So this past week was mad crazy, because I, Morgan, finally saw the final Hunger Games film. If you want another dose of politics on your pop culture platter, I’m happy to offer up my Mockingjay character, book-to-film adaptation, and art imitating life dissertation. But I digress. No less than five days after Bradford swore that he and I would alternate essay writing “until the eschaton,” we’re actually sharing scribe duties this week. The theme, yes, is thankfulness. Now knock off your cynicism like a 2015 Knicks fan and let's go.
Mad gratefulness for a(nother) white, male sportswriter.
Earlier this year, I asked a top-notch thought partner if earnest people could be charming. Could giving a damn make you likable? I didn’t think so. After all, most of the individuals whose personalities I found most magnetic possessed self-deprecating or sarcastic temperaments. I generally feared that those who cared too much made it difficult to tease, and if difficult to tease, then impossible to laugh with. I say all of this because Internet Charming (and perhaps even more so Sports Twitter Charisma) relies on heavy doses of blistering self-aware snark. Hello, Deadspin. Why We Already Miss the Sophisticated and Self-Assured Grantland. (We probably hate First Take because Skip and Stephen A have alarmingly low levels of irony. Imagine, what a sense of self-consciousness might inject on that show.)
So we need to talk about Grant Brisbee. Brisbee was first introduced to me as the lead writer for SB Nation’s San Francisco Giants channel, McCovey Chronicles. Unlike a traditional team vertical, the staff crafting game recaps, summarizing DL updates, and spreading trade rumors all roots for your team. In fact, their presence on the site comes as a direct byproduct of their own fandom and this is their social capital.
But Brisbee’s genius doesn’t only stem from SB Nation’s unique writer-fan audience/reader relationship. Instead, the Bay Arean has figured how to gab and .gif in the swarmy and pop-culture inside joke frontier of the internet, evoking the same visceral reactions as when you watched your favorite hard-luck good man pitcher belch up a 7-0 lead against a cellar-dweller. He understands how name-dropping the hitless Dan Uggla can remind you of the audacity of winning a World Series in a year the aforementioned athlete started multiple games for your team. He loves unabashedly and has discerned that readers do not recognize this emotion through explicit declarations of it. Rather his audience connects strongest when he’s weaving decade-old 40-man roster minutiae into 600 word gamers, or obsessing over why the Giants used a flawed defensive shift after a particularly devastating inning in a particularly devastating loss, and articulating this after MadBum’s 2014 World Series Game 5 performance: ”One more win, you bozos. One more win.”
In short: If you like strong emotions with your sports, Brisbee’s your man. Grant’s genius: subverting the established conventions of last generation’s sportswriters while coaxing you to hysterical laughter and silent tears. Evidence:
- On Golden State swapping cities in the messy, changing Bay Area: “the Warriors moving back to San Francisco, moving from the land of oh-fuck-you back to the land of we-are-pretty-great-aren't-we.”
- The pre-2015 World Champions: "The Royals are caught between waiting for the other shoe to drop and beating other teams to death with the shoe."
- The unbearable death of a little known ballplayer: “The hope of Taveras was the hope that he would help make baseball what it's best at: a controlled proxy for the highs and lows of real life. Sports are a compact that allows you to shake off the lowest moments easier than the lowest moments of real life, while simultaneously offering the promise that the highest moments will feel just as good as the highest moments in real life. It's a bargain that you absolutely have to take.”
Bradford is always grateful for Derek Sanderson Jeter.
This year, my gratefulness extends beyond the blessing of watching Jeter’s handsome, bronze physique spray clutch hits with his patented inside-out swing. Since retiring from the game he dominated for almost 20 years, he’s become much more than a baseball demigod and future namesake of my children, regardless of gender. As the founding publisher of The Players Tribune (TBT), he’s leveraged his clout to offer his fellow professional athletes more autonomy over their public voice.
Athletes often have a limited means expressing their ideas in and beyond the world of sports. Usually, their opinions are heavily filtered and mediated through the competing interests of inflammatory sports media punditry and their own team's public relations staff. A candid moment puts you in the crosshairs of two talking heads debating the depths of your lack of respect for the game, or offering a treatise on how it explains your 2-18 slump. If you're black, your frustration or anger (or existence) becomes fodder for a 600-word diatribe about your supposed thuggery.
TPT is helping athletes complete their narratives. My favorite example: former Milwaukee Bucks center Larry Sanders, a man vilified by fan and columnist alike for suddenly retiring from the NBA at 26, sharing the complicated reasons for his departure. Freed from the perverse power of the #hottake, Sanders used TPT to give his own. Thanks to the polish of professional print and video editors, athletes like Sanders leverage Jeter’s rag to discuss their choices and beliefs uninterrupted and in context, limiting the risk of being reduced to a soundbite.
Jeter’s public persona for two decades was well, not having one. It was a calculated maneuver, one he all but admits in this Joe Buck interview, that allowed him to have a remarkably drama-free career* while spending two-thirds of every year plainly in the public eye. Watching this interview, you can sense a freedom to establish his story on his terms. Of course, it’s easy for him to do that because he’s Derek Jeter. (Have you seen him lately? He’s gorgeous, all his hits are clutch, and he’s also quite handsome.) Yet, he took all the cred he earned and extended it to his fellow athletes through TPT, so they don’t have to walk the narrow road of a boring interview quote. Thanks, Captain.
*I don’t think Jeter is telling the truth. I bet he leaves his fiancée a gift basket every night because he’s such a gentleman.
Stick to sports.
Here's an interesting examination of a decidedly not-Kristaps NBA rookie during his first season. Jahlil Okafor's had a rough transition to NBA, one exacerbated by his employers, the Philadelphia 76ers making no effort to win. Sports are hard.
Delay of game.
Melo heads to prison. The Knicks forward filmed the latest episode of his VICE documentary web series, Stay Melo, at Rikers Island. Anthony spent time with 16-21 year old inmates, encouraging them to stay focused on getting out while fully acknowledging the understandable despair inherent to being a young prisoner. Woke athletes warm my heart. “You get charged as an adult at 16. How you gonna put me in there with murderers and thing I’m gonna come out different?”
Gotta hear both sides. The consistently thoughtful Stacey May Fowles wrote a moving must-read about how thoughtlessly repeating “innocent until proven guilty” presumes guilt...for victims. Thank you Jose Reyes, Patrick Kane, Greg Hardy, for keeping this argument timeless every damned week.
“What we don’t talk about is that ‘innocent until proven guilty,’ when used in the real world, means that by default a victim is presumed guilty of being a liar until, many months later, a court of law decides otherwise...what we don’t talk about is how every person who glibly says ‘innocent until proven guilty’ initially works on the premise that all accusers are probably liars, that my friends are probably liars, and that I am probably a liar too.”
Pay up. A free market would absolutely pay American women soccer players more than their male counterparts, says Kavitha Davidson at Bloomberg View. “Many scoff at the notion that soccer executives would ever leave perfectly good money on the table. But that's exactly what happened: US television ratings for the Women's World Cup final blew every other soccer match out of the water, including the 2014 men's final between Germany and Argentina. Sponsors should be kicking themselves for undervaluing the tournament and failing to capitalize on the exposure to the 24.5 million people who tuned into Fox to watch the U.S. defeat Japan.”
“We can’t, as humanity, succumb to hatred.” Great exchange between Dave Zirin and NFL Players Association head George Atallah. A Lebanese-American whose parents immigrated to the US in the midst of the country’s civil war, Atallah shared why as a Christian he stands up against Islamophobia and welcomes refugees.
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