It's customary at the dawn of a new year to pay homage to the people we lost in the previous one. But we're optimists at Deadspin. Here's everything we hope will die in 2014.
The National Football League
The NFL is awful. In its size, its cultural omnipresence; in the comfortable planes of orbit its gravity provides for the dipshittiest commercial expressions—don't let your disapproving nag-harpy of a wife keep you from watching football with your bros, bro!—of self-entitled dudebro avarice; in the soft-focus gauze of mythological virtue and leadership with which it shrouds its asswipe heroes—Vince "Winning Is Everything" Lombardi, Bill "A Complete And Total Fucking Psycho" Belichick; in the relentless enforced stupidity with which it talks about itself; in its callous disregard for the well-being of the people whose toil is its lifeblood; in its glorification of brutality, its reckless conflation of itself with actual combat; in its cynical defenses of its status quo, its monumentally disingenuous half-gestures toward improved conditions for the workers who make it go, and in its enabling of the continued enrichment of a churlish little shitbag vulgarian in a feathered headdress, the NFL embodies everything that is worst—dumbest and most destructive and reactionary—about American capitalism. Like American capitalism, it is a malignant cancer, and deserves to die.
It's not going to die in 2014. Hell, the confetti from the upcoming Super Bowl will scarcely have settled before coaching-carousel intrigue, free-agent movement, draft speculation, and talk of their fantasy football implications will rev the fan-interest engine back into motion. Realistically, it's not going to die in 2015, either—or 2016 or 2017 or 2018. Hell, it may very well outlive most people who will read this. But, it deserves to die, and horribly, and in scandal and disgrace and shame, and soon, and the world will be a better place when it does. Here's hoping.—Albert Burneko
The James Dolan Regime
In the summer of 1906, architect Stanford White was murdered on the roof of the second Madison Square Garden, a building he designed, by millionaire Harry Kendall Thaw, almost certainly because he had been fucking Thaw's wife. The ensuing Trial of the Century—actually protracted into two separate trials over nine years—saw the defense get Thaw declared legally insane and committed to an institution before immediately motioning to have him re-declared sane and free; a high-end New York City madame testify that Thaw terrorized her girls emotionally and physically, introducing a "jeweled whip" as evidence; those girls being paid off by Thaw not to testify; Thaw's daring escape from his asylum, aided by his mother, with whom he was notoriously close, and, after literally breaking out of jail, his eventual acquittal of all charges in 1915.
You might be imagining James Dolan here, lying dead atop the arena at 33rd and 7th, at the feet of a Knicks fan pushed exactly one Smith brother too far. There would at least be a cause-and-effect that onlookers could understand, if not condone—it would make a certain amount of No jury would convict-type sense. But we live in a universe of chaos, and James Dolan is chief among its agents. What is causality to a man who doesn't believe in the natural order of things, like human aging? That's him standing on the roof of the Garden, two middle fingers raised at people dumb enough to think they can touch him; him there at the center of the biggest, noisiest circus-orgy in town. Within sports, Dolan is the Harry Kendall Thaw of our time—unimpeachable, unprosecutable, un-fucking-dying—a great American villain, like Magneto, Bernie Madoff, or Jeffrey Dahmer. White's corpse may as well be a burning pile of unsold Linsanity merch.
Dolan's confounding proclivities for expensive, aging players and expensive, suspect coaches for them to undermine are too well known and numerous to bear accounting here, as are MSG's clandestine media policies, which you imagine are his best attempt at gating himself up in Xanadu, mumbling the name of whatever high-usage, volume-scoring wing player he must have had as a kid. He's an unstable asshole, but most of us have learned to laugh at the joke. The real issue is that he's so damn vital, in every sense. He's too young and healthy to retire or die off, too rich and powerful to rein in or depose. The crazy fuck holds a lifetime appointment to drown some large part of the city's identity in the cold, shit-filled Hudson, winter after winter. He is a crotchful of genital warts. He is a perpetual tax on the morale of our nation's biggest metropolis.
