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Longreads Best of 2020: Sports and Games

All Best of Longreads illustrations by Kjell Reigstad.

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Twelve Minutes and a Life (Mitchell S. Jackson, Runner’s World)

Ahmaud “Maud” Arbery was a passionate young football fan and player, whose only crime was to attempt to jog while being Black in Brunswick, Georgia. At Runner’s World, Mitchell S. Jackson recounts Arbery’s murder in cold blood and interrogates a sport where participation is really only sanctioned and safe for privileged white people.

And though the demographics of runners have become more diverse over the last 50 years, jogging, by and large, remains a sport and pastime pitched to privileged whites.

Peoples, I invite you to ask yourself, just what is a runner’s world? Ask yourself who deserves to run? Who has the right? Ask who’s a runner? What’s their so-called race? Their gender? Their class? Ask yourself where do they live, where do they run? Where can’t they live and run? Ask what are the sanctions for asserting their right to live and run—shit—to exist in the world. Ask why? Ask why? Ask why?

Ahmaud Arbery, by all accounts, loved to run but didn’t call himself a runner. That is a shortcoming of the culture of running. That Maud’s jogging made him the target of hegemonic white forces is a certain failure of America. Check the books—slave passes, vagrancy laws, Harvard’s Skip Gates arrested outside his own crib—Blacks ain’t never owned the same freedom of movement as whites.

The buckshot blast hits Maud in the chest, puncturing his right lung, ribs, and sternum. And yet somehow, he wrestles with Travis McMichael for the shotgun, and yet somehow, he manages to punch at him. Gregory watches for a moment from his roost. Meanwhile, Bryan continues to film. Travis fires his shotgun again, a blast that occurs outside the view of Bryan’s phone, but sends a spray of dust billowing into the frame. Maud, an island of blood now staining his white t-shirt, continues to tussle with Travis McMichael, fighting now for what he must know is his life. In the midst of the scuffle, Travis McMichael blasts Maud again point blank, piercing him in his upper chest. Maud whiffs a weak swing, staggers a couple of steps, and falls face down near the traffic stripes. Travis, shotgun in hand, backs away, watches Maud collapse, and makes not the slightest effort to tend him. His father, still clutching his revolver, runs to where Maud lies facedown, blood leaking out of his wounds.

Ahmaud Marquez Arbery was more than a viral video. He was more than a hashtag or a name on a list of tragic victims. He was more than an article or an essay or posthumous profile. He was more than a headline or an op-ed or a news package or the news cycle. He was more than a retweet or shared post. He, doubtless, was more than our likes or emoji tears or hearts or praying hands. He was more than an R.I.P. t-shirt or placard. He was more than an autopsy or a transcript or a police report or a live-streamed hearing. He, for damn sure, was more than the latest reason for your liberal white friend’s ephemeral outrage. He was more than a rally or a march. He was more than a symbol, more than a movement, more than a cause. He. Was. Loved.

USC’s Dying Linebackers (Michael Rosenberg, Sports Illustrated)

There is no question that American football is a punishing physical sport, one in which players can sustain permanent injury. Science is just beginning to understand the damage that occurs to the brain after repeated blows to the head on the field. A study mentioned in the New York Times in 2017 found that in a single game, one lineman took 62 hits, with G-forces similar to crashing a car into a wall at 30 miles per hour.

At Sports Illustrated, Michael Rosenberg brings the consequences into sharp focus, starting his story on May 12, 2012, the day that famed linebacker Junior Seau committed suicide, ostensibly after suffering long-term brain damage playing football for the USC Trojans and over 19 NFL seasons. Rosenberg reports on a horrific pattern that has emerged among former members of the 1989 USC Trojans football team, where five of 12 linebackers have died before the age of 50.

May 2, 2012
Matt Gee always says that “Junior does what Junior wants,” and what Junior Seau wants on this day is to die. Matt is out for breakfast when he gets the news, in the staccato notes of a breaking national story: Junior Seau . . . dead . . . gunshot wound to the chest . . . possible suicide.

Matt is shocked. At 42, he is not yet used to watching his teammates die.

Twelve names. Twelve dreams.

