By Blake Baxter
The glorious sports month of October has come to an end, and that means it’s time for another Best of Sports installment. Last edition focused heavily on stories involving the intersection of sports and crime. We’ll touch on that topic again, but for morale’s sake we’ll try to hit some of the higher points of sports culture, too. This month features stories about a man who has managed to make the best of an unfortunate incident, a team on a quest to make NBA history, a nation whose culture is inexorably connected to a sport and much more.
Prepare yourself for the most interesting, well-written and affecting stories that the sports world (and Internet) had to offer over the past month. Without further ado: The Best of Sports in October
Ten years ago, the purportedly cursed Chicago Cubs were on the verge of clinching a berth to the World Series for the first time since 1945. They only needed five more outs. A fly ball hit in foul territory could have possibly made it four, but a fan in the stands deflected it and Moises Alou failed to catch it. After that, all hell broke loose: Alou threw a fit, shortstop Alex Gonzalez made an egregious error, manager Dusty Baker left pitcher Mark Prior in the game too long and Prior promptly imploded. The Cubs subsequently failed to close out the then-Florida Marlins in game seven with Kerry Wood on the mound. Unfairly blamed and demonized for the Cubs’ collapse was the fan who interfered, Steve Bartman. For the past 10 years, Bartman has mainly kept to himself and stayed completely out of the spotlight. Paul Sullivan of the Chicago Tribune wrote about as in-depth of a profile that you’ll see on a man who refuses to speak to the media. But he makes it clear that Bartman has moved on and is doing well.
ESPN.com’s and ESPN The Magazine’s Howard Bryant makes his first and surely not last, appearance in the series with a pair of short, but insightful pieces. The first is about how the media – ESPN included – fueled the hype of Robert Griffin III’s comeback story. He articulately explains how the time RG3 has spent building an image is time that he should have spent working on his game. In his second piece, he exposes the NCAA, the conferences, coaches, and anyone connected to college sports that benefits from the fraudulent concept of NCAA student-athlete amateurism. Mr. Bryant is primarily a tennis writer, but he occasionally covers other sports and isn’t afraid to present unpopular opinions or speak his mind. You can read his takes here and here.
You know it’s coming so we might as well get it over with; there’s no need to sugarcoat it, because the author sure didn’t. ESPN.com Senior Writer Jeff MacGregor took on the nastiest story connected to sports of the month. If you haven’t heard about it, a high school girl from Maryville, MO was allegedly raped by a football star and was stigmatized, ridiculed and threatened, while a portion of the community rallied around the accused. The story prompted nationwide outrage after word that the case had been suspiciously dropped spread by way of both traditional and social media. MacGregor is unflinchingly honest in this takedown of jock entitlement and rape culture. It isn’t pleasant, but it is worth your time.
On a more uplifting note, Sports Illustrated’s soccer guru Grant Wahl wrote about ex-USA soccer coach Bob Bradley’s current position: head coach of the Egypt national team. Bradley joined the team after being let go by the USA soccer in 2011. He came to Egypt, a country in the midst of political upheaval and bloody turmoil as an outsider, but has since embraced their culture and become a popular figure in the country. The team was on the verge of qualifying for the World Cup; however they lost 1-6 to Ghana in the first-leg of their playoff. The second-leg is on November 10, and it will be an uphill battle. Nonetheless, it is an affecting story for all people; whether they like sports or not.
Longform champion Wright Thompson was conspicuously absent from the last edition, so it’s little surprise that he was working on something big. His mega-piece on his adventures in India at the 2011 World Cup of Cricket is closer to a short story than an article in both length and content. It will take quite a while to get through – I’d be lying if I said I read it all in one sitting – but it is just as magical and engaging as you’d expect from Thompson.
Last month, Brian Phillips from Grantland wrote an insightful and hilarious piece about Aresenal’s Mesut Özil. This month, he returns with two insightful and hilarious pieces about the Jack and Bobby of the NFL: the Manning brothers. In the awesomely titled, “The Dad-Rock Prometheus,” Phillips talks about how Peyton Manning is, at once, a dork, a workhorse, an astronaut and a football folk hero. In “The Secret of Eli Manning,” Phillips explains how Eli can appear –for lack of a better term – Un-Manning-like and yet frustratingly inscrutable. Both pieces are smart, funny and unexpectedly poignant.
Also from Grantland is football specialist Bill Barnwell’s deconstruction of the disaster that is the Dallas Cowboys salary-cap situation. Barnwell is known for his expert statistical analysis, but he also dabbles in the business side of the game. Just how bad is it? The Cowboys are expected to be $31 million over the salary-cap next year. How did it get that way? Read Barnwell’s comprehensive breakdown here.
Football season and the MLB playoffs dominated the month of October, but basketball season got underway at the tail of it. Grantland’s Zach Lowe started the season off right with an attempt to tackle the biggest question of the year: Can the Miami Heat win the 2014 NBA Championship to complete the hallowed three-peat? It certainly isn’t going to be easy, and Lowe thoroughly explains the challenges that they will face in their quest.
That concludes The Best of Sports in October. Thanks for stopping by, and 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.