Less than a year after he was released, Harry Thaw assaulted a damn teenager, bribed the kid into silence, served a few years in jail, and was eventually set back free into the world. That's how the too-powerful exist, unfettered by law or reason or decency or a cursory understanding of modern NBA luxury tax mechanics. Free to run amok and free to do as they want, because there's no reason to do otherwise. Until the day they drop dead.—Kyle Wagner
The Trick Shot Titus Phenomenon
When Trick Shot Titus first crept out of his suburban McMansion and onto the internet, we called him a pathetic baby with a terrible shooting form. We were being our usual contrarian and mischievous selves at the time, but since then—after having watched Trick Shot Titus's dad take his baby on a never-ending parade of television appearances and branding opportunities—our stance on little Titus has grown from rude, half-joking dismissiveness to outright disdain.
You want to know what Trick Shot Titus really is? He's a pageant child. He's Honey Boo Boo with a jump shot. He's no different from the endless parade of toddlers that wriggle and gesticulate and make us all very uncomfortable on TLC every night. Both Titus and the average Toddlers and Tiaras cast member are nothing more than pint-sized and unwitting famewhores, driven into the spotlight by parents who want to catch a little of the glow for themselves. But instead of having pirouettes and terrible dance routines drilled into his head, Titus has been taught how to fling basketballs with cold, robotic efficiency.
People scrunch up their faces in disgust at pageant kids and tut-tut their parents for exploiting and overexposing their children. And yet here's Titus, being dragged onto every late-night and morning show in America to perform tricks like some kind of circus monkey. Go back and rewatch his appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
Does that kid look like he's having even a little bit of fun? He's on fucking autopilot, just joylessly flinging basketballs without having any idea where the hell he is. Did you see the part where Jimmy Kimmel jams sneakers on Titus's feet like he was shoeing a show pony?
It's time for the Trick Shot Titus phenomenon to die, so that baby Titus may live.—Tom Ley
The First Amendment
The very first entry on my wish list is for Barack Obama to order a drone strike directed at the National Archives so as to blow up every single word in the clause, which is as follows, FYI:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Better yet, let's create a special, government-funded task force, a literal P.C. police, to find anyone uttering words and divest him of his property, jobs, and any and all opportunities to do anything he ever wanted to do in the history of his life. Let's really do it right.
You may say, "Haven't we done that already?!?! Look at poor Phil Robertson." Fuck you. You don't know the meaning of "free speech," and every time you invoke the First Amendment when some moron says something stupid, prompting other people to call that moron a "moron" for saying something stupid, a devil gets his horns.
So let's get rid of it. Let's see what a country is really like when Congress (and the states, via the Fourteenth Amendment, you fucking mouthbreathers, so let's get rid of that one, while we're at it) is actually allowed to abridge the freedom of speech of its constituents. You think Duck Man's suspension is bad? Let's see what happens when that asshole can't even get on the air because the East Coast intelligentsia somehow took control of the government and their first order of business was to make it illegal to show rednecks (even the nice ones) on television. And if anyone's got a fucking problem with that, if he wants to head down to the White House to protest, or to just hold a vigil for all the fallen Ducks—boom, executive order—he gets thrown in jail. Excommunicated from the country, even. Go hang out with the Commies, you un-patriotic insurgents.
Or we could learn what the amendments to our own constitution actually mean. At this point, I am down for either.—Sean Newell
I grew up with Sports Illustrated. I must have read it cover to cover every week for two decades. Yes, I'm one of those dipshit old sports guys who treasures old memories of SI arriving in the mailbox. I really did love the magazine, and I damn near creamed my jeans when the NFL preview arrived. But it's time now. After Thayer Evans's OSU handwringing and his and Pete Thamel's Honey Badgering, there's not much point to SI anymore.