Twelve linebackers on the Trojans’ depth chart in the fall of 1989, each with the strength of a man and the exuberance of a boy, swimming in everything USC has to offer: joy and higher education and adulation, endless adrenaline surges, alcohol, cocaine if they want it, steroids if they need them. Anything to feel fearless and reckless, wild and free.

In 1989, tacklers are taught to lead with their heads. Drug tests are easy to beat. Pain is for the weak. Complaints are for the weaker. This is how the game is played.

The linebackers form a team within a team, each player with his own role. Seau is the most talented. Alan Wilson is the quietest. Craig Hartsuyker is the heady technician. Scott Ross and Delmar Chesley serve as mentors to Matt, who will become a starter after they leave. David Webb is the team’s resident surfer dude

The Trojans go 9-2-1 and then win the Rose Bowl that season, but football fools them. The linebackers think they are paying the game’s price in real time. Michael Williams takes a shot to the head tackling a running back in one game and he is slow to get up, but he stays on the field, even as his brain fogs up for the next few plays. Chesley collides with a teammate and feels the L.A. Coliseum spinning around him; he tries to stay in but falls to a knee and gets pulled. Ross, who says he would run through a brick wall for Rogge, breaks a hand and keeps playing. After several games he meets his parents outside the home locker room and can’t remember whether his team won or lost. Hartsuyker breaks a foot and stays on the field. Another time, he gets concussed on a kickoff, tells trainers he is fine, finishes the game and later shows up on fraternity row with no recollection of playing that day. Somebody sets him on the floor in front of a television, like a toddler.

The Cheating Scandal That Ripped the Poker World Apart (Brendan I. Koerner, Wired)

As Brendan I. Koerner reports in this fun story at Wired, when it comes to poker, “it’s sacrilege to accuse a peer of cheating without airtight proof.” When Texas Hold ‘Em player and “self-described analytics geek” Veronica Brill publicly aired her misgivings about Mike Postle’s unconventional yet highly successful poker play, the blowback landed on her, not him. At first. But was Brill right? Did Postle cheat? Read the story and decide for yourself.

LIKE MANY OTHERS who spent huge chunks of time at Stones, Brill had long considered Postle a friend. A generous soul who exuded a puckish charm, Postle was the sort who’d pay for everyone’s drinks while regaling the bar with bawdy tales. (He was particularly fond of a story about getting banned from Caesars Palace over a misunderstanding involving a sex worker.) But up until the summer of 2018, few of the pro players at Stones thought much of his poker prowess. “He was playing well enough to support himself, it seemed,” says Jake Rosenstiel, a Sacramento pro. “But none of us thought Mike was this great poker player.”

Everyone was thus surprised when Postle began to dominate the casino’s livestreamed Texas Hold ‘Em games starting in July 2018. The once middling Postle suddenly turned formidable, even taking thousands of dollars off some big-time players during their swings through Northern California

Brill, a self-described analytics geek whose day job is building medical software, was among those who got clobbered by Postle at the table, and she served as a livestream commentator during much of his streak too. By early 2019, she had seen enough to surmise that Postle’s success didn’t make mathematical sense. She thought he was winning far too often, particularly for a player whose strategy didn’t jibe with game theory optimal, or GTO, the prevailing strategy in Texas Hold ‘Em today.

Tremendous effort is required to develop the ability to know which single move to make in the millions of possible betting situations. There are 2,598,960 possible hands in five-card poker, a figure that vastly understates the game’s intricacy. Players must also have a feel for how their opponents are likely to react to each gambit.

Shades of Grey (Ashley Stimpson, Longreads)

In 2018, the state of Florida voted to ban greyhound racing because it was considered “archaic and inhumane.” But, what if they got it wrong? In this deeply reported Longreads feature, Ashley Stimpson introduces us to the sport of kings through Vesper, her retired racing greyhound. Tracing Vesper’s life from its start in liquid nitrogen, Stimpson learns that her beloved pet was conceived when “pellets of semen the size of a lentil” were collected from her brindle dad Lonesome Cry and implanted in her mom, a dam named Jossalyn. Stimpson discovers a world of breeders, veterinarians, and trainers dedicated not only to the sport but to the health and well-being of the dogs in their care.

