Sportswriting as an enterprise is doing just fine, and there are any number of fine year-end wrap-ups celebrating the best work by the best people in our profession. But where's the fun in that? Here, in no particular order, are the worst sports things we read this year, every one of them special in its own particular way.
Peter King, MMQB.com | Everything We Thought Was Wrong
Peter King walks back his original reporting about the NFL league office fuckups in the aftermath of Ray Rice's domestic abuse case a second time, spooning the hand grenade a lying source very likely dropped in his lap. It was embarrassing.
If league officials saw this video before issuing the two-game ban for Rice, all the scorn that's been heaped on Roger Goodell and his colleagues will be deserved. Goodell admitted he was at fault for misjudging the Rice sanction and 11 days ago issued a re-written domestic violence policy, with a six-game ban for a first offense—though with the proviso that mitigating factors could either lessen or increase the ban. There will be intense pressure on the league, as today goes on, for a harsher sanction for Rice. When asked this morning whether Rice's two-game suspension could be increased, the league deferred comment.
Editor's note: Peter King explains his earlier reporting on the Rice video here.
Jeff Pearlman, JeffPearlman.com | On Ray Rice
Of all the nonsense takes on Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson and the ritualistic public flagellation of celebrity criminals, Jeff Pearlman recusing himself from casting stones because he fucked raw in college was the most baffling. Somewhat at odds with Pearlman's self-portrait of a virginal college life.
Ray Rice deserves to be tattooed and branded and damned. He does. But if this job has taught me one thing, it's that no one is black or white. Not Rocker (who has done great work with veterans). Not Vick (an amazing rebound). Not Strawberry. Not Jeff Pearlman—who drove drunk in college; who had unprotected sex in college; who cheated on a test as a freshman. We all do bad things. On occasion, v-e-r-y bad things.
William Browning, SB Nation | You Will Weep And Know Why
Want to make sports Twitter stiffen up like a ninth grader in health class? Here is a 7,500-word essay on a deeply boring high school football game—described as deeply boring and forgettable by all involved, and that boringness in turn explained as virtuous—that will do, and did, the trick. The internet's writering fetish and the boom market for schlongform-by-the-pound conspired to will this into existence, whereupon enough conspicuously tasteful personal brand curators scrolled the perfunctory 10-15 seconds before deciding that it was suitable for Sharing, at which point it entered into the Twitter congratulatory cycle, and was scrolled on some more.
It doesn't come through when I watch the DVD of the game, and even Shipman told me that when he watches it now, he finds the game itself "boring." I guess that is normal.
For me, the footage reveals forgotten things. Leaves are scattered beside the stands. Along a hill beside the field, off-center from the crowd, are a group of elementary children. I don't remember noticing them that night. One after another, they tumble down, lost in their own play, laughing. And there I am at the bottom of the hill, in my mid-20s, holding a pen and notebook, my back to the kids, watching the game.
Caleb Hannan, Grantland | Dr. V's Magical Putter
The subject of this story, Essay Anne Vanderbilt, committed suicide during its reporting. But the story that Grantland finally ran months later was somehow immune to the gravity of what had happened. It was structured so that the reveal that Dr. V was transgender played for shock, with her suicide swept to the bottom of the piece, functionally serving as a footnote rather than an important component of the story. This was a comprehensive institutional fuckup.
He was clearly trying to tell me something, which is why he began emphasizing certain words. Every time he said "she" or "her" I could practically see him making air quotes. Finally it hit me. Cliché or not, a chill actually ran up my spine.
"Are you trying to tell me that Essay Anne Vanderbilt was once a man?"