The print magazine is now a curious blend of old news, fancy swimming photos, athlete puff pieces, boring analysis, paint-by-number features, and maybe four or five readable long stories a year. It's not enough. I'm not ROOTING for it to die, but they may as well get rid of the print edition now so that we can get past all the sentimental horseshit. People still pine for the fucking National. I can't even imagine what the flood of SI mourning porn will look like.—Drew Magary
The New York Post
Will Leitch mentioned New York Post EIC Col Allan in his roundup of the worst sportspeople in 2013, a dishonor given to Allan for his paper's coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing. But let's linger on the Post for a bit, if only to remind you just why it's such a pissrag.
For those who've forgotten, back in April, while the marathon bombers had yet to be identified, the Post put a photo of two guys on its front page, with "BAG MEN" as the headline. The Bag Men turned out to be a high school student and his friend who had nothing to do with the bombing. Whoops.
The two guys sued for libel, and the Post's defense was that its headline was used as an "attention-getter." Putting two brown kids on the front page in an effort to pander to—and thus reinforce—the assumptions of a frightened public? Yeah, that gets attention. (The paper also reported that 12 people were killed. Three people actually died at the bombing. Close enough, right?)
As for actual sports coverage, the Post was pretty shitty at that, too. One columnist drummed up imaginary controversy for a team already filled with controversy. Covering Rex Ryan and the Jets should be sportswriting on rookie mode; few teams offer the same mix of quotability and incompetence and sex. If you can't unearth any actual entertaining stories from that team, if you have to whip up some utter horseshit to fill a few column inches, then you shouldn't be writing about sports. The New York Post can fuck off.—Samer Kalaf
For the unaware, passer rating incorporates a QB's completion percentage, yards per attempt, percent of attempts that are touchdowns, and percent of attempts that are interceptions. These are then manipulated with a series of constants (see below), summed so each individual component can't exceed a value of 2.375 or dip below 0, divided by six, and multiplied by 100. Simple!
Pictured: Atrocities (Wikipedia)
Proponents of passer rating point to the fact that the stat has a strong correlation with winning percentage, as any good performance stat should over sufficiently large a sample. Indeed, if you look at 1,018 QB seasons since 1971 (when the stat was created) where the QB started at least 10 games, you see a decent correlation between passer rating and QB winning percentage (R2=0.27).
But there's a catch: Two of those components, completion percentage and interception rate, don't correlate very strongly with winning at all (R2=0.10 and 0.07). Basically passer rating takes two useful, easy to understand stats—yards per attempt and touchdown rate, both of which are strongly linked to winning (R2=0.24 and 0.28, although TD rate borders on tautological)—and then mixes them with horseshit and glue until you end up with an arbitrary, confusing number that Al Michaels is forced to talk about like this:
Among QBs who started 10 games in 2013, the top five QBs in passer rating (Foles, Manning, Rivers, Brees, Wilson) are also the top five in yards per attempt (Foles, Manning, Wilson, Rivers, Brees) and touchdown percentage (Foles, Manning, Wilson, Brees, Rivers). Matt Ryan is fourth in completion percentage, and Alex Smith is second in interception rate. When you can use a simple stat in place of a complicated one, use the simple stat.—Reuben Fischer-Baum
Gus Johnson's Soccer Announcing
When I heard we were compiling a list of shitty sports phenomena that we hope die a fiery and thus permanent death, my mind wandered back deep to early 2013. It was the turn of the year, and we'd all been given a prominent new soccer announcer, the ever-loved Gus Johnson.
I have to admit, at first I was bullish on the appointment. Like any fun-loving sports fan, I enjoyed the numerous highlights of Gus losing his shit. A cautious optimism obtained. Soccer is a complex game, but not so complex that a few years of concentrated study wouldn't bring a relative novice like Gus up to speed. Remember Ian Darke's sublime call of USA-Algeria? How much crazier would that have been with Gus in the booth?
