Writing long [form] is a laborious and impoverishing act of foolishness: expanding in five hundred pages an idea that could be perfectly explained in a few minutes. A better procedure is to … offer a summary, a commentary.
I enjoy a good read. I even enjoy a good, long read. More often than not though, I enjoy that good, long read in theory more than in practice. I’ve grown accustomed to a certain amount of efficiency in the content I consume. There are times when reading a 2,500 word piece comparing a certain sports event to a corresponding piece of popular culture simply isn’t practical, no matter how appealing the byline might read. It’s these stories that end up in internet purgatory, a tab in my browser that doesn’t get read.
And so, for the sake of all those like me, I thought I’d spend some time each week and read through the pieces that would normally be the wallflower equivalents of internet narrative journalism. Below you’ll find summaries of the best long-form pieces that made the rounds this week.
Bonds Played By The Rules [SB Nation]
Byline: How baseball insiders are punishing players for the steroid culture they helped create.
The Gist: It’s naive to point fingers at Barry Bonds when the entire culture in which he played, at least partially created by the media members now sitting in judgment on him, was pushing him to achieve. It’s a complex issue deserving of something more than the myopic reaction that baseball journalists have provided to date.
Are players who used more culpable than baseball officials who turned a blind eye? Are they equally culpable? Less culpable? The position of Hall voters, especially those blaming Bonds and celebrating La Russa, faults players more.
But is this appropriate? Professional athletes are paid vast sums to compete. They do not set the rules, and the rules that prevail are not necessarily those that are written. The rules are those that baseball enforces. And “baseball” means the commissioner, the leagues, general managers and managers, and even esteemed members of the media.
Readability: The tablet-friendly layout of SB Nation works well for long-form pieces, and if you can get over the fact that the piece is found under the “long-form” umbrella that the site created (including the word “longform” in the web address of the site), the article is worthy of your attention. There isn’t a lot of new ground being broken here, and if you agree with what’s being proposed, you’re likely already familiar with the thinking. Still, it’s to the benefit of all of us that the amalgamation of those thoughts and ideas about everything that contributed to the steroid era can now be found in one place.
Sheed And Stack In The Big Apple [Grantland]
Byline: Two wily veterans spend the twilight of their intertwined careers in New York.
The Gist: Adaptation and evolution is poetic in basketball players when you examine it closely enough. And if it’s not poetic, it at least makes for a good narrative.
Both Wallace and Stackhouse have become known within NBA circles for their distinct personalities. Wallace’s teammates have always loved him, but he is often aloof with those he doesn’t know or trust — particularly reporters and officials. Stackhouse is poker-faced, but approachable — and yet he’s always been considered an old-school tough guy who shouldn’t be crossed under any circumstances. Even after all these years, Wallace still defends well in the post; Steve Smith, his teammate in Portland, calls him a “middle linebacker,” the lead communicator on defense. Stackhouse lives on the perimeter, resigned to outsmarting opponents over out-quicking them. Both can drain a timely 3, both are utterly fearless, and both are valued for their locker room contributions as much as what they can still do on the court.
Readability: A neutral reader without a vested interest in basketball is likely to have a difficult time getting over the false sense of importance placed on the careers – and really, lives – of two basketball players now making nominal contributions to their respective teams’ success. However, there’s a particular audience at which this is aimed, and that readership should be warned against eating their iPads in glee as they attempt to literally consume this story. It’s good. In fact, it’s worthwhile reading the entire article just for the anecdote about Michael Jordan, preparing for his return to the NBA by practicing with the North Carolina men’s team, and challenging any and all members of the Tar Heels to as many games of one-on-one as they wanted.
RGIII And The Crisis Of Liberalism In The United States [Edge Of Sports]
Byline: Bylines are fascist.
The Gist: We are all to blame for Robert Griffin III injuring his knee because we have made football popular, and we expect the poor unfortunate laborers involved in football to be exploited for our entertainment.
