple weeks until the U.S. Open, women’s sports and women in sports have faded slightly out of the spotlight. That doesn’t mean there still aren’t awesome women doing fascinating, frustrating, and forceful things in sports. This week we bring you three stories about the challenges that women face advancing in the world of sports.

The Lingerie Football Trap

by Jordan Ritter Conn for Grantland

Have you ever heard of the Lingerie Football League? Recently renamed to the Legends Football League (you’re not fooling anyone, guys, but it is a step in the right direction), this is full-on tackle football played by women with far less protective padding and far, far, infinitely far less reward than their male counterparts. Women playing football is a feather in the cap of progress. But women playing for noting and wearing almost nothing? Is it a step back? A small step forward? Or a stalemate? 

The LFL’s core audience wants to see skin. The players want to play real football in real arenas, to feel the rush of high-stakes competition. The commissioner wants to make money. The LFL, for better or worse, is their middle ground.

The relationship between the LFL’s uniforms and the players who wear them is complex. “I mean, yes, we’re wearing basically a bathing suit,” says Melissa Margulies. “But you can’t argue [with] sex sells. That’s going to fill the seats.” Even among players deeply critical of the league, there is often little patience for this debate.

They joined the league knowing full well what it sells. They agreed to market both their bodies and their talent. But that choice is limited, bound by certain realities. “Sometimes, when you’re a female athlete, you have to suck it up,” says Nikki Johnson, another former player with the Las Vegas Sin. “You have to do whatever it takes to get people to your games.”

Jen Welter Is the NFL’s First Female Coach and Nobody Had a Sexist Reaction to That (Just Kidding)

by Jenna Mullins for E Online

It’s amazing that the hiring of a training camp coaching intern made news, but such is the popularity of the NFL and such has been the complete dominance of NFL coaching jobs by men. Despite the fanfare over the first female hiring, what happens next will be far more meaningful. Will there be other teams that dare to hire a female coach? Will Welter get a permanent position?

“Coaching is nothing more than teaching,” head coach Bruce Arians said. “One thing I have learned from players is, ‘How are you going to make me better? If you can make me better, I don’t care if you’re the Green Hornet, man, I’ll listen.’ I really believe she’ll have a great opportunity with this internship through training camp to open some doors for her.” Arians added that after speaking to the veteran Cardinals players, they were all “very cool” with Welter taking on the position.

You know who is not “very cool” with Dr. Welter? Humans who still think women are the inferior sex and shouldn’t dare set food out of the kitchen. Also known as people who apparently time-traveled from 1951. What bummed us out most about seeing these comments on Facebook and Twitter is that a lot of them came from women. We’re bumming hard over that, you guys.

Why England’s women’s soccer team won’t be playing at the 2016 Olympics

by Karla Adams for the Washington Post

Before you get your indignation machine started, this story has nothing to do with gender — at least, the reason the women’s team won’t be playing in the Olympics has nothing to do with gender. Still, you can’t help but wonder whether Great Britain would find a way to make this work if it meant missing or making an important men’s soccer tournament.

At the heart of the debate over whether Britain will field any soccer teams at the Olympics are questions about British identity, and which of Britons’ multiple identities gets priority.

The four constituent nations of the United Kingdom compete as individual teams in soccer tournaments such as the World Cup and the European Championship. But in the Olympics, the athletes must compete under the single banner of “Team GB.”

England lays claim to inventing the modern game of soccer, and on the men’s side, it is wildly popular, with England’s Premier League being one of the most popular in the world. The Olympics, which on the men’s side has an age restriction of younger than 23 (with the exception of three players), is arguably not as important for the men as other tournaments… But the sport is still developing for the women, and some fans say it’s disappointing that the women won’t get the sort of high-megawatt exposure that a platform such as the Olympics can offer.

The best sports stories of the week 7.14.15

The themes for this week’s best sports stories are the widespread nature of sports and unintentional consequences. A blue musician grew up in Texas before professional baseball existed there, so he became a New York Yankees fan. Now he travels all around the country and roots for his team from afar… even in Boston. A man from Finland travels to the United States over a hundred years ago. Today, the version of baseball he created in Finland still thrives. A trend in naming soccer teams in America suggests emulating common European club team names but doesn’t take into account the history of those names. An international sporting event comes to a town obsessed more with government ethics than sports. Read all four of these pieces in your leisure time. You won’t be disappointed!

The Tainted History of the ‘Dynamo’ Team Name

by Michael Baumann for Grantland

This is a brilliant look into the history of soccer in Eastern Europe during the Cold War that leaves its readers wanting much more.