It’s been nearly a decade since the numbers were tattooed in her ears, but they remain remarkably legible. In the right one, dots of green ink spell out 129B: Vesper was born in the twelfth month of the decade’s ninth year and was the second in her litter. The National Greyhound Association (NGA) gave that litter a unique registration number (52507), which was stamped into her moss-soft left ear. If I type these figures into the online database for retired racing greyhounds, I can learn about her life before she was ours, before she was even Vesper.

Smokin’ Josy was born to a breeder in Texas, trained in West Virginia, and raced in Florida. Over three years, she ran 70 races. She won four of them. In Naples on May 12, 2012, she “resisted late challenge inside,” to clinch victory, according to her stat sheet. In Daytona Beach on April 17, 2013, she “stumbled, fell early.” Five days later, after a fourth-place showing, she was retired.

I don’t mourn for greyhound racing and its long-delayed reckoning. I do sympathize with working-class people who genuinely love their dogs and who feel overlooked and overpowered by the currents of political change. And selfishly I feel sad that I’ll probably never have another dog like Vesper; I so love the bony ridge of her spine, the way her teeth chatter when she gets excited, the skin that clings to the cartilage between her eyes, softened by so many hands like an ancient piece of pottery. I don’t know if she was happier in the starting block at the track or tucked into her monogrammed bed here with me, but I’m open to the possibility that it was the former.

The Casino That Time Forgot (David Hill, The Ringer)

When you think of gambling in America, you don’t immediately think of Hot Springs, Arkansas, but at one time, “when Las Vegas was still a dusty smudge on the horizon,” Hot Springs was the place to be, where musicians, sports stars, and mobsters gathered to soothe their ills in the healing bubbly waters that emerged from deep inside the earth. In fact, “Some of the more popular ailments that patients came to treat were venereal diseases. Al Capone would ‘take the waters’ in the 1920s to treat his syphilis.”

An excerpt from David Hill’s book The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice, the piece is a rich profile of a sting operation at the Vapors Casino in the 1960s. What’s super fun about this story, one that is told in rich detail, is that one of the casino workers running the sting is the author’s grandmother.

Hazel Hill was another good country person who loved to gamble. She was 42, an attractive brunette, and looking like high society that night in her party dress and shawl. Only she wasn’t high society, not by a long shot. On her own dime, Hazel wouldn’t ordinarily be in a place like the Vapors. She’d likely be at the Tower Club, with the other down-on-their-luck locals. Or, if it were a special occasion, she might be at the Pines Supper Club, or any number of the more proletarian establishments around town, where the low rollers and hustlers could gamble cheap and drink even cheaper. Hazel worked for the Vapors as a shill player, gambling with house money to keep the tourists interested and the games going. It wasn’t a great job as far as the money went, but it was the best job Hazel had ever had, playing with the house’s money and blowing on doctors’ dice for them. Whatever the pay, it was worth something to her to just be in the Vapors. It put Hazel right at the center of the whole world.

Hazel was a street-smart high school dropout. She had become a wife and a mother in Hot Springs, earning her living on her wits and the skills she had picked up in the casinos—how to calculate odds, how to place and take bets, how to deal cards.

Now, though, it was Dr. Rowe who was pocketing chips. The shills had their eyes on him. One of Hazel’s fellow shill players, a buddy of the club owner named Richard Dooley, watched Rowe like a hawk. One of the craps dealers was paying Dr. Rowe more money on each of his winning bets than he actually won. It could have been a simple error, but the fact that Rowe was putting the extra chips in his pocket, rather than in his stack of chips along the rail of the table, told Dooley all he needed to know.

Out There: On Not Finishing (Devin Kelly, Longreads)

So much of sport involves accomplishment. It involves besting someone or something — be it an opponent, a distance, a time, or even yourself. Sometimes, people create and nurture their own identities based on their athletic achievements. But what happens — as Devin Kelly asks so thoughtfully in his Longreads essay — when the stories we tell ourselves about what achievement is turn out to be false? That the true reward is simply in the doing?