Yes, football is a game unsafe at any speed. Yes, it’s governed by a toxic macho ethos that makes injuries like we saw Sunday inevitable. But there are real flesh and blood people we can hold to account for what took place. There was a time when we could count on liberals with a public platform to be a part of this fight. That era is starting to look as outdated as calling a team the Redskins or as much past its prime as a certain 60-year-old-coach. If there is going to be a real fight against power and privilege, not just in sports but in politics, it’s might be time to champion some new fighters.
Readability: I like that Dave Zirin exists. I think that we’re all richer for a journalist fervently believing that it’s his duty to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable, as the old movie suggests. However, on occasion, and this is just such an occasion, it seems as though Mr. Zirin shapes evidence to fit arguments, rather than the other way around.
The Boy On The Edge Of The Bathtub: Sam Lipsyte On Growing Up A Sportswriter’s Son [Deadspin]
Byline: What the fuck does it matter if everybody is nice or not?
The Gist: An excerpt from Sam Lypsite’s new book, Jewish Jocks, tells us that athletic failure, proud principles and reading material are all par for the course when you’re the son of a famous sports writer in a Jewish family.
We talked about Jews. We talked about sports. Sometimes we talked about Jews in sports. I knew about the golden age of Jewish boxing. I knew that Jews once dominated basketball, and how sports scribes of the time said it was because of their natural deviousness. We were not an observant family. We didn’t revere the Jewish sports stars. That would have been hypocritical, as we didn’t revere any stars, not even Muhammad Ali, who was more a figure for exalted study (though secretly I did revere Reggie Jackson, because he was Mr. October and who the hell else had his own candy bar?). I knew the basics of Jewish sports lore, like how Hank Greenberg saved the Jews by hitting home runs. Or was it Sandy Koufax who saved them by not pitching on the Sabbath? But what about the limey Jew from Chariots of Fire, that paean to pre–Great War splendor? Things got a little confusing. I think I was more interested in the Jewish warriors than the athletes: the Maccabees, who were the Taliban of their time, murdering Jews to enforce strict adherence to the faith, and David, during his mercenary bandit years, when he fought Gentiles and Jews alike, for the right price. These guys seemed particularly badass in very different ways, though they are all part of the pantheon. They’d been “godded up,” the way my father always explained the Grantland Rice types “godded up” the sports stars of the early 20th century, kept their foibles and sins under wraps, except maybe David’s unsportsmanlike conduct toward Uriah the Hittite. But that was too egregious a foul to ignore.
Readability: This is completely worth the read if your dad’s birthday is in the next two months and you want to be able to talk to him about your gift after he’s read it. If not, readers are likely to drown in the waves of nostalgia three paragraphs in.
The FOX NFL Broadcast Factory [SB Nation]
Byline: The more things stay the same.
The Gist: Troy Aikman. Godded up.
A few minutes later, Aikman is sitting under a black barber cape, eyes closed, still as a mannequin, every bit as professional while getting makeup applied as he was quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys for a decade. He’s been in and out of the booth since noon for today’s 3:30 p.m. kickoff. It’s Thanksgiving Day, 2010. But it could be anytime. The game might change, and the venue, and eventually, even the production staff and the broadcasters, but the factory product never does. The Fox crew didn’t come up with this method of televising sports—there was Monday Night Football first, then John Madden and his team—and they won’t be the last to use it.
Readability: While re-imagining Troy Aikman as not only a credible broadcaster, but one whose insight from the booth attains a level of brilliance, might be an appealing read as a work of fiction, it’s complete and utter lack of believability as a piece of narrative journalism to anyone who has actually watched the broadcast of an NFL game on FOX renders it almost offensive. If you’re able to not picture the author of the piece literally engaging in a tongue-bathing of the former Dallas Cowboys quarter back while reading through the 4,500 word piece, you either lack basic reading comprehension skills or your will power is far superior to that of my own. I counted 87 compliments delivered to Aikman in the piece. That’s too many to be taken seriously.
Of note is that the author of this ball-washing, Zac Crain, has also written a book about Dimebag Darrel Abbott. Anyone choosing such an illustrious subject matter can’t be all bad, but the Aikman tire-pumping misses the mark.