Brian Phillips has been writing a lot of great stuff at grantland.com. I was going to comment on his piece on John Terry’s racism charges; really smart. But I never got around to it, and now he’s got an equally great piece on Lance Armstrong. Brian Phillips writes the way Bono did on Unforgettable Fire. It’s not entirely clear what the bottom line point is–but you get a great feel for the murkiness of it all, and that’s far better than the clarity of the point. Because there is no fucking point in life, and especially when it comes to the romanticism of famous professional athletes, and Brian Phillips gets that. As did Bono, at least in the song, “Unforgettable Fire.” (I think. I don’t totally know what the song is about to be honest. And given how earnest Bono is, I bet I just didn’t get the point of the song. And Brian Phillips, were he to read this, is probably thinking the same thing about my assessment of his writing).
Phillips has mastered the multi-layered, intersecting-lines, ironic-shades of grey insight. For instance: “So, yeah! Fun game, soccer. Lots of good exercise, only occasional yearlong multi-phase racial-abuse scandals culminating in bureaucratic reports that read like excerpts from experimental novels.” Or, “That’s what’s so tragic about what turned out to be Armstrong’s charlatanism. He had to cheat to win. But he had to win primarily to validate the narrative, not because the consumers of the narrative liked watching him do it. One of the reasons he could be so inspiring, in other words, was that for all practical purposes he barely existed at all.” Or, finally, this, a line I wish I had written: “Lance Armstrong is a liar, and a fraud, and an inspiration to millions of people, and one of the trees outside my window has leaves that are almost purple, and it’s almost the end of October, and sports keeps rolling on.”
Both of these pieces are about falls from grace by athletes that we fictionalized and romanticized in our heads but didn’t know. They could be about Barry Bonds, Michael Jordan, or Barack Obama (yeah–he hasn’t been accused of anything by a judge because no judge can hold the executioner in chief accountable. But he is the greatest pirate killer at least since…Madison?).
Now that I read Phillips on grantland, I started reading him on runofplay.com. And I stumbled on this older posting on Gareth Bale. What a beautiful video. I’ve always thought, as Dermot Hunt recently wrote on grantland, that the question isn’t whether Bale is overrated, but how overrated. I stand corrected.
Switching topics, there’s this: Dave Zirin over at http://www.edgeofsports.com/2012-10-16-784/index.html, has an eye-opening piece about sports management. “Currently the sports world is suffering its fourth lockout in the past fourteen months. On four occasions since August 2011, pro sports owners have locked their publicly subsidized stadium doors, sent stadium workers home and stopped play as usual. This is not coincidence or happenstance. It’s a coordinated management offensive that has reverberations far beyond the playing field.” Why? ”This is a conscious, industry-wide strategy. A law firm called Proskauer Rose is now representing management in all four major men’s sports leagues, the first time in history one firm has been hired to play such a unified role. In practice, this has meant that in four sets of negotiations with four very different economic issues at play, we get the same results: lockouts and a stack of union complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. It’s been great for owners and awful for players, fans, stadium workers and tax payers.”
Did I say eye opening. Really eye opening. Why isn’t the media making more of this? And boy did the NFL get past their heartless debacle with the refs fast. As has David Stern’s greedy efforts to destroy the players union now that there are odes to his 30 years running the nba. Cue here the last quoted line from Phillips above.
I do disagree with Zirin’s assessment of Tim McCarver’s slip regarding Barry Bonds. Zirin thought that McCarver’s response to the “Barry” chants in SF (McCarver said it was the first time that’s been chanted since Barry Manilow was there–only to have Joe Buck say the obvious…’or Barry Bonds.’) was that he was referencing how invisible Bonds has become and participating in his erasure from the sport. I love a good complicity argument, but not here. He laughed because it was obvious he fucked up. Bonds hasn’t disappeared from the sport, and I say this as a huge fan of the greatest baseball player who ever lived.
(Watching Miguel Cabrera bat in this world series is nothing compared to watching Bonds. And it wasn’t about steroids, it was Bonds ability to put the square of the bat with incredible speed on a single pitch after watching 14 balls go by. I will never ever ever forget how relentlessly he crushed the single pitch he’d see in a game. Not fight it off for a bloop hit to center. Not even go the other way. Crush it into the water. And yeah, steroids put it in the water. But his hitting ability crushed it, and he’d have hit 1400 doubles if he wasn’t on steroids. He’d have hit 1200 home runs if he was pitched to and played in Detroit. And he’d have hit 800 home runs if he was pitched to, played in Detroit, and didn’t take steroids.)
But still, McCarver just messed up.