Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

Plaxico Burress is catching TDs for the Jets. The U may never play football again. Terrelle Pryor, who was ready to sit for a year, just finished his first NFL practice. With exiles starting, ending, and being averted, here are some great reads about players and coaches on the outs with the game that made them famous.

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Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

The Exile


John Gustafson • ESPN The Magazine • April 2008

A profile of a still-optimistic Teddy Dupay, who was playing in Venezuela after leaving Florida in the midst of gambling charges:

Back in Caracas, Dupay searches for an air conditioning switch. He spent his first week in Venezuela at a run-down hotel in a bad area of town. There was no shower nozzle in his bathroom, just a hole in the tile — the water shot out in a stream that Teddy had to redirect with his hands. He has since moved into a furnished high-rise apartment (he calls it his "pimp pad"), but it's a little muggy this evening and he can't figure out how to turn on his AC, or if he even has any. He does have a TV, but it gets only five channels. No hoops tonight, at least not here. Back in Gainesville, Florida is hosting Tennessee. It's Senior Night.

Dupay's sense of betrayal fuels his desire to ball, even now, seven months later and 2,000 miles away. His love of movies provides added inspiration. "Gladiator is a great movie for me," he says. "The guy gets screwed by his friends because he's loyal to somebody, loses people close to him, hits rock bottom, then builds himself back up."

Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

Baseball Without Metaphor


David Grann • New York Times Magazine • September 2002

On Barry Bonds, as the steroid talk intensified and he completed his transition into total pariah:

In contrast to Kent, there were unofficial rules, I was told by reporters, to get to Bonds. Don't talk to him when he is getting dressed. Don't talk to him just before or after batting practice. Don't talk to him when he is sitting in his chair. Don't talk to him when he is talking to the trainer or to his son.

One day I decided to break the rules. I approached Bonds as he was reclining in the chair next to his conditioning coach. His shirt was off, and I could see the muscles along his stomach. Circling one of his giant biceps was a chain-link tattoo. He normally fell silent when a reporter intruded, but now he became vocal, nodding and complaining about all his vacation houses, how he has so many he doesn't know what to do, how he has a place in the mountains and a place in the Caribbean, how he has his own private ski slope and how in addition to keeping up his properties he also has to support everyone in his family.

For several minutes I stood there, listening. At one point, without a hint of remorse or self-consciousness, he said in a loud voice: ''My grandmother wants me to get her some wheelchair that drives like a car. Why do I need to get her some wheelchair when she's gonna die anyway?''

The next morning, when I warily approached him again, Bonds looked at me for a long time. Then he began to smile and said: ''Dude, I was just dawging you yesterday. I was just testing you, man. I wanted to see if you'd write that stuff in the paper.'' My first thought, beyond realizing that Bonds mistakenly thought I was a reporter for a daily newspaper, was that he had suspected that he'd been too loud and too obnoxious, and now he was manipulating me. But as I considered this, Bonds went on to describe what appeared to be an elaborate and mysterious defense mechanism. The theory, as far as I could tell, was that it was always better to strike first, to manipulate his own image, even if that meant creating a caricature of himself, than to be misunderstood and misrepresented by somebody else. ''No writer can ever know me,'' he said, as if to finally explain.

Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

The Lonesome Independence Day Of Kobayashi


Luke O'Brien • Deadspin • July 2011

A look at the competitive eating legend as he prepared to not take part in the event he helped make famous:

The man and the event, having made each other internationally famous, are in a long-running contractual dispute, one which landed Kobayashi in jail after he showed up at last year's contest. Questions abound. Is he trying to blaze a trail for independent eaters? Is he clinging to past glory? Or is he just crazy? According to Rich Shea, one of the Nathan's promoters, Kobayashi has to decide "whether he's the Che Guevara of gurgitation or the Kenny Powers of power eating." I spent some time with Kobayashi over the past few weeks in an effort to answer these questions, not to mention a deeper one:

What goes on in his kitchen?

We'll get to those in a bit. First: a meal at the biergarten. This was Kobayashi's first encounter with Rhineland beef roast with potato dumplings and braised red cabbage. Maggie James, his half-Japanese, half-American translator/manager/girlfriend, said that he had, in fact, never tried German food. Kobayashi speaks enough English to answer questions, but relies on James to translate his exact meaning for more complicated responses.

This was dinner, with no clock. Under these circumstances, Kobayashi said, he likes to savor his meals. In competition, he will relax his throat and let food "drop" into his stomach, which he says hangs lower in the abdomen than normal, allowing it to expand more. It's a condition called gastroptosis that he shares with his father, who once entered an eating contest himself. Kobayashi focuses so completely during contests that he blocks out flavor.