And then Johnson started calling the games. Misdiagnosed plays, misattributed action, a complete lack of understanding of what makes soccer fun. He was bad, and he was a bad in a way that suggested that he didn't see his assignment as anything more than a novelty act, either. It all came to a head for me during Barcelona-Bayern Munich in the Champions League semifinal—or, "Eye-n-esta-gate," as I sometimes refer to it. I don't know if it was the Barcelona fan in me angry at watching my team get humiliated on the world's biggest stage or what, but I couldn't handle this fucking dude mispronouncing the name of Andrés Iniesta—one of the 10 best players in world, and a guy whose name is phonetically obvious to anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the Spanish language, let alone a professional under constant criticism for similar mistakes and whose job it is to eliminate easily avoidable fuck-ups. To constantly refer to this World Cup-winning legend as "Eye-n-esta," while his partner Ian "Wibf" Wright buggered on for the umpteeth game about player spacing as if that were the one flaw in every losing effort? Let's just say I was more than a little peeved.
Johnson did about everything wrong. In his desperation to seem knowledgeable, he ignored critical game action so as to spout off irrelevant biographical details that were often incorrect anyway. Wanting to show off the Gusgasms that got him the gig in the first place, he often exploded before anything worthy of excitement had even happened. Out of a general lack of understanding of the game, meanwhile, he would undersell actual moments of brilliance with stilted and delayed commentary, as if someone in his ear had to tell him that something great had just happened.
With the new Champions League round-of-16 fixtures right around the corner, Fox, I of beg you, please pull the plug on Johnson. Do it for our sake and for his. Let him study a little while longer. Maybe give him FIFA 14, which would at least teach him what an overlapping run really is. Make him listen to his soccer broadcasts over and over, Ludovico-style, to the point at which he feels the same disgust we felt in real time. Until then, he shouldn't be anywhere near a soccer pitch.—Billy Haisley
Surprise Military Reunions
As with so many things, we can sample the American zeitgeist by auto-filled searches. Try this one on YouTube: Military. The top auto-fill response I get, ahead of "military press" and "military songs" and "military tribute," is "military homecoming surprises." This is what people want to see when they think of the military. In sports, this involves a wife and/or kids, arrayed near home plate or at the 50-yard line, and a PA announcer who tells the ticketholders who aren't away peeing in a trough that their husband/father has been away in Afghanistan or elsewhere. The family waves and smiles, and then, miraculously, the missing soldier or sailor materializes, and the mother and kids hurl themselves at him with a loving ferocity. Smiles have turned to tears. The people in the stands, they cheer. This is your military culture in 2013.
We get it. Now, please, knock it off. These people are bawling not only because they're happy to see Dad in his dress whites; it's because for weeks and months they've been worried that he might be killed or maimed. The nearly 21,000 or so Americans who have been killed or wounded in Afghanistan don't get these heartwarming halftime love-ins. Ditto the 36,000 who died or were wounded in Iraq. Nor do we stand in public spaces and cheer for the horrifying emotional and psychological trauma that lingers, nor do we put the suicides up on the Jumbotron.
We're searching for reunion videos for the same reason we applaud them at stadiums. They feel so cathartic, and we get that vicarious relief. He's alive! And the kids will grow up with a father, and even if the wife has to sleep beside someone having nightmares for the next several years, she seems pretty damn relieved as well. The sum of all their fears was not realized. But that's a joy born of pain. The real sacrifice belonged fully to wives and kids. That tearful hug is not there for your emotional jollies. Get the mascot off the field, put the cameras away, and show a modicum of respect.—Sam Eifling
Death to the highlight truthers, the giant turds in the punch bowl who float around the internet in search of videos of athletes doing awesome things, only to descend into the comments below the video to inform everyone that the awesome thing isn't actually that awesome. They're the people who insist that Blake Griffin's iconic dunk over Timofey Mozgov wasn't a "real dunk" because Griffin's hand never actually touched the rim. They are this asshole, and this fucker, and this dick, and this knob, and this shithead. They are a lowing herd of miserable downers who think that it marks them out as clear-eyed sophisticates to dismiss moments of genuine athletic transcendence. I have one thing to say to these people: Die.