After ditching one offensive name, Houston stumbled onto something worse, either not knowing or not caring that “Dynamo” carries with it perhaps the darkest connotations of any team name in modern European soccer.

In a communist dictatorship, sports franchises obviously aren’t for-profit businesses the way they are under capitalism. Instead, the major soccer teams in Eastern Bloc countries were founded as club teams for various state-run entities. You’ll see repeated names throughout former Warsaw Pact countries: CSKA for the army, Lokomotiv for the transportation ministry, and Dynamo for the secret police.

In an Indifferent Toronto, the Pan-Am Games Land With a Thud

by Ian Austen for the New York Times

Did you know the Pan-Am games were happening right now? Did you know they were in Toronto? If you answered “no” to both questions, you’re not alone. Even many people in Toronto don’t know or don’t care.

In a country where even minor misuse of public money can be the stuff of scandal, some observers think the Toronto games never got over the black eye.

“For the general public, there has been an apathy which is being driven by a dissatisfaction with the management of the games,” said Cheri L. Bradish, who teaches sports marketing at Ryerson University in Toronto.

Making matters worse, officials have been issuing early and frequent warnings to adjust travel plans because of the expressway lane closings, resulting in apocalyptic news coverage.

“You can’t do that for weeks and then turn around and say: ‘It’s going to be great,’ ” Ms. Bradish said.

What Finland Can Teach America About Baseball

by Brian Costa for the Wall Street Journal

This article is worth reading for the sheer thrill of learning about a strange version of baseball whose evolution diverged from American baseball more than a hundred years ago. The fact that it’s hysterically written and includes video (video!!) of pesäpallo is a bonus.

And those are only some of the quirks of a game that includes a zigzag base path, a rectangular outfield, trios of designated hitters called jokers and managers whose primary mode of communication resembles the feathers of a peacock.

“If you dropped acid and decided to go make baseball, this is what you would end up with,” said Andy Johnson, a Minnesota Twins scout based in Norway.

Jarring as it might look, pesäpallo is no mere curiosity in Finland. It is considered the national sport, and has been known to elicit uncharacteristic displays of emotion from the famously stoic Finns. Clapping, for instance, and speaking.

Country Legend Steve Earle Talks Breakups, The Blues And Baseball

by Amelia Mason for The Artery

Why include an interview of a blues man from an art-focused part of a Boston-area NPR outlet? Well, for full disclosure, Mason is a friend of mine, but it certainly qualifies as a sports piece thanks to a series of long wandering comments about sports that the subject of the interview, Steve Earle (who you may know from The Wire) makes. 

I’ll never forget, the funniest thing, it was a light moment in a dark era, is I was leaving Boston—I was going through security at Logan [Airport]. My sister lived in Boston for years, she’s married to a guy from there, she lived in Weymouth for a long time. And I don’t remember whether it was business or if it was seeing my sister but it was after 9/11, and not long after 9/11, and they still had a city cop and a state cop and a National Guardsman standing at security at every checkpoint. And I was going through, and I pulled my computer out of the bag and I had a great big top hat Yankees sticker on it. And the sate trooper that was standing there looked at it and goes, “Aw, strip search this one.” And everybody, including me, busts out laughing. And at this point, this was probably in October or November, and one of the planes did leave from Logan, you know, so security was really tough and everybody was really afraid to joke about anything.

The best sports stories of the week 7.7.15

Now that the excitement of the World Cup is beginning to die down, it’s time to empty my inbox of some amazing non-World Cup articles from the past couple weeks. Our first two articles are serious journalism about how sports can be an enormously positive part of living in restrictive environments. Our second two articles are lighter fare, concerned with the junction of sports and words. Enjoy all four of them.

Thriving in a Barren Land

by Jere Longman for the New York Times

One of the reasons why soccer is the world’s most popular sport is that it’s so universally easy to play. All you need is a field, a ball, and some friends/opponents. But what if you live in the Arctic and there is no grass, only tundra? And traveling so expensive that you can only reasonably find opponents once a year? Well, you’re going to have to improvise…

Assis, the chief referee, stood at the front desk of the Frobisher Inn, using a pair of scissors to make yellow cards and red cards from construction paper.

“Think FIFA does this for the World Cup?” he said, smiling.

Occasionally, travel in Nunavut called for extreme alternative transportation. In 2011 and 2012, a soccer team from the village of Igloolik traveled about four hours over ice to Hall Beach, riding in an oversize sled called a qamutik, pulled by a snowmobile and bundled in winter gear and caribou skins.

