Tag Archives: Sports Illustrated

This Week’s Best Profile – Messi

He’s the best soccer player in the world. His coach is one of the best players, ever. Joy and tension have ensued:

Lionel Messi is not happy. Why is not clear at first, because, as all Spain knows on this cool, sparkling November day, the 22-year-old Argentine soccer god should be ecstatic. Last night his club team, Barcelona, beat archrival Real Madrid before a home crowd of 90,000, and tomorrow looks to be even better: Word has leaked that Messi will be awarded the Golden Ball as 2009 European Footballer of the Year. His annual income, including endorsements, is $46 million. His team is dominating La Liga, the Spanish first division. His game is rounding into breathtaking form.

Still, look at him: hunched in a chair like a kid hauled into the principal’s office, pausing after each question to glance at his manager-brother, Rodrigo, as if to say, Can you get me out of here? Now? The clock is ticking: This is shaping up to be the worst Q and A in history.

Adidas had offered up its soccer show pony for a 30-minute chat, but once it became clear that the discussion would touch on the Argentine national team and its tempestuous coach, Diego Maradona, a coolness set in. The 30 minutes were abruptly slashed to 15, and Messi spent the first 5½ giving clipped and preemptively bland replies. Now Maradona’s name pops up, tucked into the idea that it must be both tiresome and flattering to be compared with perhaps the greatest player in history. Messi’s face hardens: Here’s the ball he’s been waiting to boot out-of-bounds.

“What’s tiresome,” he says in Spanish, “is always being asked the same question.”

S.L. Price delivers this good primer for the World Cup. For some historical context, try these articles from The New Yorker archive. Also, this video didn’t blow me away at first. But it repays repeated viewings:

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This Week’s Best Profile

Dick Fosbury revolutionized a sport you’ve probably never watched: the high jump. He struggled with other things along the way:

Maybe there comes a time in every kid’s life when he confronts his mediocrity and submits to the tyranny of normality. A life without expression: just another guy, not a single trait or talent to mark him in a crowd. Fosbury, all of 15 now, wasn’t there yet. He hadn’t been crushed. On a 25-mile bus trip to Grants Pass, Ore., for a rotary meet with a dozen schools, he stared out the window and decided he was going to do whatever it took, make one last jump. If he finished the year at 5’4″, the same as he jumped in ninth grade, he was done, doomed to a third-string life…

Dick Fosbury was the perfect, maybe the only, vehicle for innovation when it came to the high jump. All athletes recognize a performance imperative, a drive to exceed their limits, to explore upper boundaries. It’s why they train and tweak. But Fosbury had the additional impetus of being a teenager. There is no swifter, more terrible saber-toothed tiger than the ritual humiliation of adolescence. He felt that animal’s breath on his neck every day, and he felt it more keenly than his peers: He had picked the one sport that might return the favor of his determination but had gotten embarrassment instead.

The first half of this SI profile is full of good nuggets. Then it weirdly tapers off in purple nonsense. Enjoy, and stop when you get bored.

Lions in Winter

A confluence of various things caused me to read more than one – three, to be precise – fantastic profiles of over the hill baseball players this week. I offer them to you for your long weekend, so take advantage of the office printer.

For those Meanderers who don’t know an infield fly from a suicide squeeze – or, better yet, don’t care to know – fret not. These articles aren’t really about baseball. Here’s the evidence.

Gay Talese on Joe DiMaggio:

During their honeymoon in Tokyo an American general had introduced himself and asked if, as a patriotic gesture, [Marilyn Monroe] would visit the troops in Korea. She looked at Joe. “It’s your honeymoon,” he said, shrugging, “go ahead if you want to.”

She appeared on 10 occasions before 100,000 servicemen, and when she returned, she said, “It was so wonderful, Joe. You never heard such cheering.”

“Yes, I have,” he said.

John Updike on Ted Williams:

The affair between Boston and Ted Williams has been no mere summer romance; it has been a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories. It falls into three stages, which may be termed Youth, Maturity, and Age; or Thesis, Antithesis, and Synthesis; or Jason, Achilles, and Nestor.

