It was a good run


Upon writing Sports Illustrated’s eulogy for the late Grantland website this week, Richard Deitsch said “The site wasn’t perfect but it was refreshing, creative and honest, and it allowed writers to be writers. It supported unique voices, and it helped define the value of a podcasting network at a sports and culture site…And now, after four years, it’s gone. For those who love words and sports content beyond the bloviators of the day, Friday was a horrible day.”

In 2011, Bill Simmons and ESPN launched Grantland as a sports and pop culture website where writing would reign supreme. Writers were chosen before stories and content, with award-winning writers and best-selling authors being employed alongside a bunch of up-and-comers.

For we devotees of sports and writing, it was the site we didn’t know we desperately wanted until it arrived. A site where intelligent, engaging people wrote intelligent, engaging pieces for an audience who they assumed to be intelligent. A site so confident in the greatness of its writing that it posted fewer pieces than any other site aiming to attract people to return each day. There wasn’t any click-bait or Extra Mustard-style sections to be seen.

By publishing so few pieces, Grantland managed to do what good magazines and newspapers have often achieved, but what websites so often fail at: bringing a dose of serendipity to one’s daily media intake. You would logon not knowing that you’d end up reading about juggling or Jurassic Park or Ferguson or Radio Wimbledon, but you’d read about them anyway because they were on Grantland.

With digital journalism, it’s hard to mark history. One doesn’t simply add Grantland to the magazines stored in their dusty boxes in storage around the house. But for those of us who visited the site daily for these past four years, we already feel ourselves reminiscing about a cultural joy that we may never experience again. In the future, we’ll meet over drinks, referring to our favourite writers by name and remembering their presence in our collective lives.

For now, who knows. We mourn the loss of Grantland not because we’ll never read the works of these supremely talented people again, but rather because they’ll never be in the same place and we may have to make choices between them if they are placed behind various paid firewalls.

And so, but days after my favourite website was shutdown, many Grantland readers are posting their favourite memories of the site, and I can’t but help to similarly reminisce.

For starters, there were two occasional writers, who wrote with particular interest on sport’s violence and the everlasting impact of concussions. Here’s Malcolm Gladwell in discussion with Bill Simmons:

“I was recently reading, by the way, about the work of a researcher at Virginia Tech named Stefan Duma who put electronic monitors in the helmets of 7- and 8-year-olds playing Pop Warner football. He found that those kids were routinely getting hits to the head in the 40 to 60 g range, with some even upwards of 80 gs. To put that in perspective, imagine that you put your son in the front seat of your car, told him not to wear a seat belt, and then smashed the car at 25 miles an hour into a brick wall, so that your son’s forehead hit the dashboard. That would be 100 g. Then you reverse and do it again, 30 to 40 times over the course of two hours, at speeds between 20 and 25 miles per hour. That’s a football game. If you reversed and did it again, 1,000 times, that would be a season. This is massively screwed up, Bill. Your son is 4½ years old. Is there any chance you’d let him play football?”

And here’s ice hockey hall of famer Ken Dryden on the heartless question that is regularly asked to sufferers of brain injury in their retirement:

“‘Would I do it all over again?’ It is a cruel question for anyone. To answer ‘no’ is to deny all we’ve done and all we are and those who are most important in our life, who have loved us, helped us, believed in us. ‘No’ also means that the one chance we get in life we’ve wasted. If the possible answers to Dorsett’s question are ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ the answer, proudly, defiantly, protectively, must be ‘yes.’ And if it is ‘yes,’ the last defense for football leaders, after ignorance and nonchalance, after denial, after inconsequential change, becomes choice. Players have a choice, and it’s theirs and theirs alone to make. Who, after all, has the right to stand in the way of that? But what is the choice offered, and who frames it?”

Stepping away from sport, what about tv writer Andy Greenwald, easily the best of the net’s bazillion tv-recap writers? The man who could turn a recap of a random episode of Homeland into a beautifully phrased consideration of adolescent identity:

“Teenage years are defined by a strong, almost contradictory desire to brand oneself as an individual by aligning with something larger: think going goth or pledging emo. At that flexible age, the cozy, welcoming confines of a preexisting ideology can provide a safe space within which to figure oneself out.”

Or those other reviewers who come out with similar pearls, like Jason Concepcion writing on Whiplash:

“Believing that you have something to say is a pretty universal human sentiment. Thinking that the world actually needs to hear it is pure hubris and pretty much the definition of being between the age of, say, 16 and about 25.”