For a long time, I thought I ran, and competed in sport, as a way to use the metaphor of sport to understand life. Life is a marathon, I was often told. I remember watching and re-watching Chariots of Fire, particularly that moment in the rain when Eric Liddell, just minutes after winning a race, states: “I want to compare faith to running in a race. It’s hard. It requires energy of will.” I loved that moment as a child, especially as someone who had, at one point, a deep amount of faith. But I always paused the clip before he stated what later became to me more obvious: “So who am I to say believe, have faith, in the face of life’s realities…I have no formula for winning a race. Everyone runs in their own way.” It’s true, that everyone runs in their own way, which is a fact I’ve come to appreciate as I’ve grown older. Patience, both with my own peculiar movements through life and with those of others, is a skill I actively try to cultivate and maintain. And yet, even Liddell’s quote has to do with winning. And that — the idea of winning, or finishing, or accomplishing — has become its own universal signifier. It’s not about what you do. It’s about what you have done.

What happens if what you once used to make sense of things no longer helps you make sense of things? What happens if the patterns and habits and metaphors we lean on do not serve us in the moments we need them? What happens if the stories we tell ourselves about our lives leave us lonely, wrestling with meaning? What then?

I grappled with these questions for hours on that farm in Georgia. Under the stars and all alone, I did not know what I was doing. Each lap, I shuffled past the bonfire, past my friends singing karaoke, past the laughter of strangers, and each lap I shuffled away from them, until they became the soft patchwork of voices traversing a distance, the kind of sound that hollows you to your core and fills you with a deep sense of missingness, a longing to be there and not wherever you are. At that point, the race had ceased to be a race for so many people, but it hadn’t for me.

The thing about horizons is that, upon reaching one, you always encounter another. It’s the in-between where life lives. In another poem, “On Duration,” the poet Suzanne Buffam writes: “To cross an ocean / You must love the ocean / Before you love the far shore.” This is a beautiful explanation of what it means, as so many endurance runners say, to be “out there.” Out there is a place, but it is also a feeling. It is a series of moments stretched out across hours, or even days, that feel like one long moment. It is the act of building the bridge between two points and being the bridge at the same time. Out there is distance turned into feeling. It is metaphor actualized.

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2020 year-end collection.

The Importance of Sports When Nothing Else Seems to Matter

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 19: A general view as the Miami Hurricanes face the Wichita State Shockers during the second round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 19, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Tim Bradbury/Getty Images)

For the first time in more than 80 years, the men’s basketball NCAA tournament, which was scheduled to begin Thursday morning, was canceled. In the scheme of everything happening in the world at this moment, stopping March Madness is of little consequence, but in these uncertain times, losing that event has completely unmoored my well-being. Read more…

Is This the Most Powerful Man in Sports?

Longreads Pick

More than a decade ago, Alex French profiled William Wesley — aka Worldwide Wes — a Robert Moses-like power broker within the game of basketball (Bill Simmons once referred to Wesley as “a cross between Confucius, a benevolent uncle, and The Wolf from ‘Pulp Fiction’). According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Adrian Wojnarowski, the New York Knicks are poised to hire CAA mega-agent Leon Rose as the franchise’s president of basketball operations — and as Rose is close with Wesley, the New Jersey-native might be primed to join Rose in the Knicks’ front office. Are you following? If not, read French’s probing profile of Wesley, which revealed much about basketball’s most mysterious individual.

Source: GQ
Published: Jun 21, 2007
Length: 17 minutes (4,411 words)

Longreads Best of 2019: Sports Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in sports writing.

Nicole Auerbach
Senior writer at The Athletic.

The Unbreakable Bond (Mina Kimes, ESPN the Magazine)

A beautifully written, wrenching story from one of the best feature writers in America. It’s about football, sure, but it’s actually about a son and the mother who raised him — a mother who was blinded in her late 20s by a bucket of bleach mixed with lye. DeAndre Hopkins was 10 years old at the time. Mina Kimes’ brilliant prose tells an incredible story of resilience and love. It’ll stick with you for quite some time after: If her son scores, she explains, her daughter will help her stand up and lean over the barrier so she can accept the football from Hopkins. This ritual serves as a reminder that, while she can’t see her son, he still sees her — and he wants the world to see her too.