Courtney Kirby, Brandon Marianne Lee and Ashley Williams, ESPNW | Her Fantasy Football's Top 200 Rankings for 2014
The idea itself is ridiculous enough: the ghettoized ESPNW going with a Fantasy Sports For Lady Sports-Dummies list. But there is also this, which was unfortunate:
(LOTS TO LOVE, PROBABLY WILL BREAK YOUR HEART AT SOME POINT)
129. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger
Bill Simmons, Grantland | The Legacy of Game 6
A throwback Simmons basketball historian take (when he's on, he's great at this) accompanied by the characteristic spare tire of schlocky Simmons autobiography, this is notable only for the footnote wherein Bill and his friend Dave attempt to reenact one of the signature plays in basketball history and determine that, on the strength of a few middle-aged dudes' failures, that it is similarly impossible for NBA-caliber professionals, thereby codifying a half-dozen or so years of Simmons subtext.
When I played at Staples Center a few months ago, I kept trying Ray's shot with Grantland's Dave Jacoby playing the role of Bosh. It's just about impossible to furiously backpedal and land perfectly between those two lines, much less launch a coherent 3-pointer. It's a wildly unrealistic ask for normal NBA players, much less normal humans. Ray Allen is neither.
Jack Dickey, Time.com | This fucking tweet.
Young Truman Capote on his grind.
Phil Mushnick, New York Post | NBA's 'Zero Tolerance' Hypocrites Feast On Sterling's Carcass
The obvious objection to Mushnick's exculpation of Donald Sterling is the idea that Sterling is the real victim, and was lynched, and that his naughty words were not actually reflective of opinions that motivated actual, prosecuted housing discrimination. But don't miss the old fox sliding in the presumption that a rich old man dating a beautiful woman 50 years his junior is objectionable mainly because of gold-digging harpies, not because it's fucking Donald Sterling rubbing money on his crotch.
[O]n Tuesday, the NBA set its social and racial sensitivity bar at its highest rung. It lynched a mean old fool who committed the crime of being overheard speaking like one.
The Internet | Everything written about this lousy Derek Jeter commercial
Derek Jeter's retirement was always going to be annoying. The shape this annoyance ultimately took was the internet melting down in praise of a fucking ad. A selection of headlines, from Marchman's denouncement:
Sports Illustrated ("Watch Yankees fans react as Derek Jeter takes a walk through the Bronx"); the Associated Press ("The Gatorade farewell to Yankees captain Derek Jeter is fantastic");BuzzFeed ("RT if you cried watching this farewell Derek Jeter commercial Fav if you're a robot"); SB Nation ("Even if you hate Derek Jeter, this farewell ad will give you chills");Bleacher Report ("Derek Jeter mingles with fans on his way to Yankee Stadium in this Gatorade ad"); Entertainment Weekly ("Don't waste any more time not watching Derek Jeter's farewell Gatorade ad"); Mashable ("Gatorade's ad with Derek Jeter will give you goosebumps, no matter what team you root for"); USA Today ("New Derek Jeter commercial may be the most New York thing ever"); my local ABC station ("Gatorade pays tribute to Derek Jeter in touching new commercial"); New York 1 ("Gatorade Ad Pays Tribute to Jeter's Way"); the New York Daily News ("Gatorade has an awesome new Derek Jeter ad. Watch it here"); Awful Announcing("This Derek Jeter Gatorade commercial is perfect"); and Time ("This new Derek Jeter commercial for Gatorade will give you chills").
Ethan Sherwood Strauss, ESPN.com | Tim Duncan Willing To Pay The Price For Titles
Probably it's unfair to lay the blame for the collective basketball media's current penchant for front office cosplay at Strauss's feet, but no article hit it more squarely. Granting that the CBA is in place for a few more years and that player decisions are the liquid variable, the only story Duncan's below-market salary tells is one about the absurdity of a system that requires not just freak chance (the Duncan No. 1 pick, the Parker and Ginobili strokes of luck, locking down the best coach, the Kawhi trade working out) but irrational action from your most talented players. Duncan was actually coming off of an injury when he signed that deal and there wasn't a ton of indication that he would continue at this level as long as he has, so this was closer to market than you'd think, but the very idea of a dutiful sacrifice is toxic in an artificially depressed market, especially one that benefits the owners asking for the sacrifice. The responsibility of building a winning team has successfully been shifted away from ownership and onto star players. It's maybe not a requirement to hammer that home in every piece about player movement, but the very least you can do is not build the NBA's useful myths for it.
