By Blake Baxter
Welcome back. It is officially December. Thanksgiving is over, Cyber Week and Christmas shopping season has commenced, and exciting sporting events – and sports stories – are all around us. You undoubtedly have a lot to do this month, but first, if you would, please join me for a recap of all of the most interesting, provocative and newsworthy stories from the past month,
This time, we’ll take a look (or a few looks) at the biggest sports story of the month, an ex-athlete with a savior complex who might not be all he appears and a radical idea that would dramatically – and maybe positively – change the NBA, and more. Without further ado: The Best of Sports in November.
By far the most talked about sports story of the month of November was the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin Saga. You probably know the basics by now. At the beginning of the month, second year Miami Dolphins offensive lineman Jonathan Martin left the team citing emotional distress and harassment by veteran offensive lineman Richie Incognito. ESPN’s Adam Shefter reported that not only had Martin been harassed and bullied in the locker room, but he had also received numerous inappropriate and threatening texts and voicemails from Incognito. To top it off, there were even allegations that Incognito and other Dolphins players had extorted Martin and other young players.
The story set off a massive public debate among the media, fans, players, ex-players and even the general public about appropriate conduct in NFL locker rooms, “warrior” mentality, hazing, race, codes and unwritten rules. Countless opinions were expressed and an abundance of fine (like this one by ESPN’s Tim Keown) and not-so-fine (I’ll spare you) articles on the matter were produced. It was a hot-button topic that had many sides, but two diametrically opposed popular opinions arose. One side taken by many players and ex-players, was that Martin was soft, should have physically dealt with the situation and was thus in the wrong for leaving the team and making the ordeal public. The other side was that Incognito was a bully and a symbol of everything that is wrong with the culture of NFL locker rooms, and maybe the league itself, and maybe even society as a whole.
My two favorite pieces on the saga and all of the debates that it spawned came from Grantland. Punny, satirical savant and sports enthusiast Andrew Sharp wrote the single most even-handed articlethat I read on the matter. In his nuanced piece, “The Miami Dolphins and Everything that Will Never Make Sense,” he broke down all of the varying players’ reactions, examined locker room culture and even made room to rightfully indict Michael Jordan for his past bullying, as well as society for its double standard in judging His Airness. Best of Sports regular Brian Phillips, on the other hand, wrote an absolutely scathing takedown of our celebration of warrior culture. As per normal, his piece, “Man Up,” is very clever and very insightful. It is, at once, a reasonable plea for human decency in both sports and life, and a violent attack on sugarcoating human indecency in the name of “being a warrior”.
Among my favorite parts: “I guess the nuanced line on the scandal in Miami is that a locker room is a complicated organism, and the aggression/affection dynamic between teammates is impossible for outsiders to understand2” – and then stashed in the footnotes — Also, fuck nuance; I’m here to fight you.” Brilliant.
In addition, Phillips also produced a very astute piece on the problems facing Brazil as the 2014 World Cup approaches. There have been reports of severed heads, violence, runaway poverty and fatal stadium collapses. Everything matters, but some of it has been blown out of proportion by the media, and some of it has nothing to do with the World Cup. Phillips attempts to get to the bottom of what it all means, and it is definitely worth your time.
Sticking with (or is it staying in?) Grantland, Jay Caspian Kang penned what was probably my favorite piece of investigative journalism from November. The story is that of former NFL offensive lineman Brian Holloway, or rather the story of what did or didn’t occur at a house that he owns in late August. The hard facts are few and far between, but the story goes that Holloway’s house was broken into and trashed by a bunch of no-good, partying teenagers on August 31. Holloway used social media to hunt down 300 kids who were allegedly at his house and allegedly did thousands of dollars worth of damage to his home. He put their names online and created a website committed to saving the kids’ lives. To some, Holloway’s actions were an act of grace and caring – a story of a brave man who decided to reach out and give back to those who victimized him – but to others the details don’t quite add up. There is reason to suggest that Holloway hasn’t been telling the whole truth about the matter. Kang’s attempt to dig deeper is well written, honest and positively spellbinding. I highly recommend it.
Basketball season is in full swing now – both NBA and NCAA. There has been plenty of chatter about the one-and-done convention, rules enforcement, injury prevention and other ways to improve the sport, but few have thought to examine the affects of dividing the NBA’s conferences into divisions. Grantland’s basketball guru Zach Lowe made a radical proposal: Abolish them. It probably isn’t going to happen anytime soon, but he makes some pretty good points that are worth considering.
The effects of the NFL and football concussion crisis have been a hot topic in the sports world this year, and a running theme in this feature. This month, ESPN’s ace reporting team Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada reported that Pop Warner, the nation’s largest youth football program saw participation drop 9.5% between 2010 and 2012. The NFL may be the undisputed king of the sports world right now, but if this continues to be a trend its player pool is going to be greatly reduced in the coming generations. It’s another sign that America’s present pastime is going to see some big changes in the future.
And speaking of youth sports, here is an explanation from a writer, who says he doesn’t want his son to play team sports – and it comes from a well-known sportswriter! According to Jeff Pearlman in this Wall Street Journal article, youth team sports these days are so competitive and winning-oriented that it’s unhealthy and ultimately harmful to the kids playing them. I, personally, don’t totally agree with him and think a lot of good things come from team sports, but I can see where he is coming from in some regards. In the information age, it’s all too easy to just read things that confirm your already-established views and beliefs. Open your mind and give this one a read, regardless of your opinion.
With that being said, we can’t end The Best of Sports on an article that takes such a cynical look at sports, and youth sports at that. Instead, I implore you to read ESPN’s Ivan Masiel’s recap of the game with the wildest ending of the month…or the year…or ever? “The New Standard for Iron Bowl Lore,” effectively and succinctly puts the instant classic into historical context.
Well, that is all for this month. You can get back to your sports consuming, online shopping and vacation destination daydreaming. See you next time for the last edition of Best of Sports of the year. 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.