Jackie MacMullan is the Great Chronicler of Basketball’s Golden Age (Louisa Thomas, The New Yorker)

This isn’t exactly a feature, but to label it simply a Q&A is to sell it short. It’s just a lovely, lovely interview with Jackie MacMullan, one of the all-time greats in sports journalism. Personally, I can’t imagine being a female sportswriter right now without someone like Jackie Mac to look up to, without someone like Jackie Mac paving the way. She opens up about her crazy career path and her issues with access journalism (preach!) in this day and age in the NBA. She also discussed the problems with writers being fans (again, preach!) openly. I loved all of it, and it’s worth sitting down to read. It’s not quite a feature, but you’ll feel you have a good read on the GOAT by the end. (Also, she references her relationship with Celtics great Red Auerbach … who is the person I named my dog after! Bonus points for that.)

2019 Sportsperson of the Year: Megan Rapinoe (Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated)

One of the best stories I read this year came in just under the wire, in SI’s Sportsperson of the Year issue in mid-December. Jenny Vrentas wrote a masterful piece on an athlete I thought I knew quite a bit about. But it became clear as I began reading this that there were layers to Megan Rapinoe I was totally unaware of, layers that made her even more intriguing both as an athlete and person. There’s a care and precision to the reporting and writing of this piece that comes through in each and every word. You can tell it’s important to Jenny that just the fourth unaccompanied woman to be named Sportsperson of the Year have her story told honestly and fairly. And she does just that.
Read more…

Shady Numbers And Bad Business: Inside The Esports Bubble

Longreads Pick

“There’s big money in esports, they say. You’ve heard the stories. Teenaged gamers flown overseas to sunny mansions with live-in chefs. The erection of $50 million arenas for Enders Game-esque sci-fi battles. League of Legends pros pulling down seven-figure salaries. Yet there’s a reason why these narratives are provocative enough to attract lip-licking headlines in business news and have accrued colossal amounts of venture capital. More and more, esports is looking like a bubble ready to pop.”

Source: Kotaku
Published: May 23, 2019
Length: 32 minutes (8,095 words)

An Audience of Athletes: The Rise and Fall of Feminist Sports

womenSports, Bettmann / Getty

Britni de la Cretaz | Longreads | May 2019 | 26 minutes (6,609 words)

The idea for womenSports magazine was born in a car suspended over the San Francisco Bay by beams of steel. Several weeks before she captivated the nation by beating Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in the fall of 1973, Billie Jean King sat in the passenger seat of a car and stewed. At the wheel was her then-husband, Larry, driving the couple from Emeryville near Oakland toward San Francisco on the Bay Bridge, and as Billie Jean flipped through an issue of Sports Illustrated, she complained, which is what she always did whenever she picked up an issue of SI. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: Sports Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in sports writing.

Mirin Fader
Writer-at-large for Bleacher Report’s B/R Mag.

Most Dominating Athlete of 2018: Simone Biles (Danyel Smith, ESPN the Magazine)

Danyel Smith’s ESPN the Magazine cover story of Simone Biles was one of the most impactful pieces of sports writing I read this year. After I finished it, I felt like I knew Biles. Smith got Biles to open up, to even admit the fear she feels while competing on bars (what Olympic gold-medal winning athlete readily admits fear?), which is a kudos to Smith’s skills as a reporter. Although I don’t know Smith personally, I felt like I could hear her voice throughout the piece. She seamlessly interwove history and culture and context and sport to put together one of the most versatile sports profiles I’ve ever read. My favorite paragraph really sums up Smith’s brilliance as a journalist, and Biles’ genius as a gymnast: “But no matter how sparkly her leotard, she’s a killer as stone cold as David Ortiz or Robert Horry ever was. She creates each time she competes. Plus, Biles will run the score up on you with a red cheer bow on a ponytail pulled higher than J-Lo’s.”


Louisa Thomas
Contributor for The New Yorker.

Juan Martín del Potro Strikes Back (Chloe Cooper Jones, GQ)

Juan Martín del Potro is one of tennis’s most popular — and inspiring and tragic — figures. Del Potro won the U.S. Open in 2009, beating Roger Federer, and then his wrists began to fray. Cooper Jones tells the story of his long journey back. This is a beautifully written profile, an insightful portrait of the player on the court and the person off it — but it is also, most movingly, a meditation on pain.