[Soccer] helped provide a year-round activity, a sense of community, a connection to the outside world and a distraction from social problems like alcoholism, domestic violence, sexual abuse and the alarming suicide rate.

Run on Sentence

by Rick Maese for the Washington Post

In this second story of the week, we enter an environment even more forbidding than the arctic; prison. In a handful of Utah prisons, sport is being used as the basis for rehabilitation. And it’s working.

[Kurtis Hunsaker] initially spurned treatment behind bars. [He] said he’d “rather pull my toes off with pliers” than attend AA meetings. He attended the initial Addict II Athlete meeting last spring and for the first time felt a sense of control. In contrast to programs that encourage patients to surrender to the addiction and call upon a higher power, he was in charge of his own workout, had an outlet for the pent-up emotions and anxieties and was part of a team. And perhaps just as important, he finally had something to look forward to each day.

Most games in prison have the familiar rules with minor wrinkles: In Ultimate Frisbee, for example, when a disc hits the fence, it sets off an alarm in the control room and is therefore considered a turnover; and in softball if the bat comes into contact with a person, the game is automatically over.

Where Ott and Orr Are Most Valuable: 15 Across, or Maybe 7 Down

by Victor Mather for the New York Times

They’re obviously nothing compared to living in the arctic or being in prison but for many of us, New York Times crossword puzzles are the toughest part of our week. One thing that makes them ever so slightly easier is the frequent reuse of some short, vowel-heavy names. Often, these are athletes whose crossword puzzle notoriety has outstripped their athletic achievements.

Of course, there is no conspiracy of delusional Ott-loving crossword constructors. Mel has gained his fame because of his last name, which is short and starts with a vowel. The clunky “DiMaggio,” with its double G, is much less useful to a crossword creator.

The Real Reason Americans Call It ‘Soccer’ Is All England’s Fault

by Tony Manfred for Business Insider

While we’re on the subject of words, if you grew up a soccer player and fan like me, you may have developed a slight inferiority complex about calling the sport “soccer” instead of “football” or “futbol.” Read this article and hold your head high evermore.

The interesting thing here is that Brits still used “soccer” regularly for a huge chunk of the 20th century. Between 1960 and 1980, “soccer” and “football” were “almost interchangeable…” [After 1980] British people stopped saying “soccer” because of its American connotations. So, no, it’s not wrong to call it “soccer” if you’re American.

What is the triangle offense in basketball?

One of the great things about watching sports is that they are multi-layered entertainment. The most casual fan can turn on a game and immediately enjoy the beauty of watching incredibly fit people do insanely graceful things with their bodies. Someone who doesn’t know anything about a sport but loves competition will find it easy to get engaged in a close game. A moderate fan starts to learn some of the characters in the drama – the players and coaches whose personalities influence the outcome of the game and how fans feel about it. An intermediate fan will learn about the many technicalities of the game, from rules to basic tactics. A serious fan of a sport or team will become an expert in history, know the background and personalities of all the players, and has a deep intellectual and instinctual understanding of how the game works from tactics to rules to strategies. Each sport has its own ladder of learning, something which we try to unravel on Dear Sports Fan. No matter how long you’re involved with a sport, however, there always seems to be another layer of the onion to peel; something else that remains unknown – something else to learn. In basketball, the very pinnacle of understanding, the single thing which remains unknowable to virtually all fans and even most players and coaches is the triangle offense.

Although it’s much less obvious, basketball teams, like football teams, have distinct offensive plays and strategies which vary from team to team. Although most offenses share similar concepts, like the pick and roll, each one is its own unique animal. In this animal kingdom of offensive strategies, the triangle offense is the panther – complex, mysterious, and totally dominant. The most winning teams of the past 20+ years of basketball history, the Chicago Bulls of the 1990s (six championships) and the Los Angeles Lakers of the 2000s (five championships) have used the triangle offense. Despite all that notoriety, the offense has remained literally invisible to casual fans and totally inscrutable to virtually everyone else. Without being able to understand how it works, people have taken to debating its existence. Is the triangle offense really what drove those teams to their success or is it a “MacGuffin” — a meaningless sleight of hand created by Phil Jackson, coach of both teams, to distract competitors and commentators from whatever his true strategy was?

In a truly brilliant New York Times article, “The Obtuse Triangle,” Nicholas Dawidoff, set out to discover, once and for all, the essential nature of the triangle offense, the unorthodox thinker, Tex Winter, who created it, and the enigmatic coach, Phil Jackson, who used it to such success. Here are some of my favorite selections from the story, but you should read it all. It’s bright and accessible to even the most casual basketball fan.