"If you taste something, you're not at the maximum of your ability," he says. "What I think
about in competition is temperature and texture. It has nothing to do with taste or emotion."

Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

Why Isn't Mike Vanderjagt Still Kicking In The NFL?


Eric Adelson • The Post Game • January 2011

Catching up with the former Colts kicker three years after he left the NFL:

In the entryway of a small Italian restaurant in the back of a shopping plaza, the leading scorer in Colts history paces. He looks out through the front door and checks his BlackBerry. It's 7 p.m. on a fall Monday. He came here tonight, to the restaurant he's owned for five years, to teach some football to the locals. He wants to talk about everything he learned in nine years in the league. "Bring a mate!" say the flyers on the door. "First drink free!" His name is known by millions. He played with some of the best ever, and some of the best ever looked to him to win games for them. More often than not, he did. But tonight, nobody wants to learn football from him. Nobody's coming.

So Mike Vanderjagt heads to the back of the restaurant.

When he left football, three years ago, he was the most accurate professional kicker to ever play his position. Jan Stenerud, now in the Hall of Fame, made 66.8 percent of his tries. Vanderjagt made 86.5. Stenerud missed 47 kicks from 50 yards or longer; Vanderjagt missed 36 field goals in his entire career. He's 40 now, and although that's old for pretty much any athlete, it's not old for a kicker. John Carney is still active at 46. Morten Anderson kicked until 47. And here's Vanderjagt, in game shape, planning to go out to a high school field the next day to boot a few. "I should be the kicker for the New Orleans Saints," he says, sipping a Pepsi. Vanderjagt was always blustery, but usually he was right. And let's face it: lots of NFL teams have kickers worse than Vanderjagt.

So why is this man sitting here alone in a pizza place?

Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

A Rebel With A Cause


Pete Dexter • Sports Illustrated • December 1986

A profile of UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who was still half a decade away from being forced to resign and step away from coaching for three years:

Now the plain truth is that Jerry Tarkanian and higher education do not cross-reference in anyone's dictionary. What they have together is a kind of marriage of convenience, which is not to say it is a marriage without passion. There is no kind of cheating Tarkanian has not been accused of publicly, and perhaps because of his response to those accusations—which is, essentially, yeah, I mess around a little, everybody does—he has been singled out as the godfather of college cheating...

The subject of graduation is worrisome to Tarkanian. Of the 67 lettermen who used all their eligiblity in his 13 years at UNLV, only 17 have gotten diplomas. It is worrisome enough that he now has two full-time academic advisers on his staff responsible for keeping members of the basketball team academically eligible. One of the advisers tutors and counsels and meets with UNLV teachers. The other one, the "academic enforcer," knocks on doors and makes sure the players go to class. All six seniors on this season's team are on schedule to graduate by next summer.

"The way I look at it," Tarkanian says, "if you bring a kid in that can't read or write—somebody nobody else would touch—and you keep him here four, five years, teach him to follow the rules, make him responsible for what he does, and at the end, if he can read and write a little, you've done him a favor. Even if he doesn't have the piece of paper [the diploma], you gave him a chance to straighten out. I don't see anything wrong with that."

Stories That Don’t Suck: SportsFeat's Guide To Sports Exile

Ben Still Needs To Run


Mark Kram • Outside • December 1998

A decade after he lost his gold medal and eight years after being banned for life, what sprinter Ben Johnson had become:

Ben Johnson lives downstairs in the house he shares with his mother and sister. He spends his leisure time reading, watching movies and Roadrunner cartoons, and taking his mother to church. The spacious home in Toronto's Newmarket neighborhood is one of the last remnants of his former wealth. He has become adept at monastic habits, has learned to live a life in constant flinch and curtailment. One supposes he hears nothing, sees nothing. When he goes into a coffeehouse, he sits in the rear with his back turned to the door to avoid being recognized. He has never held down a job and lives on a few hundred dollars a week. Much of his current income derives from charging journalists minor fees for his time, a condition required of this magazine as well.

Though Chrobotek shoulders all of Johnson's legal costs, Johnson must meet his mortgage payments, and the shadow of foreclosure hangs heavy over him. The loss of his cars—the Porsche and especially the Ferrari Testarossa—was a punch that hurt. Johnson says he lost the Ferrari when he used it as collateral for a loan from an acquaintance in order to make a house payment.

His days are monotonous. He drives his sister's car. After dropping her off at work, he keeps appointments and goes to York University, where he trains for races that may never come. He remains preternaturally strong for a sprinter and squats 545 pounds every day. All he has left, it must sometimes seem, are the sweat and the sun that are the ballast of his life. He is most animated when he trains, though it is still not enough to bring a smile to those doleful eyes.

See also: Did Ben Johnson Do Anything Mark McGwire Didn't?

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