Drew Brees is Hiding in Plain Sight (Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated)

Bishop tackles the age-old question of what makes greatness — or even the greatest — and why it can be so easy to overlook. Take Drew Brees, the subject of this piece. At the same time, without being didactic, Bishop reminds us of something else: as seriously as we take all the records, sports are fun. And so is this story.

Everyone Believed Larry Nassar (Kerry Howley, The Cut)

A thoroughly reported, devastating reconstruction of what might be the most important sports story in recent history: how Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of young women and not only got away with it, but thrived in the gymnastics community.

Joel Anderson
Senior writer for ESPN the Magazine.

The Search for Jackie Wallace (Ted Jackson, The Times-Picayune)

On the Friday before the Super Bowl, The Times-Picayune dropped this tremendous profile of former NFL player and New Orleans native Jackie Wallace and his heartrending — and apparently ongoing — struggle with homelessness and drug abuse. The story got its start in 1990, when photographer Ted Jackson came across Wallace living in a camp underneath Interstate 10. Jackson photographed him for a story that ran that year, which seemed to lead to Wallace being rescued from the streets and addiction. But this is where the story begins, as Jackson loses touch with Wallace over the years and details his search for him over the next couple of decades. There’s so much to love here, starting with the care Jackson and the Times-Picayune put into showing how drugs can unravel a life and into asserting the fundamental humanity of Wallace. Jackson also subtly shows there’s more to his relationship with Wallace — a reminder that reporting doesn’t have to be merely transactional — and much more to Wallace than his troubles. It’s surprising in all sorts of ways, but especially in how humanizing it is of Wallace.

Everyone Believed Larry Nassar (Kerry Howley, The Cut)

In excruciating detail, Kerry Howley showed here how Larry Nassar — the unassuming and relentlessly charming USA Gymnastics national team doctor — wormed his way into the homes and hearts of hundreds of young female gymnasts and their families en route to becoming one of the most notorious child sex abusers in modern history. It’d be irresponsible not to credit the herculean investigative efforts of the Indianapolis Star in breaking the case against Nassar and USA Gymnastics — and the many other reporters and media outlets who tracked the developments through Nassar’s sentencing in federal and state court — but Howley’s exhaustive story illuminates exactly how and why Nassar was able to escape detection for so long. It wasn’t because his victims were silent. Far from it, in fact. It wasn’t because Nassar was particularly discreet. No, Howley writes, it was because Nassar “was good at this.” Two scenes from Howley’s story show this best. The first is told from the vantage point of a 9-year-old girl, who was digitally penetrated by Nassar with her mother sitting only a few feet away in his living room in 1990. The second comes near the end of the story, when one of his victims manages to make him cry during his sentencing hearing and she feels briefly triumphant. I won’t spoil the final line for you but it’s an unforgettable close that couldn’t have been more perfect, or haunting.


Natalie Weiner
Staff writer for SB Nation.

The Children of Central City (Jonathan Bullington and Richard A. Webster, The Times-Picayune)

They Are the Champions (Katie Barnes, ESPN the Magazine)

Both of these stories are extraordinary examples of my favorite kind of sportswriting — the kind that uses sports’ near-universal appeal and reach to illuminate social and political issues. “The Children of Central City” uses the lens of one youth football team in New Orleans to examine violence in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods; as its former coach explains early in the multi-part series, he’s had 28 former players be shot and killed over a 14 year span. The football team is a jumping off point through which the authors (and director — there’s a corresponding documentary) can explore how the trauma that comes from growing up surrounded by violence impacts kids’ lives, and how football is an escape, if an imperfect one. It’s a thoughtful, empathetic take on a story that’s too often left unexamined because it’s wrongly perceived as inevitable.

In “They Are the Champions,” two very different kids growing up in very different parts of the country share one thing: they are transgender. Their stories are pressing  not only because LGBTQ perspectives are grossly underrepresented in media as a whole, but also because they show that sports is the battleground where the very core of how we understand gender will be determined — a statement that sounds like hyperbole, but when you’re in the middle of Barnes’ story parsing the various ways people rationalize dividing sports by gender, quickly becomes self-evident. Mack Beggs and Andraya Yearwood just want to compete, and the world is going to have to catch up.


Matt Giles
Editor and head of fact-checking, Longreads.

Alone at Sea (Elizabeth Weil, New York Times Magazine)

Aleksander Doba has kayaked the Atlantic Ocean three times, and each crossing has been more dangerous than the last. Weil’s profile of the Polish native is an engrossing read of his trans-Atlantic trips, and why the 71 year old continues to push his body and psyche to such extreme limits. As he explains his reasoning to Weil, “I do not want to be a little gray man.”

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.

How to Cover Native American Sports

Evan Butcher of the Chippewa Tribe plays basketball near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. 2016. Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured the high school basketball team the Arlee Warriors on its cover. Hailing from the city of Arlee, home to about 600 people on Montanas Flathead Indian Reservation, the Warriors are among the greatest Native American high school squads ever assembled, a group that blends high-octane offense predicated on three-point field goals with a frantic and suffocating pressurized defense.

The feature, written by Abe Streep, doesnt just showcase the Warriors and its players —  including Phillip Malatare, a six-foot guard wholl be a preferred walk-on at the University of Montana next fall — it also profiles the town, the reservation (a sovereign nation comprising the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and a wave of recent suicides in the community. It was these suicides that prompted the Warriors transformation: The team wasnt just a winner of back-to-back state titles, but rather a beacon to those that viewed suicide as a solitary option. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2017: Sports Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in sports writing.

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Mary Pilon
Contributor to The New Yorker, Esquire, and Vice. Previously on staff at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Author of The Monopolists and The Kevin Show (March 2018)

Is This the NFL’s First Female Player? (Lars Anderson, B/R Mag)

I’m a sucker for high school sports stories, but Anderson’s examination of Becca Longo isn’t just a showcase of a plucky talent, it also challenges long-held assumptions about the league’s recruitment pipeline. Longo is the first woman to earn a football scholarship to a Division I or Division II school, and Anderson offers a fascinating window into the training and psyche required to become be an ace-level kicker. In lesser hands, the story could have been mawkish or puffy, but Anderson’s prose is sharp, layered, and will likely be reread when we see Longo in the Super Bowl one day.

Read more…

Widespread Abuse in Kids’ Sports Shows How Institutions Enable Predators

(Getty Images)

Sexual harassment and abuse existed in our institutions long before recent allegations against men in power like Harvey Weinstein, Bill O’Reilly, and Roy Price came to light. How do institutions protect and enable these predators, and say things like, “Honestly, it was not on my radar,” when abuse surfaces? This is the question Alexandra Starr tackles in her Harper’s Magazine story examining how the U.S. Olympic Committee inadequately addressed sexual abuse in youth athletics. Institutions like the U.S.O.C. have often turned a blind eye to allegations of abuse until they’re forced to address them in court:

Marci Hamilton — the head of Child U.S.A., an organization that works to prevent child abuse and neglect — travels the country drafting legislation and testifying in statehouses on behalf of sexual assault survivors. She told me that, beyond money for therapy, window provisions help provide victims with recognition from the state that a wrong has occurred. “It is validating,” she said. “It can quiet the voices in their heads telling them they were somehow at fault.” For others reticent to come forward, watching people publicly hold their perpetrator accountable is key.

Hamilton has observed that child abuse at the Catholic Church has generated the most attention, but she finds youth athletics to be no less hazardous. “We have reports of abuse in every possible sports organization — whether peewee or little league or high school,” she said. “The extreme power imbalance between a coach and an athlete — not just an adult and child but a coach and an athlete — creates conditions for keeping secrets. And so long as secrets are kept, the perpetrators are protected.” Lawsuits, she added, “are the only way to force these institutions to disclose what’s in their files.” When SafeSport launched, she wrote that “the U.S.O.C. has moved at a glacial pace,” grappling with allegations of assault over the past fifteen years; “its actions have more often protected problematic coaches than children.” She told me, “What always comes out in the end is that the institution knew more about abuse than just about anybody else. They are also the ones most dedicated to silence.”

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