And Wesley Morris! I had no idea that in 2012, the Boston Globe had a film critic who would win the Pulizer Prize for Criticism, writing “smart, inventive film criticism, distinguished by pinpoint prose, and an easy traverse between the art house and big-screen box office.” But he headed to Grantland just as we Aussies needed to replace David and Margaret, and his writing on films big and small was consistently challenging and inspiring. Choosing but one here is almost too hard a task, but let’s go with his response to Inside Out:

“It’s a strange, unconscious despondence over all the accumulated waste in a life — where’s the line between instrumental and excremental?…This is where your mind goes during this movie: to the pricelessness and preciousness of time, to a consideration of the unknowable zones of human consciousness. And confirming what goes on as we live is actually as impossible as truly knowing what happens after we die: We know and yet we don’t. Pixar’s attempt to render this is a bit boring, but perhaps boring in the way that certain master directors, like Andrei Tarkovsky, can be boring: as a dare to contemplate existence and time.

“More than once, I wondered where Inside Out would go. Given the surplus of color and the honest range of feeling, the answer is as much under the rainbow as over it.”

In their sports pieces, Grantland used images in ways that had never been done before, whether it was a Kirk Goldberry-inspired shot chart, or the NBA Shootarounds – some of the greatest match reports of the past 4 years – that use gifs in a way that takes readers back to the memory so beautifully clearly. Want to remember the Spurs’ clinching win over the Heat in 2014? Here it is.

There was Zach Lowe x’s-and-o’s-ing basketball like no-one had ever successfully done before, there was Katie Baker writing on hockey and on the New York Times wedding announcements, and there was Rembert driving across America.

And then there was Brian Phillips – perhaps my favourite find of these past four years – one of the most brilliant sports writers on the planet, writing about tennis and basketball and anything else that came to mind.

“So I watched Jarkko Nieminen upset 14th-seeded Feliciano Lopez from way up close. And it’s true what they say: Until you’ve seen really good players way up close, you have not fully appreciated tennis. The combination of Black Sabbath ferocity and Mozartian deftness with which these relatively unheralded and unknown players move on the court — well, it boggles. There was a rally in the fourth set, at 0-0 with Nieminen leading 5-4, and I don’t know how this thing would have come off on television, with its multiple drop shots and diving snap-forehands, but in person it left me sort of hopping on one foot and speaking languages I don’t know.”

His profiles were masterpieces, occasionally so good you could find yourself laughing at their sheer brilliance while simultaneously thinking that he had encapsulated the player at hand better than anyone ever had before.

On Kobe Bryant:

“Kobe never seemed as dominant as Jordan because, unlike Mike, he refused to recruit us into the construction of his dominance. He couldn’t trust us with it. He had to do it himself, the way he did everything. This made him fascinating, not that he cared. He was a narcissist, but a strangely impersonal narcissist, like a general whose army happens to be deployed inside himself. Over the years, his success, his vivid bitterness, and his adherence to his own impossible standards created this confounding paradox: He made misanthropy look like a key ingredient in a team sport. Or, to see it from the other side: He made a team game look like a viable path to a life of chosen solitude.”

And his writing that appeared to be on deadline – his version of a match report – was equally incredible:

“It was wild, thrilling tennis, the sort that leaves you gasping and clutching at the couch cushions, and Djokovic’s rage after it was understandable. It’s what he did next, though, that seemed telling. Still cursing at himself, he unsealed the lid of a Tupperware container, took out a small nugget of whatever gluten-free recovery food the engineers are pitching these days, and nibbled it down. Which of course he did — so would any player; the between-sets micro-snack is as much a part of the routine of the game as the service toss. Think of Rafael Nadal and his ritualized tiny bite of banana.

“But it was the way Djokovic did it, with a careful deliberateness totally at odds with his ongoing outburst of temper, that foretold the rest of the match. It said that his mind was running on two planes at once. It said that he was melting down, but also attending to detail. It was funny to watch — a man eating a protein cube in wrath — but also a little terrifying. Scream, but dot your i’s: That’s Djokovic’s version of mental strength in 2015. The machine can catch fire, but the machine keeps running.”

