OK, “hate” is too strong a word. But I fundamentally do not get sports. Playing them, yes, fine. But knowing players’ names, arguing that this one guy is better than that other guy, keeping a little Excel sheet of strikes and yards and rebounds in my head? Baffling.

But that doesn’t mean, as it turns out, that stories about sports can’t be fascinating. The economics! The moral gray areas! The egos! It’s like a reality show in there.

I’m not going to start watching sports anytime soon, but thanks to these stories, I’m starting to see why other people do.

Does Football Have A Future? The N.F.L. and The Concussion Crisis

Ben McGrath | The New Yorker | Jan. 31, 2011

This story has moved on quite a bit since 2011—there is now a book, a movie and something called The Concussion Blog—but McGrath’s story is a good primer on the issue of football players suffering severe mental damage in old age, and foreshadows both the huge pressure on the NFL and its head-in-the-sand response.

The Shame of College Sports

Taylor Branch | The Atlantic | October 2011

So it turns out everybody in big-time college sports is getting rich, but the players—19-year-olds who work grueling travel and practice schedules in addition to being full-time students—are prohibited from earning anything above poverty wages. Branch is a Sports Guy, and he’s definitely writing for his people, but with a few trips to Wikipedia, it’s not that hard to understand the issues and arguments here.

How (and Why) Athletes Go Broke

Pablo S. Torre | Sports Illustrated | March 23, 2009

“By the time they have been retired for two years, 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce.” For NBA players, it’s 60 percent. It’s easy to blame the players for this—their dumb investments, their dumber cars, their confidence in their ability and earning power for more than just a few years—but Torre makes a good case that no one ever tells these guys how to manage money, and that they’re a huge bullseye for con artists and sketchy investment advice.

Lance Armstrong: The Downfall of a Champion

Reed Albergotti & Vanessa O’Connell | Wall St Journal | Oct. 7, 2013


To Cheat or Not to Cheat

Tom Verducci | Sports Illustrated | May 29, 2012

If I don’t care about sports, why should I care that someone is cheating at them, right? But the debate over performance-enhancing drugs isn’t really about cheating. These guys aren’t taking drugs so they don’t have to work as hard. Most of them, it seems, are taking drugs so they can work harder.

A million articles have been written about this, but late-1990s Major League Baseball and post-cancer Lance Armstrong stand out as the most extreme cases, the ones where you marvel not only at the deception, but the logistics. Stopping a bus in the French Alps for an illegal blood transfusion? Lying to Congress? Both of these stories are half moral quandary, half detective story.

(For a fascinating conversation about the inherent weirdness of defining “performance-enhancement” in the first place, check out Bill Simmons’s interview with Alex Gibney, the director of The Armstrong Lie.)


Photo: Thomas Leuthard

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