10 Articles I Read This Month That You Should Too
The NFL's worst nightmare. The return of Matt Le Tissier. And will the Boston-New York rivalry ever be the same? Today on the blog Paolo Bandini returns once again with 10 articles he read in April that you should read too.
There are many things I love about American football. I love its complexity, the way it marries together brute force with intricate strategy. I love its team ethos, and the fact that even the most talented player cannot succeed unless he has 10 other guys on the field pulling in the same direction. I love the fact that, at the level I played and coached at in the UK, it is a sport with a role for everyone – big or small, strong or weak, slow or fast.
But like many people who love the sport, I am also deeply troubled by the growing body of research showing quite how dangerous it has become. Knowing what I now know about the long-term impact of concussions (and indeed, any kind of repeated blow to the head) on mental health, could I let my own child play? And as athletes get bigger, stronger and faster, how long will it be before we see a player die on the field in the professional game?
In fact, as Robert Weintraub explains in this moving piece for Grantland, that has already happened.
“Al Lucas died on the hard carpet of the Staples Center eight years ago this week, on April 10, 2005. He was 26 years old.”
You’ve probably heard by now about Abel Rodríguez, the 41-year-old cleaner from Los Angeles who travelled to Spain with a dream of seeing El Clásico – arriving without a ticket only for José Mourinho to appoint him for the next week as an unofficial member of the backroom staff.
But if you haven’t read the original story written by Grant Wahl for Sports Illustrated, you really should.
“You never know when karma will come back and reward you for something. For seven summers Rodríguez worked for free for Real Madrid, even when the club was willing to pay him for his efforts in Los Angeles. Now he was about to experience the thrill of a lifetime.”
There are times when sport can feel like the most important things in the world. The truth is that it isn’t – a fact brought home in the most horrific fashion when two bombs were set off near the finish line of this year’s Boston Marathon. In the days that followed, one of America’s greatest sporting rivalries was put aside – as the New York Yankees made public displays of solidarity with Boston and its Red Sox. The gesture was appreciated. But as Ian Crouch writes in the New Yorker, there also comes a point when the thing people want most is to get back to normal.
“Every so often, the eternally-at-odds cartoon animals Tom and Jerry, faced with some new and strange challenge, would put old grudges aside and join forces: there would be an exaggerated handshake, backed by a snippet of “Auld Lang Syne,” and the two would defeat their unexpected foe together. It was rare and thrilling—a clever right turn, a hopeful statement that even the bitterest of enemies can find common cause. Yet as fun as these moments of amity were, it was relief when, after the crisis had passed, either Tom or Jerry would get that devious glint in his eye, and the durable war between cat and mouse was resumed.”
There probably aren’t a lot of people out there who are going to feel sympathetic towards professional footballers – especially in England where Premier League wages average out at more than £1m per year. Yet the PFA estimate that 10 to 20% go bankrupt after quitting the game. The FT’s Simon Kuper explains why.
“It’s often assumed that footballers blow everything on Ferraris – and some do. But Taylor’s clients are victims of investments gone wrong. As footballers earn ever more, the industry of conmen and incompetents feeding off them has grown commensurately.”
This was the month in which one of the most glorious and undervalued English players of my lifetime came out of retirement to play for his hometown club. Matthew Le Tissier’s impact on the field for Guernsey FC has, so far, has been limited, but his return did prompt Grantland’s Brian Phillips to pen this wonderful ode to his majesty.
“In the clips there's something almost spectral about him: all these ruddy, granitic bruisers out there cudgeling each other to death, and then suddenly here comes a guy who's just dancing through them, who looks like he's flickering in from two channels up on the dial.”
The story of Elliot Short, on trial at Southwark Crown Court for allegedly defrauding acquaintances out of £620,000 with claims of a fool-proof betting scheme, is already an infamous one in the gambling community. Peter Webb explains on the Bet Angel Blog why nobody who was truly experiencing such stellar returns on betting exchanges would ever need to seek outside investment.
“The fact is, even if you have a decent track record it’s impossible to put that extra money to use because your ‘system’ will collapse under the weight of your stakes. You become the market!”
Now that top-level sports teams can track and measure almost every aspect of their players’ performances, organisations face a constant dilemma in weighing up analytics data against coaches’ personal judgments. Rugby teams like Saracens have embraced evidence-based coaching, in which coaches draw up their idea of a ‘perfect game’ and players’ performances are measured in terms of their contribution towards that goal. This piece from Chris Anderson, though, argues that such methods remain flawed.
“The problem with “evidence-based coaching” isn’t the “evidence-based” part; it’s the “coaching” bit. Taken to its extreme, “evidence-based coaching” means your evidence will only be as good and your analysis only as insightful as the ideas and plans that the coaches can generate on their own.”
Professional football clubs were criticised this month as the practice of hiring unpaid interns to work as performance analysts – in some cases for stints as long as 12 months – came to light. Many words were written on the subject, but perhaps the most thorough look at the pros and cons came from Dave Willoughby – a man with first-hand experience in this field.
“Does a lack of money in the budget excuse a club hiring somebody unpaid? If you can’t afford a commodity then surely you don’t buy it.”
One of the many ways in which leading bookmakers protect their business is by restricting the action available to successful punters. On the bettingexpert blog, Stephen Harris explains both why they would choose to, and why they are able to.
“It is the all too common a cry amongst punters across the country, or at least any punter with a modicum of skill or discipline about their betting: ‘I can't get a bet on’...‘I was offered £3.22 when I wanted £25 each-way’.”
Over the next few days, NFL teams will go about the business of assigning multi-million dollar contracts to a group of 20-something athletes with no previous experience of professional sports. Some will excel, out-performing all expectations. Others will fail horribly. Teams invest immense resources into scouting players, yet every year you can guarantee that many will turn out to be busts. Chase Stuart asks the question: Are some teams better at working out which those players will be?
“There are teams that are good at drafting just like there are players who are clutch and captains who can correctly call the coin toss. The problem is, we recognize that someone who correctly calls the coin toss is just lucky while we label “good drafters” as oracles capable of separating the draft wheat from the chaff.”
Follow Paolo on Twitter: @Paolo_Bandini
And read more of his work at The Guardian