And finally, here he is on life, sport and confidence – during a profile of Sharapova:

“It’s hard for me to side with fatalistic determination over flash and fun and dazzle. I’d rather watch Nick Kyrgios, always and forever, than whatever cyborg of humility and respect for cricket Kyrgios’s critics wish he’d morph into. I’ve been thinking about confidence lately, though, about the types and stages of it, about adult confidence versus childhood confidence, about which sorts of confidence I’d like to have more of and of which I could stand to have less. The confidence of athletes often strikes me as useless in the setting of real life. It’s easy and artificial, enabled and maintained by people with a stake in maintaining it. It comes from having your life streamlined, from keeping within routines that are effective in the context of sports but infantilizing outside it.”

But most importantly, Phillips and Grantland left us with perhaps the greatest piece of sports writing that this Century has yet seen. Phillips’ “62 most astounding, inspiring, and alarming takeaways from Monica Seles’s new YA romance series.”

Do yourself the favour:

Vale, Grantland. And thank you.

Posted in Sport | Leave a comment

Grand Final Day, 2015

Seasons and Grand Finals aren’t the same anymore. Now, they are inescapable reminders of the passing of time.

It’s not the players, with 20 of those glorious Hawks who received medals on Saturday being the same as last year, hardly appearing a day let alone a year older than they were when they destroyed the Swans 12 months ago. But rather, it’s my company in the form of a now 3.5 year-old who had slept through the first half of last year’s Grand Final, but who this year was so excited for the day and the game that he couldn’t get to sleep the night before despite the fact that his beloved Tigers weren’t to be involved.

His sister is here now too, a tiny 7 month-old bundle of energy and smiles with giggles just desperate to burst out any day now. She slept for a while, right up until Bradley Hill kicked the Hawks’ 5th goal as the first quarter approached its conclusion. She’d slept that morning too, though decided she needed my shoulder to assist in the morning nap while her brother and Mum could be heard in other corners of the house, playing, reading, chatting and occasionally sharing fits of uncontrollable laughter.

I recently noted to a friend that we’re currently experiencing the period of our lives that would feature as the flashback in our respective biopics. Towards the end of the film, there we’d be in our twilight years, sitting next to our wives while looking out upon an overtly symbolic sunset. Slowly, the shot would dissolve into a clichéd montage of our wistful memories of days spent with our young nuclear families: playing under doonas and in backyards, visiting with grandparents and cousins, taking family holidays and visiting favourite locations.

It feels pathetic to speak in such nostalgic ways when in one’s 30s, and yet Saturday could only but remind me of how vastly different he is now, and how unimaginably different he and she will be when the next Grand Final comes around.

For the boy is not the same boy who he was last year.

12 months ago, we thought he liked footy and then we thought he really liked cricket. But suddenly, the 2015 footy season hit and the obsession – his first true passion – was born. His most memorable weekend of the year involved meeting a bunch of the Tigers after their Saturday training at Punt Road before watching them defeat the Magpies at the MCG the next day, allowing him to be one of the smallest punters belting out ‘Tigerland’ at game’s end. And now, he’s the kind of child who was recently found at the breakfast table laughing at the absurdity of his parents’ revelation that Buddy once played for the Hawks, demanding that images be quickly sourced so that such hilarious nonsense could be enjoyed in all its visual splendour.

All of which was why he couldn’t sleep on Friday night, and why – the best part of two hours after the evening’s bedtime stories ‘Why I Love Footy’ and ‘I Barrack for Richmond’ had been replaced on the shelf – I was called back into his room to answer an all-important request: “Dad, can you tell me again what’s going to happen on Grand Final Day?”

And it’s why he was up well before 6am, being cajoled into some quiet reading until the newsagent finally opened so that we could grab our Saturday Age and the Grand Final Footy Record. It’s why his aunt showed up in sneakers for our Grand Final afternoon so that she could join in the inevitable games of backyard footy during the breaks in play just as soon as she was called off the interchange.

It’s why you can’t call him by name during these backyard games, but rather need to refer to him as whichever Tiger he’s pretending to be at any given moment. It’s also why you need to come prepared with your own persona – though throughout Grand Final Day, we were provided with our own. His Tigers-supporting grandfather was informed he was Jack Riewoldt for the day, while I started the day as Breust, becoming Cyril by half-time, Jordan Lewis by three-quarter time and Gunston after the Cup had been won, often reflecting the impact that various Hawks had been having as the Grand Final played out.