Dawidoff discovers that, as opposed to other offenses that are an accumulation of set plays, the triangle offense is a philosophy of interpretation that must be shared by all five players on the court inorder to be effective:

Winter empowers his players to read the defense and make situational decisions within the flow of the game, so the tricky part is that everyone must recognize the same opportunity and choose the same response. In effect, Winter wants five basketball Peyton Mannings on the floor, scanning the defense, deciphering its intentions, flashing around the court in well-spaced concert, exploiting vulnerability.

Part of Dawidoff’s investigative process was reading a book Winter wrote and published which detailed the triangle offense for all to read. Offenses are usually tightly guarded secrets, but as you’ll see in a minute, Winter felt comfortable sharing his for one very good reason:

When a Baltimore Bullets scout named Jerry Krause visited Kansas State, Winter gave Krause his book to read. Krause complimented the book, and Winter mentioned that he had sent copies to his rival coaches in the Big 8 Conference.

“I said, ‘Why are you giving away your secrets?’ ” Krause said. “He said: ‘I’m not. It’ll only confuse them.’ ”

Triangle deniers often point out that Jackson’s championship teams had first Michael Jordan and then Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neill on them. That’s three of the top ten players in the past 40 years. A big part of the article grapples with this question. The eventual conclusion seems to be that while no offense can succeed without great players, great players also can’t succeed (at least as consistently and frequently as Jordan, O’Neill, and Bryant did) without a great system.

Jackson and Winter’s thinking was that if they built more offensive options around him, Jordan would have greater reserves of energy at the end of playoff games. They told Jordan that for 20 seconds, the team would stay in the offense. If no clear scoring opportunities emerged, then he should create one. Jordan was skeptical; he called the triangle “a white man’s offense.”

Jordan’s teammate Horace Grant describes the give-and-take between crediting the offense and the star players:

“It was a smooth operating machine. Baryshnikov in action! Picasso painting! A beautiful thing! Having Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen helped, too. Shot clock’s at four, it all breaks down, then Jordan time.”

Enjoy the whole article here.

Two stories about mountain climbing and life

I answered a question on this blog about whether basketball is a selfish sport. I argued that while basketball isn’t a selfish sport, it is the team sport where selfish behavior is easiest to fall into and to observe. In this way, basketball is actually a very good setting to learn lessons about the balancing selfish desires and selfless behavior. Sports in general are wonderful settings that reveal their participants’ natures while teaching them how to become better people. Keep the idea of sports as a character shaping and revealing activity in your mind as you read these two amazing articles about women who to climb mountains. If basketball is a test of balancing one’s selfish urges, rock climbing seems to demand an almost perfect understanding of how to push yourself as hard as you possibly can to meet your goals without pushing too hard. 

After the Seven Summits

by Alyssa Roenigk for ESPN

Nepali men have been climbing Mount Everest and helping other people climb Everest for decades, but it wasn’t until recently that a team of Nepali women decided to do the same. Once they did it, they looked for a bigger challenge, and found it in a legendary rock-climbing challenge to climb the highest mountain on all seven continents. Once they did THAT, they needed an even bigger challenge. As fate would have it, the Earth provided them with that challenge in the form of a giant earthquake and an even bigger rebuilding effort.

The women kept their heads down and trusted in their training, climbing approximately five to 10 hours a day. When they felt too cold to take another step, too tired or too discouraged, they sang songs, told jokes and encouraged one another. They climbed slower than they thought they were capable of climbing and sometimes slower than their legs wanted to move. If they had learned anything in the course of their training, it was that the most dangerous element on Everest is not altitude or falling ice but hubris.


Shailee led the group into a field, where they waited for the aftershocks to subside. “When we felt it was safe, we began walking back toward the city,” she says. “At first, everything appeared normal. Then I saw it was gone.” The vertical space Dharahara Tower had filled only hours earlier was now nothing but blue sky. “Then,” Shailee says, “we walked into a nightmare.”

For the next several days, the women gathered at a makeshift headquarters in Kathmandu, bringing with them the focus and determination that had carried them to the tops of mountains. They tapped into a network in the climbing and outdoor communities to organize volunteers, collect supplies and kick-start fundraising efforts to bring rice, tarps and medical personnel to far-reaching villages such as Maya’s and Nim’s, two of the hardest-hit districts in the country. Around them, the city of Kathmandu crumbled and the death toll rose to more than 8,000. Their friends and families lived in daily fear of mudslides, monsoons, starvation and illness.

