Tag Archives: Sports

The Swan (Mascot) that Would Not Be Tamed

At Howler Magazine, Jeff Maysh tells the story of Cyril the Swan, the misbehaving mascot of Welsh football club Swansea City. It’s a story about the fading, post-industrial city that embraced the swan’s antics as a symbol of local identity. But it’s also the story of club groundskeeper Eddie Donne, the man inside the costume, and the making (and unmaking) of ultra-local heroes. In a particularly surreal scene, Maysh recounts a disciplinary hearing between league officials and the mascot — who appeared in full swan regalia.

Neil McClure hired Britain’s most famous sports attorney, Maurice Watkins, to defend Cyril. In 1995, Watkins had represented Manchester United star Eric Cantona after he kung fu kicked a spectator. He wanted Cyril kept away from the hearing because, Watkins told me via e-mail, he was “unpredictable to say the least.” This, he said, almost caused Lewis to “have apoplexy as the interest in the case had already generated huge sales of Cyril memorabilia, and [Lewis] had just commissioned the purchase of thousands of Cyril statuettes.” Donne avoided the TV crews and fans out front by sneaking in a back door and carrying Cyril in a bag. When Donne poked Cyril’s head out of a window, the mob went wild and began chanting, “Save our swan!”

Welsh FA chairman Alun Evans and two officials were sitting behind a long table in a barren conference room when they called for the defendant.

“They wanted to see what my vision was like,” Donne says. Cyril kicked the doors open and staggered inside. “I was falling over on purpose,” he says. “There was a plate of biscuits, so I pecked them, knocked the plate over.” As the biscuits went flying, the FA officials looked on in disbelief.
When Lewis explained that Cyril was a mute swan, the chairman instructed him to act as a translator.

“Ask Cyril, Mike, can he see a football at his feet when he is wearing his costume?” said Evans.

The swan shook his head: no.

“Ask Cyril, Mike, did he intentionally kick the ball in the direction of a Millwall player?”

Again, the answer was no.

“Mr. Watkins,” the chairman barked, turning to the lawyer, “were you aware that Cyril patted an official on the head shortly after Swansea had scored their third goal … after encroachment on the field of play?”

“Yes, Mr. Chairman,” Watkins said. “Cyril thought that he had seen a coin thrown at the linesman and went over to console him.”

Brilliant, Maurice, brilliant, Lewis recalls thinking.

Cyril was dismissed from the room. As he was leaving, Donne saw referee Steve Dunn sitting in a chair in the corridor.

“I dipped my beak in his coffee,” he says.

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24-Hour Competitive Rock Climbing: Finger Tips as Rough as Rhino Skin

At Outside, Eva Holland profiles the sweaty, rhino-skinned, costumed competitors of Horseshoe Hell — a competitive rock-climbing race in Arkansas, in which participants attempt to complete as many climbs as they can in a 24-hour period in blazing temperatures.

The craziest rock-climbing event in the world happens annually in the Ozarks of Arkansas, in a u-shaped canyon with enough routes for 24 straight hours of nonstop ascents. They call it Horseshoe Hell, but don’t be fooled: for outdoor athletes who love physical challenges with some partying thrown in, it’s heaven.

From 10 a.m. today to 10 a.m. tomorrow, two-person teams will climb nonstop—or as close to nonstop as they can manage—­racking up points for each route they complete. To be considered official finishers, each climber will have to send at least one route per hour; to automatically qualify for next year, each will have to do 100. Some teams will climb hundreds of pitches.

Time crawls by in a blur of increasing pain and exhaustion. At 4 a.m., with six hours to go, there’s a scramble of activity as each team completes a mandatory check-in, the event volunteers verifying that nobody is so thrashed that they become a danger to themselves or others. The temperature has dropped to a halfway-reasonable 67 degrees, but the humidity has climbed to 98 percent. The night is a swamp, the darkness punctured only by headlamps bobbing up and down the rock walls. The cicadas scream. Flying, biting insects charge into every small pool of light.

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Roger Federer is Brilliant, But Don’t Ever Forget About Serena Williams

Last week, I had the privilege of watching Roger Federer beat his longtime rival Rafael Nadal in a fourth-round match at the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells. Federer went on to win the tournament.

Tennis has long been a young person’s game, with the majority of the top players from both the men’s and women’s pro tour being in their 20s. At 35, an age when many tennis players have retired or considered retirement (Pete Sampras, for example, announced his retirement at 32), Roger Federer is finding success again with his latest wins in Indian Wells and at the Australian Open (his first grand slam win in five years). His resurgence has garnered him a GQ cover and a profile by Rosecrans Baldwin in the magazine’s latest issue. Baldwin asked Federer about what it felt like to win his latest grand slam title:

So how did it compare with the others? The 2009 French Open stands out, Federer said, when he clinched the Career Grand Slam and also tied Sampras’s record of 14 Slam titles. Then he beat Andy Roddick at Wimbledon a few weeks later—during the same summer that Mirka gave birth to their first children, their twin girls—and the record was his. A magical summer. But still, he said, “this one feels very different.” Less about legend, more about legacy. After a silence, Federer mused, “You have a better perspective when you’re older. You’re more at peace.” A second later, “Sometimes you want it more because you know time isn’t on your side.”

It’s a lovely profile of an athlete reaching the twilight of his career. Unfortunately, GQ undermined the story with a single tweet: Read more…

“Modern Life Is Not Violent Enough,” Said Nobody — But They Thought It

football field

GQ published an excerpt from Chuck Klosterman’s book But What If We’re Wrong? last May — and while it’s nominally about football, violence, and why the sport isn’t going away anytime soon, it’s also a prescient analysis of current U.S. politics.

There’s an embedded assumption within all arguments regarding the doomed nature of football. The assumption is that the game is even more violent and damaging than it superficially appears, and that as more people realize this (and/or refuse to deny the medical evidence verifying that damage), the game’s fan support will disappear. The mistake made by those advocating this position is their certitude that this perspective is self-evident. It’s not. These advocates remind me of an apocryphal quote attributed to film critic Pauline Kael after the 1972 presidential election: “How could Nixon have won? I don’t know one person who voted for him.” Now, Kael never actually said this. But that erroneous quote survives as the best shorthand example for why smart people tend to be wrong as often as their not-so-smart peers—they work from the flawed premise that their worldview is standard. The contemporary stance on football’s risk feels unilateral, because nobody goes around saying, “Modern life is not violent enough.” Yet this sentiment quietly exists. And what those who believe it say instead is, “I love football. It’s the last bastion of hope for toughness in America.” It’s not difficult to imagine a future where the semantic distance between those statements is nonexistent. And if that happens, football will change from a popular leisure pastime to an unpopular political necessity.

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Basketball’s ‘Flopping’ Problem

The Oregon Ducks’ Dillon Brooks is one of the nation’s most talented basketball players, a 6-foot-7 forward who can score on the block and possesses enough quickness and handle to double as a guard within the Ducks’ offense. There is little Brooks can’t do, but when the junior tries to extend his talents to other arenas, the results can be, well, a bit embarrassing.

For instance, during Thursday’s win over Pac-12 opponent Utah, Brooks attempted to draw a charge on freshman guard Sedrick Barefield. It wasn’t pretty:

Flopping, in which a player intentionally falls after little or no contact from an opposing player in an attempt to draw a foul, is a problem in basketball, and there have been some very bad ones in the history of the sport. Duke is routinely lampooned for their ability to throw their bodies on the ground at just the slightest touch, and a Google search of ‘Marcus Smart flops’ yields nearly 500,000 results criticizing the Boston Celtics’ guard’s ‘defense’. Read more…

How Family Tragedy Shaped Steve Kerr’s Worldview

Steve Kerr

Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr — along with other NBA players and coaches — hasn’t shied away from speaking freely about President Trump’s rhetoric, including, this week, cracks about the “alternative facts” espoused by press secretary Sean Spicer.

As John Branch reported for the New York  Times Magazine in December, Kerr’s personal experience is unique: His family spent time in Beirut and his father, Malcolm Kerr, was assassinated while serving as the president of American University of Beirut in 1984:

Kerr also knows that sports are an active ingredient of American culture. He knows, as well as anyone, that players are complicated, molded by background, race, religion and circumstance.

And Kerr is, too: a man whose grandparents left the United States to work in the Middle East, whose father was raised there, whose mother adopted it, whose family has a different and broader perspective than most. The Kerrs are a family touched by terrorism in the most personal way. Malcolm Kerr was not a random victim. He was a target.

That gives Steve Kerr a voice. His job gives him a platform. You will excuse him if he has a few things to say.

“It’s really simple to demonize Muslims because of our anger over 9/11, but it’s obviously so much more complex than that,” he said. “The vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people, just like the vast majority of Christians and Buddhists and Jews and any other religion. People are people.”

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Concussion Chronology: One High School Football Player’s Secret Struggle with CTE

“Zac was a thumper,” his father says, standing in the family kitchen. “Of all the boys, he was the one who wouldn’t show pain, who’d be fearless.… He’d throw his head into anything. He was the kind of guy I like on defense.”