It’s why his father dragged him in from outside prior to the start of the match to make sure he saw the parade of retirees around the MCG, as he’d been waiting for weeks to farewell Chappy and Chris Newman.

It’s why late in the second-quarter, during the only moment when he wasn’t actively watching the game, his mother caught him sitting in front of his new Tigers poster, serenading them with a song on his ukulele that seemed to be entitled “We’ve got the Footy Record”.

It’s why he considered himself to be in the safest, happiest place possible on Saturday: surrounded by family, eating his chipolatas, salad and giant handfuls of smarties, and joining in the general, endless commentary of the game.

Since Saturday, the Hawks aren’t just the premiers, but they’re all-time greats. Their three-peat is an achievement that only one other club has managed since the 1950s and is surely something they won’t repeat in my fanhood. This is beyond any fan’s wildest dreams; it’s truly as good as it gets. I’ve loved this team since I was as young as the little fella, and yet now when I’m older than all of the players, they have provided me with joyful wonder, everlasting pride, and sheer delight in that daft way that successful sporting teams enliven their fans.

I’ll watch the dvd time and again in the future. It will serve as my own flashback to 2015, when Hodge kicked that goal from the pocket, when Cyril seemed to be all alone in the forward 50, and when many of my most memorable moments of the day on which the Hawks achieved their greatest feat were generated at home rather than at the MCG. I’ll be watching again in order to remember them all.

On Sunday night, I received an email from an old mate and fellow Hawks fan who’d shared Grand Final week in Victoria with his own young family. He said that he didn’t want the week to finish. I couldn’t have agreed more, and continued to marvel at the great paradox which I seem to have inhabited since the dawn of my parenthood: the understanding that this indescribable, endless delight in life’s tiny moments comes with a desperate wish that no day, week, or weekend – Grand Final or otherwise – would finish.

When it was finally time to leave the backyard late on Saturday night, the kid turned to his Dad as we strolled towards bathtime. “Dad, we need to put a cricket pitch in our backyard now for cricket season.”

So we beat on.

Posted in AFL, Sport | 2 Comments

Changing the Game

I wrote this post a month ago, just prior to the death of Phil Walsh and the Adam Goodes story dominating the AFL news cycle.

Throughout this time, it’s seemed so…I dunno…relatively pathetic to talk about football purely as football. But now, with Goodes heading to Geelong to play tomorrow and the Crows playing the Tigers in Adelaide tonight, it feels like we might have reached a moment where we can just sit back and enjoy the pure entertainment of this great game once more. As such, I offer a delayed posting of my thoughts on a Hawthorn favourite. Bring on the Finals.



Asking whether Cyril Rioli is over or underrated, as was posed in The Guardian on Wednesday, only serves to create debate where one needn’t exist. Clearly, Rioli isn’t a superstar bound for the Hall of Fame – only once has he been selected in the All-Australian team as one of the best 6-7 forwards in the AFL, and he’s only tallied 29 Brownlow votes in his career. But arguing that Rioli is no more than an occasional excitement-machine who lifts Hawthorn fans from their seats once or twice a match fails to address his real legacy. For Rioli is one of the few players who has changed the way the game is played.

In 2008, Rioli’s rookie season, he was one of only three players to kick 20 goals and make 85 tackles during the season. The other two, Gary Ablett and Jimmy Bartel, opposed Rioli in that year’s Grand Final.

Prior to 2008, the 20-85 combination had only been achieved 25 times, with Aaron Hamill the first to accomplish the feat in 2000. But while a few small forwards such as Byron Pickett, David Rodan and Leon Davis had managed it prior to 2008, it was the rookie Rioli who led a revolution in the defensive pressure that small forwards would come to force upon opponents.

For Rioli’s play was less that of a traditional AFL small forward and more that of an ice hockey forecheck, where forwards rush, check and battle for the puck while it’s in their offensive zone. But unlike many of hockey’s best forecheckers, Rioli was also a consistent goal scorer and he would change the expectations upon elite small forwards around the league.

In the 6 seasons since Rioli’s rookie year in 2008, the 20-85 milestone has been reached on 80 occasions – an incredible rate of 13 per season considering it had previously happened only 25 times. Indeed, only 3 of the past 12 Grand Final participants have not had at least 2 players on their team with 20-and-85 for the season. Suddenly, as if to echo Rioli, small forwards like Schneider, