The (Walking) Death of Sports on Earth

soe

Last month, in a story that was poorly reported to the then-staff of the site Sports on Earth, to say nothing of the general public, it snuck out that, in some order, USA Today had pulled out of its partnership with MLB that supported the site and ninety-five percent of the site’s staff had been let go. The soldiering-on of “senior writer” Will Leitch (which is far from nothing) aside, SoE exists today at best as a sort of undead shell of the vibrant self Leitch and its former staff had built in what I called an important “second chapter” of the site’s history.

As David Roth, Keith Olbermann, and even Leitch himself have commented, the whole thing came as a surprise even to the writers, many of whom found out about the great “unwinding” for the first time on Twitter.

We have tracked the rise of Sports on Earth since its birth, and we’ve highlighted plenty of their many well-done stories in the past. From a technical standpoint, SoE was designed for optimal reading on a tablet, and, for me, it held the position of go-to breakfast-table reading for a long time.

I was just a reader. For The Classical’s David Roth, the whole thing was more personal, as he was friends and colleagues of many of the dispatched writers, many of whom also had written for The Classical. I learned about Sports on Earth’s demise from Roth’s extended obituary, which also expounds upon the challenges of sustaining and supporting interesting sports writing in today’s media landscape.   Continue reading

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The Strange, Tense Power of Talking Heads’ ‘Fear of Music’ (via The Atlantic)

When Fear of Music was released, the group was on the verge of outgrowing local New York success and moving toward the arena-filling, ten piece musical funkanauts they would be circa 1984’s concert doc Stop Making Sense. The success of their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” and appearances on Saturday Night Live and American Bandstand had gained the group a wider audience, yet made them wary of selling out. This gave rise to a set of contradictions that would manifest even on Fear of Music‘s jacket: all black with raised worm-like shapes reminiscent of tire tread or, in Lethem’s view, a steel door that evokes both a “chilly authority” and “desire to be stroked.”

[Author Jonathan Lethem’s] slow approach [to the album] yields big, as it reveals a record composed not of disparate songs, like, say, a short-story collection, but a “concept album” in the most abstract yet perhaps truest sense. Fear of Music tells no narrative, but weaves together its bleak motifs in such a way that a resonance chamber forms, the pop music equivalent of the postmodern, fractured books of Italo Calvino. Parts that at first seem only distantly related start to feel of a piece the further one goes and the closer one looks. The majority of the song titles act as a table of contents of sort—”Mind,” “Paper,” “Cities,” “Air,” “Heaven,” “Animals,” “Electric Guitar,” “Drugs”—all riffing on themes of restlessness, dissolution, and instability. Crackpots, conspiracy theorists, criminals, and druggies emerge as characters, and a bleak landscape forms. Make no mistakes, it’s the apocalypse. … Read More

(via The Atlantic)

Magalan’s year in review

Top 3 Sports Moments/Things of the Year:

1. Makau breaks the Marathon World Record in Berlin.

Don’t worry, we’ll talk SEC Football soon enough. But records in the Marathon don’t happen every year, and it’s getting much harder to break. So when Patrick Makau runs 26.2 miles in 2:03:38, it’s a big deal. Breaking the previous record by only 21 seconds in a race that is so long might not seem significant, but, umm, it is. I find it helpful to note that the time listed above means Makau ran the race with an average pace of 4:42.9 per mile. If you were a track star in high school, it is possible that you could run a mile in under 5 minutes. Once, maybe twice. To do it 26.2 times is truly difficult for me to comprehend.

2. The ALL SEC National Championship Game.

Since it is a moment that will actually occur in 2012, we’ll say the selection of two SEC teams for the title game. I’ll start by saying the whole situation stinks for Oklahoma State. They were certainly deserving of a shot against LSU. But so is Alabama. I didn’t agree with any of the talk about the LSU-Bama meeting on November 5 – I didn’t think it was terribly boring, and really enjoyed watching it.

Aside from SEC homerism, the moment is significant in that it might have finally tipped the scales for a move to some kind of playoff. It has, at the very least, put the structure of the BCS in doubt going forward. The run up to the national championship may look very different five years from now.

3. The Atlantic publishes Tyler Branch’s piece, The Shame of College Sports, in October 2011.

As should be clear by now, I love watching college football. But its hard to read that article and not feel unsettled by the current state of affairs. As revenues for college football continue to increase, I expect that we’ll eventually see some sort of real payment for players. Which is probably for the best.

Top 3 Albums of the year:

1. Here We Rest – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

He was my favorite part of the Drive-By Truckers when we was with them, and I’ve loved each of the three albums he’s made since he moved on in 2007. This last one is yet another good addition to his body of work. He’s a heck of a songwriter, and you can rock out or relax at various points on the album.

2. The King of Limbs – Radiohead.

I liked it, sorry. Maybe it’s not as groundbreaking as stuff in the past, but I’ve caught myself listening through the album over and over again. I take that as a sign.

3. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars.

These guys put out an incredible album this year, and then got a ton of publicity when Taylor Swift tweeted about their concert at the Belcourt Theater. The whole album is beautiful, and the title track is all sorts of acoustic kick-ass.

Related
Bdoyk’s year in review
Exexpatriate’s year in review

Bpbrady’s year in review
ALDLAND’s year in review

The Atlantic reveals the history of the NCAA and the true genesis of the “student-athlete”

In the October issue of The Atlantic, available now online, Taylor Branch lays out a behind-the-scenes history of the NCAA that is long, thorough, compelling, and readable. Amidst today’s increasingly loud chatter over major sanctions and paying players, Branch’s sober historical profile explains how the modern NCAA came to be, and how its shaky, yet grandiose origins led to the tenuous position it precariously maintains today.

While I try to keep things on the lighter side around here and leave the heavier stuff elsewhere, one bit of the story Branch carefully detailed jumped out at me: the origin of the “student-athlete” concept so foundational to the NCAA’s purported ideals and mission today. From the section of the article called “The Myth of the ‘Student-Athlete'”:

Today, much of the NCAA’s moral authority—indeed much of the justification for its existence—is vested in its claim to protect what it calls the “student-athlete.” The term is meant to conjure the nobility of amateurism, and the precedence of scholarship over athletic endeavor. But the origins of the “student-athlete” lie not in a disinterested ideal but in a sophistic formulation designed, as the sports economist Andrew Zimbalist has written, to help the NCAA in its “fight against workmen’s compensation insurance claims for injured football players.”

“We crafted the term student-athlete,” Walter Byers himself wrote, “and soon it was embedded in all NCAA rules and interpretations.” The term came into play in the 1950s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. Did his football scholarship make the fatal collision a “work-related” accident? Was he a school employee, like his peers who worked part-time as teaching assistants and bookstore cashiers? Or was he a fluke victim of extracurricular pursuits? Given the hundreds of incapacitating injuries to college athletes each year, the answers to these questions had enormous consequences. The Colorado Supreme Court ultimately agreed with the school’s contention that he was not eligible for benefits, since the college was “not in the football business.”

The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.

Using the “student-athlete” defense, colleges have compiled a string of victories in liability cases.

Branch’s article is revealing and worth spending a slow afternoon reading. It isn’t so much thought-provoking as it is informative, really because there’s just so much of a story to tell. One thought I was left with, though, was whether those fans jumping into the growing throng that seems increasingly driven not only to pay players and establish a football playoff system, but at dismantling the NCAA itself really want (or know) what they’re asking for. There exists an injustice in the current system, no doubt, but the current arrangement is drawing more fans than ever. What college sports fans like, in terms of an end product, is something built on the college sports business empire as it actually exists, not as the NCAA claims to want it to exist, and not as reformers would have it exist. The ripple effects of fundamental change that appear to be on the horizon with increasing inevitability seem unlikely to confine themselves to off-field matters, and they seem to be highly unpredictable. The present arrangement may be untenable, but if you’re enjoying what you’re seeing, you may find your self interest directing you to a position that would preserve this arrangement as long as it can last.

The full article is available here.