By Blake Baxter
Welcome, welcome. 2013, that year that we spent an exhausting amount of time and energy obsessing over and analyzing, has come to a close. The year-end lists and New Year resolutions have been rolled out ad nauseam, so it must be time to turn the page, right? Well, almost – first, we need to recount the top sports stories of the last month of a very rich sports year.
Buckle up one more time for all of the best pieces of investigative journalism, the most in-depth profiles and the most interesting takes that the sports world (and the Internet) had to offer in the month of December. This month features the death of an international icon, a profile of a math whiz who happens to be a star NBA point guard, one of the best long reads of the year, and more!
Without further ado: The Best of Sports in December
The top story of November was opined, analyzed and played out beyond belief, but its impact was so big that it was bound to spill over into December. ESPN’s Howard Bryant wrote one more valuable piece on the Jonathan Martin-Richie Incognito Saga that I just couldn’t bring myself to leave out. His ESPN The Magazine piece on how the public perception of “black masculinity” played into the scandal is smart, well written and succinct.
But that’s not all for Bryant; he also wrote a fascinating piece on the question of whether or not the NFL should allow players to use medicinal marijuana as a therapeutic alternative to painkillers, drugs, etc. It is of Howard’s opinion that the NFL should strongly consider allowing it. It is less dangerous and addictive than other means, he reasons. NFL players suffer from unimaginable amounts of pain that is part of their job. The NFL has a history of negligence that they don’t like being reminded of, as evidenced by The League of Denial. It’s certainly a radical idea, but I like radical ideas, and this one adds up.
ESPN-turned-FOX Sports-turned-ESPN columnist again Jason Whitlock has never been one to shy away from controversy. He consistently finds ways to invoke race into sports stories, which not everyone appreciates, but there is a method to his madness. It’s been interesting to watch him marry social commentary with sport for an entity that is often apolitical at all costs. In his early December column “27 years a hero”, he connects the death and legacy of Nelson Mandela with sport, but not in a way that you’d expect. There’s no mention of Mandela’s connection to the 1995 Rugby World Cup, as depicted in Invictus. Instead, he weaves Mandela together with Jameis Winston and the highly acclaimed film 12 Years a Slave. It’s an interesting perspective, and it’s worth a read.
Everything churned out by Grantland’s Jonathan Abrams continues to be a must-read. Among his December offerings was a typically excellent profile on Andre Iguodala. Abrams immerses you in the life story of the underrated NBA veteran. In high school, he was never expected to be a big-time college prospect. In the NBA, he was pressured to be “the guy” in Philadelphia, but in reality, he was better suited to be something of a Scottie Pippen, another ultra-talented player who never quite got his due. Abrams vividly shows how Iggy, even now, with a good fit and a nice contract in Golden State, and a Team USA Olympic appearance under his belt, is still fighting for respect.
Abrams wasn’t the only one cranking out fantastic profiles, though. Baxter Holmes of The Boston Globe wrote a terrific and fun profile on the Celtics’ enigmatic point guard, Rajon Rondo. In it, he covers everything from Rondo’s off-the-charts basketball IQ to his Connect Four mastery to his relationships with Brad Stevens and Doc Rivers. It also delves into the tantalizing question of whether or not Rondo has what it takes to be a coach when his playing days are over. Everyone knows he’s smart enough, but will he ever have the patience?
Freelance writer Thomas Golianopoulos gave us one of the sadder articles of the month for Grantland. His investigative piece, “Bad Day in Buffalo” outlined two mysterious deaths that happened following a Buffalo Bills game in November 2012. It was the death of two whose stories, in Golianopoulos’ words, “shed light on the uncomfortable intersection of stadium security, alcohol, and fan culture”. We look back on their tragic stories not because it’s fun or uplifting, but to try to understand the issues at hand, so that similar tragedies can be prevented in the future.
Wright Thompson returns to “The Best of Sports” with yet another enthralling long read. In November, just over a half year before the World Cup, Thompson traveled to Brazil in a state of unrest. As always, Thompson gives us much more than a standard sports story, this time, putting a human face on a movement. Citizens outraged over rampant corruption and violence have taken to the streets to protest. In some ways, it’s history repeating itself, yet in others it could be something more. It started in June during the Federations Cup, but it has potential to carry on into the world’s biggest sporting event. Find out much more about their plight here.
Lastly, we have an article/list from the writer who originally inspired this feature. Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated writes a weekly feature called “Media Circus” for the renown magazine in which he rounds up all of the top stories about the personalities, brands, men and women who cover the games we watch. Every week he includes a simple list of the top sports (and non-sports) pieces from the past week. For his last article of the year, he asked a panel of sports media people to weigh in on who they think will be the most fascinating sports person in 2014. The last page, though, features his list of the top articles, sports and non-sports alike, which stood out to him the most this year. It is only fitting that it concludes “The Best of Sports in December”.
As I previously alluded to, this will be the last edition of “The Best of Sports”…at least for a while. Yep, this feature will be taking an extended break. When it returns, whenever that may be, expect it to have a new wrinkle or two. For now, though, thanks for stopping by for the best sports stories for the past five months. Below you can find links to the preceding four editions. Once again: 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, as well as the Chicago Bulls for Yahoo Sports, and previously covered college basketball for ESPN Louisvilleduring 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.