…only Winslow knew the full extent of Zac’s struggles in the five and a half years since high school: the brain tremors that felt like thunderclaps inside his skull, the sudden memory lapses in which he’d forget where he was driving or why he was walking around the hardware store, the doctors who told him his mind might be torn to pieces from all the concussions from football. She knew about the drugs and the drinking he was doing to cope. She knew about the mood swings, huge and pulverizing, the slow leaching of his hope.

At GQ, Reid Forgrave profiles Zac Easter, a former “smashmouth” high school football player who took his own life in the aftermath of suffering five diagnosed concussions during his football career.

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Who Owns Tattoos?

Over at Vice Sports, Aaron Gordon has a fascinating piece up about intellectual property rights and tattoos. He opens with the case of the NBA2K video game series, which is currently being sued by a tattoo artist agency over the games’ digitally recreated tattoos, which appear on the virtual bodies of players such as Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. But copyright issues get murky when we are talking about tattoos. So just who exactly owns those inked images?

On the face of it, the answer seems obvious. Tattoo artists charge for their work, with a reasonable expectation that the art will be seen by others, according to Yolanda King, Associate Professor at Northern Illinois University College of Law and counsel at Advitam IP, an intellectual property law firm. For example, when Shawn Rome gives James a tattoo, he is giving James an implied license to display the tattoo in the arena, on television, and anywhere else a camera catches him. Rome owns the design, and James owns the right to display it on his body.

But when that tattoo is on the body of a celebrity, and the design gets copied, re-created and sold for profit by third parties, the ownership issue becomes much thornier. NBA2K publicly touts its ultra-realistic graphics and player design, specifically singling out tattoo recreation as an element of that realism. It features specific NBA player tattoos prominently in promotional materials. However, the game’s makers didn’t get permission from the legal rights holder of those designs, Solid Oak Sketches. So the basic question before the Southern District of New York courts is this: is what NBA 2K does with tattoos any different than if the game’s makers had used an unlicensed photograph to promote their product?

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I Was a Super Bowl Concession Worker

Last Sunday, Super Bowl 50 descended upon Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California. At Slate, freelance journalist Gabriel Thompson describes game day from the perspective of a worker in one of the stadium’s upscale food courts, where he earned less than $13 an hour to serve $13 beers.

It doesn’t take long to realize that the Chrome Grill, which functioned perfectly well for sparsely attended 49ers games, is not quite ready for the Super Bowl and its crowd of 71,000. Our cooks, three temps who earn $10 an hour for typical Levi’s Stadium events, but $15 an hour for the Super Bowl, are cranking out food. Still the lines keep growing. It doesn’t help that the fancy new registers tend to freeze up, or that we sell out of the jumbo dogs an hour before kickoff, which means that we have to waste precious time absorbing complaints. “At the Super Bowl?” one lady asks. “No hot dogs? You have got to be kidding.” I apologize—as sincerely as possible, given the circumstances—but she just stands there, unconvinced. When I pull off the lid of the hot dog container to reveal greasy water, she stomps off.

“The system is not working,” says Khalid Subainati. A jack-of-all-trades at the Chrome Grill, Kal usually works as an expeditor, but today he’s spending much of his time serving as a buffer between angry customers and us, as well as trying to get the registers to work. I’m totally absorbed in slapping pizza slices onto plates while trying to keep five orders straight in my head. Relief finally comes in the form of the national anthem, performed by Lady Gaga. Ticket-holders rush to their seats, which gives us a moment to collect ourselves. “Shit,” says Joshua. I nod. For weeks, our Centerplate supervisors have reminded us about the importance of today, when we’ll put “Fans First!” to “create excitement and lifetime memories at America’s greatest event.” That’s not where this day seems to be headed.

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How Two Enemies Shaped the Future of College Sports

Byers, who became the executive director of the N.C.A.A. in 1951 — a position he held for the next 37 years — transformed a toothless association into a powerful force that mirrored his own personality: secretive, despotic, stubborn and ruthless. He helped turn the N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament into the financial windfall we now know as March Madness. He created the N.C.A.A.’s enforcement division, along with a culture that enforced its myriad rules (many of them absurdly petty) with a Javert-like zealotry. He even invented the phrase “student-athlete,” a propaganda stroke that helped universities avoid paying workers’ compensation to injured athletes.

In the New York Times, Joe Nocera looks back at the battle between college basketball coaching great Jerry Tarkanian and former NCAA executive director Walter Byers, who both died in 2015.

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