That's not to say that I don't understand the psychology behind the phenomenon. Somewhere in all this scowling and harrumphing is a noble impulse. People who use the internet—and I'm aware that this includes people who visit Deadspin—are constantly being bombarded with hyperbole. "This Amazing Video Of A Pug Doing Backflips Will Blow Your Mind Right Out Of Your Ass." Everything on the internet can feel like a sell, sports highlights in particular. The highlight is a commodity like anything else. It's only natural for a human not named Darren Rovell to recoil from all this goddamn selling, from the constant, shrieking demands on your attention. Thus, the tragically hip sports consumer, the guy with the practiced air of indifference who's not buying the cheap gimcracks you're selling, the superior fan who doesn't just stare slack-jawed at whatever slop is served up to him on SportsCenter, the way the rest of you morons do. Thus, the highlight truther.
But here's the thing: It's awesome to watch athletes do cool things. On some level, beyond regional affinities and genetic predispositions, that's why we're sports fans. We like to watch humans fly. Blake Griffin didn't dunk? LeBron's facial was a charge? Russell Westbrook double-dribbled? That 360 was actually a 290? Jesus Christ, shut up. You joyless drips aren't smart, discerning consumers. You're just assholes denying yourselves the very fun of sports in an idiotic effort to achieve some fleeting feeling of moral superiority over your peers. You're the type of people nobody ever wants to talk to at parties.—Tom Ley
The Sportswriting Career of Bill Simmons
There comes a point in the career of every writer-turned-multiplatform brand at which, faced with the insatiable demands for content presented by his corporate overlords and his own vanity, he stops being a writer and turns into something else. In 2013, a year that saw him serving as an analyst on NBA broadcasts, making forays into Hollywood, and overseeing Grantland—exerting power, in all, in ways that made ESPN and the sports-industrial complex better than they would otherwise have been—it happened to Bill Simmons.
Unfortunately, he kept writing anyway, with bizarre results. Just run through his archive. Here he is going on about Calvin Johnson as if no one before him had ever noticed that Johnson is a very good football player, opening with a column-length piece of fanfiction about a Calvin Johnson Nike commercial. Here he is paying tribute to David Ortiz by telling a long story about how he, Simmons, hung out with Bill Russell this one time. Here he is going on for 9,000 words about a documentary about the fucking Eagles. Here's part one of a two-part series that came in at around 15,000 words comparing the NBA offseason to the justifiably forgotten Midnight Run. Here's part one of a two-part series of nearly equal length, in which various notable moments in Tim Duncan's career are viewed mainly through the prism of what Bill Simmons thinks of what Bill Simmons thought of them as they were happening.
It just goes on like that. There's nearly nothing there but banal assertions about the most obvious possible subjects, gestures at fitting them into some comprehensive schema in which everything in the known universe is tagged as over-, under-, or properly rated according to a vaguely defined sense of what the masses think, declarations that suggest Simmons may not realize the world remains in place when he closes his eyes, and allusions to forgotten junk culture.
Of course all of this is how Simmons built his brand in the first place. The main differences now are that he's a producer of sports culture, rather than a consumer of it—hence the Nike fanfiction, written as one salesman's critique of another's strategy for market positioning—and that it's not clear he's in on the joke at this point. A man who seems to consider it truly important that people understand how everything in sports that he deigns to notice relates to his own view of how others might view the fact that he views it is operating on something like the third derivative of reality. That doesn't work for someone who's writing from the perspective of the common fan, especially when he's a wealthy, middle-aged man who's impossibly out of touch with the world around him, so that his columns increasingly read like dispatches from Xanadu. I mean, Midnight Run? The fucking Eagles? Somebody stop this man before we get a 27,000-word exegesis of Chris Paul's State Farm commercials as viewed through the interpretive lens of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.—Tim Marchman
Image by Jim Cooke