They had never imagined this was how they would put to use the skills and strengths they had developed and uncovered within themselves over the past eight years, but they knew this was now their calling.


by Eva Holland for SB Nation

Far across the world, in a far more privileged setting, three college students won a scholarship that would pay for them to climb the mountain of their dreams, the Cirque of the Unclimbables. With them, they brought a portion of the ashes of their friend who had died recently on another mountain top. Holland masterfully weaves the story of her own intersecting trip into that of the three climbers. 

When they told me about Cole, they were matter-of-fact. Their friend had died while climbing, they said, and now here they were: climbing. They weren’t here because of his death, and they weren’t here despite it. They would continue to live their lives in the face of risk, just as he had lived his. But it was clear that the avalanche that had taken Cole’s life added another emotional layer to their journey, another bit of weight on their shoulders as they climbed.

“He was totally a guy who just went for it all the time,” Hannah said. “He wouldn’t come up here and do four pitches and say, ‘Oh, I’m tired, I’m going to leave.’”

I’d never spoken to a group of 22-year-olds who were so self-aware, so keenly attuned to their own feelings and motivations and those of their teammates. Really, I thought, most adults of any age could envy the trio’s ability to reflect on their own choices and the emotions behind them. All three were thoughtful, and unblinkingly honest about their fears, their insecurities, their sense of failure or accomplishment. They looked young, maybe younger even than they were, but they spoke with the calm confidence, even wisdom, I might expect in someone much older.

I tried to imagine having to make life-and-death decisions under the weight of all the burdens they were carrying on this trip: wanting to prove themselves to the climbers back home, at least some of whom thought they were in over their heads; wanting to support each other, no single climber wanting to be the one who held the team back; wanting to satisfy their own natures, their own sense of pride as athletes; and wanting to honor Cole, to have an adventure worthy of him.

I couldn’t imagine it.

Raising athletes to win, serve, and live

Sports are at least as big a part of raising children in this country as religion or civics. Kids spend hours every day playing sports and the way they see adults handle the everyday drama of sports helps to each them how to handle the real dramas of growing up. This week we have three stories about raising kids in and around sports. We’re going to hear from a former major league baseball player who has recently begun coaching his children’s t-ball team and from the family and friends of a young athlete who took her own life. We’ll hear about the army’s newfound devotion to women’s lacrosse and why their focused on that sport.

Confessions of a Major League T-Ball Coach

by Doug Glanville for the New York Times

Former baseball player Doug Glanville walks the line in this article. It’s tricky to write comedically about children — if the snark has even a hint of mean-spiritedness in it, the whole article will fall apart at the seams. I don’t sense snark at all, only love and appreciation for the absurd.

Base running is a little more straightforward, even though it can create moments I have never seen or imagined before in my life. The other day, we had three runners on third at the same time. After first trying to sort it out, I thought, “No big deal, let me see what happens when the hitter puts the ball in play.” So he did, and two out of the three ran home. Not bad.

T-ball is subject to a range of delays that have nothing to do with rain. Nor do they come from pitching changes or from challenging a call with Instant Replay. No. Our catcher went off to the Port A Potty; another one of our players was shaken up after being engulfed by his own teammates (eight apparent shortstops trampled him to get a ball hit near the pitcher’s mound); a couple of other players found the joy in knocking each other’s hats off at second base — until they found themselves disoriented in the evil and boring outfield.

Why Does the Army Care so Much About Women’s Lacrosse?

by Jane McManus for ESPNW

The image you might have in your mind of women’s lacrosse is that of a genteel sport played by young ladies. Don’t be tricked by the skirts that the players wear, they are ladies, but they’re the kind of ladies that will shove you to the ground and sprint over you to score a goal. That’s exactly the kind of people the army needs as they continue to open more combat positions to women.

The Army believes there is a crucial relationship between those two things — an athletic background and being a soldier. As the military prepares to allow women on the front lines of combat in 2016, there is an immediate need for strong, tough women from within the Army’s ranks. And, in a philosophy often mentioned on campus and believed by MacArthur himself, the Army believes athletes make better soldiers.