Duncan didn't just help buy the Spurs a few more title chances, though. He purchased pressure on other stars around the league, stars who might hear calls to "pull a Duncan" for the good of the team. You can almost hear fans and media chiding, "Why can't you be more like Duncan?" the way a parent might remind an imperfect son of his perfect older brother.
Jason Whitlock, ESPN.com | 'Wolf' Reflects Current Values
Ignore for a minute that it took Whitlock a month to get around to writing his Wolf of Wall Street association game, and its fundamental misreading of both plot and theme, and the presentation of Dennis Rodman living the luxe life, and even the confounding assertion that Alex Rodriguez surrendering the final years of his contract to the New York Yankees is a moral imperative. The moonshot here is holding up a by-then months-old side-by-side of Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick's Instagram feeds made expressly for the blacks-can't-spell-breathe Facebook crowd as evidence of anything other than the latest frontier of the search for the Good Negro in sports.
In terms of self-awareness, Belfort reminds me of Colin Kaepernick, one of my favorite NFL players. Recently, an astute Seahawks fan put together a blog comparing the Instagram photos of Kaepernick and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. The pictures define Wilson as someone aware of his power to positively influence the lives of others and Kaepernick as someone aware of his power to please himself. The pictures are harmless. Wilson is married and apparently responsible. Kaepernick is single and seemingly irresponsible. Wilson reminds me of my college roommate, Todd Finnell, a buttoned-down self-starter and honor roll student-athlete. Kaepernick reminds me of myself, a 20-year-old slacker. Thank God time allowed me to evolve and develop some of my old roommate's characteristics.
Mike Lupica, New York Daily News | Jerry Reinsdorf Is Wrong For Trying To Stop Rob Manfred From Being Bud Selig's Successor
Lupica arrives at a correct macro observation months after it is relevant, by which time its component pieces are no longer in play, and having arrived there by saucepan-on-his-head-wrong reasoning and incorrect basic facts, like Jerry Reinsdorf's GM having drafted Michael Jordan.
Jerry Reinsdorf, under the impression that he is some giant of American sports because a basketball general manager of his once drafted Michael Jordan, now thinks he gets to decide who succeeds Bud Selig as baseball commissioner.
Kevin McElroy, The Cauldron | Memory, Reality, And Derek Jeter
Millennial explains sports fandom as a childhood dissociative state, argues that a fictional remembrance of Derek Jeter is a perfectly correct way to appreciate him. Largely correct if taken as field research of millennials or Derek Jeter fans.
If the real Derek Jeter wasn't as unfailingly clutch as our memories tell us he was, that's fine. If it turns out he wasn't a saintly paragon of class, it's OK. If the real Jeter's greatness didn't quite rise to the level of our collective remembrances, that's really no big deal.
Because that Derek Jeter is retiring. But the Derek Jeter in our minds has a lot of productive years left.
Chris Jones, Esquire | Penélope Cruz Is The Sexiest Woman Alive
You can forgive Chris Jones the bullfighting fixation, and the catty prose, and the prolonged passage that reads like Penelope Cruz sexually gratifying a steak, because as unfortunate as this piece is, he had a genuinely unwilling subject and—more importantly—this whole mess serves as a jumpoff to this wonderful AMA, in which Jones gives a more or less lucid answer to the question of just what the fuck happened here, and in which all the top comments are people trolling him with this Vine.
She is always hungry, she says. She orders the chuletón de buey, a huge slab of bone-in rib-eye steak, seared on the outside and covered with coarse salt. When it arrives, the beef is so rare that it is crimson and gleaming in the middle. If it ever had a relationship with fire, their time together was insignificant and short. She stabs her fork into her first thick slice and cuts into it with her knife.
