By Blake Baxter (@bbax2)
Over the past month and a half or so, we here at Saying Something, as promised, have covered a wide range of subjects, in a number of mediums. We have reviewed books, analyzed cinema, discussed television, reflected on personal experiences, and more. A couple of times, we even dipped our toes into the world of sports. Saying Something is primarily a pop culture/entertainment blog, but that doesn’t mean we won’t step into that lane from time to time –- we are both relatively big sports fans, after all. (Actually, I tend to border on obsessive, but no matter). And so, I would like to introduce a new reoccurring feature in which I will present the best sports articles that the web had to offer over the past month.
But first, I would like to talk a little about an article of my own. I wrote a piece for The College Fix about the remarkable story of marine turned Division I football player Steven Rhodes. Rhodes, who served in the Marines five years before enrolling at Middle Tennessee State University, was ruled ineligible by the NCAA for playing in a recreational league while in the service. But after an uproar from the general public, the NCAA cowered and reversed the ruling. It was a travesty that ended up being the feel-good story that it should have been from the beginning. Here is how it all transpired.
Without further ado: The Best of Sports in August.
ESPN’s Outside the Lines reporters Steve Fairnaru and John Barr dug up some interesting information on the doctor who served as the chairman of the NFL’s concussion program. If bad news regarding health concerns connected to football is a dime a dozen these days, then bad news regarding the NFL’s handling of concussions has got to be about 50 cents.
On a related note, this month ESPN pulled out of a documentary about the NFL covering up their concussion crisis that was supposed to be co-produced with PBS’s Fontline .The marriage between the top journalism teams split after fifteen months and many speculated that it was because ESPN didn’t want to anger their corporate partner, the NFL. The documentary, titled League of Denial, is set to air on PBS on October 8. Renowned journalist and current ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte broke down the mess here.
Speaking of ESPN, the man who literally wrote the book on ESPN, James Andrew Miller and fellow New York Times sports media reporter Richard Sandomir wrote a fascinating three part series on the bewildering power and influence of ESPN.
In part one, the journalists show how ESPN essentially has the most control over the world of college football. They introduce you to the man who schedules the games and demonstrate how the worldwide leader generates hype for matchups that monopolize the college football conversation. They also show how their business strategies can put a university on the map or wipe it off. Part two expands on this idea by focusing on a program that ESPN made a household name: the University of Louisville. In just over a decade Louisville has gone from the red headed stepchild of the more prestigious University of Kentucky to becoming an athletic powerhouse. But it definitely hasn’t come without its share of costs. Finally, part three examines how in recent years ESPN has bought the rights to so much live programming that it is all but guaranteed to rule the sports media landscape for another decade, at the very least. Each part is incredibly engaging and paints a picture of ESPN’s philosophies and strategies that, for better or worse, have consumed a large percentage of the general public.
In my opinion, there currently isn’t a better sportswriter or storyteller than Wright Thompson. His long reads are always a treat, but he has been on an absolute tear this past year with astonishing profiles of Michael Jordan and Johnny Manziel, as well as fascinating and beautiful stories about life that just so happen to intersect with sports. His latest is an over 8,000 word masterpiece on the personal plights of an aging wrestling icon that is fighting to save the sport that has consumed his entire life. Each paragraph is as haunting as it is enthralling. It will take you quite a while to plow through, but it is worth every minute.
My other favorite long read master is Thompson’s colleague, Don Van Natta Jr. Mr. Van Natta, was a part of three Pulitzer prize winning teams for national, explanatory and public service journalism for The Miami Herald and The New York Times prior to joining ESPN in 2012. This year he produced a revealing piece on NFL Commissioner Roger Gooddell and was then the lead of Outside the Lines’ coverage of the Mike Rice scandal at Rutgers. Four months passed between his Rutgers coverage and his latest article, but my God was it worth the wait. He spent this summer investigating an unexpected lead about the 1973 tennis match between Bobby Riggs and Billy Jean King (a.k.a. The Battle of the Sexes) that led him down a surreal rabbit hole. When he finally climbed out he had a rather convincing case that the match was fixed. We will probably never know for sure, but nonetheless it is one hell of a story.
If you would rather read something about what takes place on the field rather than off, then you should check out Chris Brown’s (no, not that Chris Brown!) piece on how all the promising, young quarterbacks have a long ways to go to master the curve that the great ones that came before them did. Lots of fun anecdotes, analysis and X’s and O’s to get you in the mood for football season.
Lastly, Rolling Stone’s Paul Solotaroff and the Boston Herald’s Ron Borges presented a chilling account of Aaron Hernandez’ rise to fame and descent into a life of crime with “The Gangster in the Huddle”. It tells the all too familiar story of a good kid that fell in with the wrong crowd. The kicker is that it forebodingly details how he has a history of getting away with things. The powerful last sentence is one that I haven’t been able to get out of my head: “He’s been getting away with murder, figuratively, if not literally, his whole life.”
That is all for this month. You should have more than enough material to entertain you until next time. Happy reading.
Blake Baxter is a native of Illinois and a 2013 graduate of Eureka College. He currently covers the Carolina Panthers for Football.com and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisville during the 2012-13 season. He has also written about sports, pop culture and politics for The College Fix, The Wine and Cheese Crowd and an assortment of newspapers. Blake works in the communication and marketing field for Technical Solutions & Services, but aspires to write full-time someday.