The data seems to support the basic premise held at West Point: that female athletes possess critical tools that would make them ready for the front lines of combat. Lacrosse is the next frontier for pulling good athletes to the academy

Split Image

by Kate Fagan for ESPN

This is a brutal article. It tells the story of Madison Holleran, a successful multi-sport athlete who recently died by suicide. As much as her family and friends would like there to be an answer to why and what we can do as a society to prevent other people from doing the same, there just isn’t. Depression is a nasty disease and it can strike anyone, anywhere. What follows here is some of Fagan’s writing about the impact of social media on young women’s lives. It’s not an explanation for suicide but it is something that we can improve. 

Madison was beautiful, talented, successful — very nearly the epitome of what every young girl is supposed to hope she becomes. But she was also a perfectionist who struggled when she performed poorly. She was a deep thinker, someone who was aware of the image she presented to the world, and someone who often struggled with what that image conveyed about her, with how people superficially read who she was, what her life was like.

Everyone presents an edited version of life on social media. People share moments that reflect an ideal life, an ideal self… With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another’s edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others’ filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered… She seemed acutely aware that the life she was curating online was distinctly different from the one she was actually living. Yet she could not apply that same logic when she looked at the projected lives of others.

Sport as an element of recovery

We all live with the nagging fear and sure knowledge that at some point, someone we love will be taken from us. If all goes well and the ideal, natural order of things comes to pass, this means we will lose our grandparents before our parents, and our parents before our children lose us. For many, that order is interrupted violently by disease, misfortune, or violence. Tradition and cultural institutions are a way to cope with loss and serve as both assistants and markers on the road to recovery. Today we have two stories of people who have turned to sport as a form of recovery. Our third story, just as a lighthearted bonus, is something completely different.

Shedding the Blockers

by Robert Mays for Grantland

The athlete who overcomes personal tragedy to accomplish great things in his or her sport is by now virtually a cliche. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good story though. People’s lives, situations, and characters are infinitely varied and interesting to learn about. Almost invariably, to learn about someone’s history is to develop a fondness for them. When the NFL draft comes around, I will be rooting for Danny Shelton to land in a good spot. He deserves it.

From the start, it was obvious to [coach Jeff] Choate what he had in the middle of Washington’s defense. In the Huskies’ season opener, a late-August game in Hawaii, [Danny] Shelton played 78 snaps. Even at 339 pounds — a number Choate calls “conservative” — Shelton was on the field for all three downs. He would finish the season with nine sacks, but his presence also created opportunities all over the Washington defense. Like Vince Wilfork — a player to whom Shelton has been compared often in the lead-up to the draft — single-teaming him with a center allows him to control both inside gaps, freeing up linebackers to worry about plays further outside. After the first series in Washington’s 27-26 loss at Arizona, Choate noticed the Wildcats were content to not double-team Shelton at all. Shelton finished the game with nine total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack.

Away from football at Washington, he tried to be more of a Polynesian and a mentor with a 3.7 GPA than an athlete. This fall, he led a First-Year Interest Group on campus, helping mentor incoming students about the difficulties of the transition to college. He’s the first athlete Barker can remember asking to be involved with the program. Early on, when students would ask if he played football, he would lie. “I’d tell them I played tennis,” Shelton says. A few said he should give football a try. He told them he’d think about it.

Still in the Game

by Rick Maese for the Washington Post

While players, coaches, and owners get the spotlight, every professional team has dozens of stage-manager or techie type running around, doing incredible work to support them. These people, like Monica Barlow, who before her death was in charge of media and public relations for the Baltimore Orioles, are every bit as passionate about their teams as the people who wear the uniforms. Once in a very long while, we get a window into what it’s like to live for a team beyond simply being a fan. The view is as fascinating as the story of Monica’s death is heartbreaking.

Sports helps explain relationships. It connects generations, spouses, friends, parents and children. It becomes an expression of love and later a channel for grief. People etch team logos on headstones and sprinkle ashes on sports fields. For someone grieving a loss, a trip to the ballpark might offer a respite, a chance to escape their pain. For others, it’s a time to embrace their loss and feel closer to a loved one. For Barlow, it was everything. Baseball had dictated his routine for so long. Monica was gone, but the game would continue.

Predators’ Pekka Rinne Gets Puck Stuck In Pads For The Longest Time

by Darren Hartwell for NESN

After those two tear-jerkers, it’s good to cry with laughter for a change. A three minute delay in a hockey game because no one can find the puck… despite knowing that it went into the goalie and never came out? That’s a tear-jerker of a different sort!

Pekka Rinne doesn’t just save pucks. He makes them disappear. The Nashville Predators goaltender was his usual stellar self in Game 4 of his team’s Stanley Cup playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. With under six minutes remaining in the first overtime period, however, Rinne took his talents a bit too far.