Tom Verducci on Sandy Koufax:

DiMaggio, baseball’s other legendary protector of privacy, was practically Rodmanesque compared with Koufax. DiMaggio was regal, having acquired even the stiff-handed wave of royalty. We watched the graying of DiMaggio as he played TV pitchman and public icon. Koufax is a living James Dean, the aura of his youth frozen in time; he has grayed without our even knowing it. He is a sphinx, except that he doesn’t want anyone to try to solve his riddle.

I prefer them in the order listed above, but they all touch on a remarkably similar theme: the lion in the winter, Shakespeare post-Macbeth, Hanson post-Mmmbop, Favre post-retirement(s). What does one do, indeed, when one has conquered this planet in every worldly sense and must confront the rest of one’s life? I told you it wasn’t about baseball.

Oh, a decent set of writers helps too.

Too good to be true

Derrick Thomas was inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend. His was the first athletic jersey I ever owned, and he was the only reason I woke up one Sunday morning and went to Arrowhead Stadium, not for a football game, but to run in his 5K charity run because they told us we’d get to meet him. His death on a highway ice patch, at 33, was enough for my 7th grade teachers to take us to the cafeteria where we watched the funeral, together, all of us. I revered him, more than any athlete I ever had, and probably more than any I ever will. He was impossible to stop in the field, his smile was impossible to miss on television, and to me, a tiny 10-year old, he was impossibly god-like.

The problem was, unbeknownst to me, Derrick Thomas also had seven kids with five different women.

Joe Posnanski is leaving the Kansas City Star. His level-headed take on sports will be missed, as he blesses the nation with it as a staff writer at Sports Illustrated. Posnanski eulogizes Thomas twice upon his induction, here and here. I prefer the former, where he makes this point:

Derrick Thomas did not get to live that full life. And so … the feelings about him are amplified and they stand at harsh extremes. Whenever any of us write or say something good about Thomas — such as this weekend when we celebrate his remarkable football career — we are inundated with angry e-mails and phone calls and rebukes from those who want to yell about the irresponsible way he fathered seven children with five different women. Whenever we talk about all the good he did — and he did a lot of good; he was always generous with his time and he was chosen the NFL Man of the Year in 1993 — we are furiously reminded of his bad habits and wild nights and marathon parties.

Whenever we try to honor the memory of a man who brought a lot of happiness to a lot of people, we are told by many that he was deeply flawed and his memory does not deserve to be honored.

Some will see him only as a symbol of a famous athlete who did not have any self-discipline. Some will see him only as a great football player who cared deeply about people. The truth is, Derrick Thomas was neither of those things. And both. He was complicated, just like everyone else. And he died before we really got to know him.

When writing about sports – or music, or movie stars, or even politicians – must journalists and writers emphasize each and every blemish? Do the blemishes, really, matter? Devotion to the truth sometimes skews devotion to the truth that matters. Sports are a deathly unserious endeavor, and to force them and the athletes who compete in them to become things they are not, to live up to expectations beyond touchdowns and goals – well, what’s the point?

Derrick Thomas made me happier as a child. He made a lot of adults happy too. He did some stupid, shitty, unforgivable stuff – stuff that, once I knew about it, I knew was bad. Am I better for knowing? Nope. I just hope I can watch this video without someone saying, “Yes, but…”

Good writin’

Good friend Kevin Armstrong writes at SI.com about the “best” newspaper sports department of all time: the 1970s Boston Globe. I can’t really argue with this, particularly given the names that come up on the list: Gammons, Ryan, McDonough, etc. But I can offer one alternative: the 1990s Kansas City Star.

The columnists: Joe Posnanski and Jason Whitlock. If you’re a sports fan, you know them. Can you say that about any other small-market’s sports columnists?

The reporters: Wright Thompson (ESPN.com’s best writer), Jason King (Yahoo’s college football and basketball guy), Dick Kaegel (now with MLB.com), Mechelle Voepel (women’s bball at ESPN), and Ivan Carter (Wizards beat reporter for the WaPo).

That’s my vote. Any other nominees?

And a related note: it appears SI just redesigned its site today. Take a look, and compare to, say, ESPN or Yahoo Sports. The biggest difference? When I load up SI, I have to scroll down before I get any actual news. Hopefully they change that…