Mark Kiszla, Denver Post | LeBron Can Play But King Duncan Has A Ring (Or Five) To It
Even by the standards of the traditional hack columnist's appeal to pro sports authoritarianism, this is something like the Holy Ghost of hot taking entering Mark Kiszla and shooting right back out his asshole, one one-sentence paragraph at a time. Magary has more here.
James broke the hearts of Cleveland when he took his talents to South Beach in 2010. What he's doing now is making a mockery of the games, all the flyover franchises and NBA stars groveling to be LeBron's wingman.
Kevin Byrne, Ravens Senior Vice President, Public & Community Relations | I Like Ray Rice
A PR man's post on the official team blog is not exactly sportswriting. But especially with the apparent hell-birth of team-sponsored schlongform #content, official propaganda now occupies the same Facebook and Twitter cycles. So the Ravens deciding as an organization to present Rice as penitent and sympathetic—even coming in early so he doesn't make the women on staff uncomfortable—set the gears of the NFL's rehabilitation machine turning, and would have kept them turning if TMZ hadn't released the video from inside the elevator.
When I told Bisciotti at the end of our conversation yesterday that "I think I am going to write that blog about Ray," Steve smiled and said: "Is it a flaw for us that we support our players in tough times? If it is, I'm OK with that."
So am I.
Talk with you next week. I promise it will be about football.
Wright Thompson, ESPN.com | A Ride Down Paradise Road
"Take a ride out Tunica and rustle up some Southern," an ESPN.com editor said to Senior Vocational Southerner Wright Thompson, I guess, before turning him loose on Mississippi to file equal parts dutiful picaresque and violent writerly autofellatio.
Earlier this week, I went to a Pearl Jam show in Memphis, Tennessee, with a group of Mississippians, some I knew and some I didn't. One of them, a farmer, said he'd lost $100,000 because the storms ruined some of his beans before he could get them out of the field. That night, after about a dozen beers, he stood on his toes and sang along to every word, dancing when the band played the opening chords of the final song, "Yellow Ledbetter."
In high school, when I wanted to think, I'd drive a few miles out of town, past the Stovall Plantation, to an empty, roofless shack next to a cotton field. It had been Muddy Waters' house, and it sat here abandoned, until some museum folks decided to pack it up and put it on display a few years later. This week, I drove back out there, pulling my car onto Burnt Cane Road. Once, I brought a musician friend out here, a mystic lead singer, and he said he could sense the old blues man's presence. I don't hear guitars or anything, but a strong, deep bass line plays in my head when I'm there, elemental and driving.
Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press | Real Life Intrudes On Any Sport You Choose
Albom dusts off his lo-fi Judy Blume routine to demonstrate how best to raise incurious, candy-ass children at the far end of the tiredest trope in sportswriting. His choices in topics are instructive—they include Donald Sterling, Tony Stewart, Oscar Pistorius, and protests involving Eric Garner—for their straightforwardness. This isn't Tiger Woods nailing every cocktail waitress in central Florida; it's a racist slumlord, two seemingly avoidable deaths, and police brutality. If a kid in Detroit doesn't need parental guidance on these topics, who does? Mitch should probably give this a shot, though. Explaining protests against systemic discrimination as enacted by basketball players is going to be an easier yarn than the one about why dad crossed that picket line that time.
"That's Tony Stewart. Wait a minute …"
"Daddy, why is that man getting out of his car? Don't you tell me never to go in traff—"
"COVER YOUR EYES!"
"Look, women basketball players."
"Finally, something safe."
"What does 'I Can't Breathe' mean?"
Pete Thamel, MMQB.com | Gotta Coach Somebody
Ever wondered what happens, exactly, at a Schiano Man breakfast?
Until he has a team to try it on, Schiano has been bringing "juice" to breakfast every morning. Christy uses the word "chipper" to describe her husband's morning demeanor. He's known to sing, Put it away/Put it away/Put it away now, to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
But these are only the worst of what we read. If you've got additions, leave them in the comments.