10 Articles I Read This Month That You Should Too
As the month comes to a close, once again Paolo Bandini joins us to share 10 of his favourite articles from the month of June.
One from the archives, this. In the wake of Roger Federer’s shocking second-round defeat at Wimbledon, I found myself digging out one of my all-time favourite pieces of tennis writing – one in which David Foster Wallace seeks not so much to analyse Federer’s game as to evoke how it feels to be a spectator watching him at his peak.
“In men’s sports no one ever talks about beauty or grace or the body. Men may profess their “love” of sports, but that love must always be cast and enacted in the symbiotically of war: elimination vs. advance, hierarchy of rank and standing, obsessive statistics, technical analysis, tribal and/or nationalist fervour, uniforms, mass noise, banners, chest-thumping, face-painting, etc. For reasons that are not well understood, war’s codes are safer for most of us than love’s.”
As an Italian living in Britain and then America, it does not take long to grow tired of the cliches about your national league. Serie A is of a lower quality than the Premier League, you are told on a daily basis, and the stadiums full of racist thugs. In turn, it is easy to become dismissive – rejecting such opinions as lazy and ill-informed.
The reality, of course, is that there is some truth behind the stereotypes – but also a bucket-load of nuance that nobody sees. It is the recognition of that context which makes Wright Thompson’s piece on Italy for ESPN the Magazine this month not only brilliant, but important. When people ask me about the country’s problems with racism, this article is one of the first places I will send them.
“Let me be honest. I got sent to write about racism, which I found in staggering amounts. But Italy isn't like America, and racism there is tied into a thousand years of feuds, and hatred of anyone different, even if they're from only a few miles away, and fascism, and the recent wave of immigration. That's all in here, but it's unfair to hide my predicament, which became clear after only a day or two. I'd fallen into a parallel universe of contradictions.”
On 1 May this year, 42-year-old Richard Swanson set out to dribble a football from his home in Seattle all the way to Brazil. His aim was to arrive in São Paulo just in time for the start of the 2014 World Cup.
Instead he died two weeks later, hit by a pick-up truck as he departed Lincoln City in Oregon. Robert Andrew Powell’s moving essay for Grantland looks at Swanson’s final days, as well as his motivations in attempting such a risky journey.
“Swanson had found meaning and direction on the road, she said. But, Ulbright also concluded, walking to Brazil — to say nothing of supposedly dribbling a soccer ball to Brazil — was a dumb idea. More reckless than Swanson may have realized, and perhaps that was the point. It's not a shock that his naive quest ultimately intersected with reality, and in a violent way.”
The 2013-14 Premier League fixtures were published this month. The sceptics, as always, asked why anyone should care, given that every team will ultimately face each other twice. But the truth is that the order of fixtures can be significant. Using data from the 2012-13 Premier League season, Benjamin Pugsley explains why some teams had it tougher than others.
“The timing of a fixture against an opponent matters. An example: An away game at West Brom in the first 5 or 7 games of the season was a tough assignment, but not so much in the last 5 or so games.”
João Moutinho. James Rodríguez. Radamel Falcao. In the space of one month, Monaco have laid the basis of a squad that is expected to challenge for the Ligue 1 title. But unless they can resolve their ongoing tax dispute with the French Football Federation, Monaco might not get the chance to compete for the same in 2014-15, as Sarah Lyall explained in the New York Times.
“Population: 35,427. Number of nationalities represented: 125. Unemployment rate: 0 percent. Income tax rate: 0 percent. Number of soccer-team-owning Russian billionaires feuding with French soccer officials: one.”
It is an oft-repeated truism that to be successful in betting, you must eliminate emotion from your decision-making. In practice, though, how does one achieve such a goal? On the bettingexpert blog, Cassini explains why sometimes you just need to slow down.
“Emotional Management is handled by a part of the brain called the amygdala. It acts as a memory chip. All our emotions – positive and negative – are embedded here, and this information is used as a sensor, comparing historical experiences with the current situation we are facing. It is this referencing of the past to the present that shapes our behaviour and decision making.”
From a footballing perspective, this month’s Confederations Cup in Brazil has been a delight. Whether it be Andrea Pirlo marking his 100th cap with a breathtaking strike at the Maracana, or Paulinho taking the hosts into the final with the winning header against Uruguay, the action on the pitch has been compelling and often brilliant.
But a more important story has unfolded outside of the stadiums, as thousands of Brazilians gathered to protest about the misuse of public money. Fernando Duarte wrote powerfully on this subject for ESPN.
“Just last week my eyes welled up when I heard the Brazilian national anthem played in Brasilia at the Confederations Cup opener against Japan. The football fan in me was emotional in seeing a packed stadium welcoming the Selecao for a dress rehearsal before a home World Cup. The tears, though, were also for the people who had to inhale tear gas and run from police outside the Mane Garrincha stadium after they dared trying to spoil the party by questioning why the billions of dollars from the public purse that funded both tournaments cannot find their way into the health and welfare budgets.”
Of course, there are those of us who aspire to not only enjoy the tennis during Wimbledon but also make a little bit of money while we do. Following Federer and Nadal’s early exits, Peter Webb on the Bet Angel blog asks when it makes sense to bet against a heavy favourite.
“One thing you can see when you look at most stats is that the market is remarkably efficient. Very often when people present stats that appear to show a bias, it could easily be just an aberration in that data set.”
England are widely expected to retain the Ashes this summer, with the home whitewash priced as short as 20-1. But as Rob Smyth recalls eloquently for Cricinfo, there was a similar confidence leading into the 1989 series – one which Australia would go on to win 4-0.
“Allan Border's team was famously described as "the worst team ever to leave Australia" when they embarked on the Ashes tour. They were not so much written off as never written on in the first place.”
The last piece this month is less about the words than the pictures that accompany them. Paolo Patrizi’s “Gentle Giants” series of photographs, looking at sumo wrestlers going about their daily business, were too remarkable not to share.
"I wanted to cover as much as I could of how they live. They spend most of their lives there. They don't go out much."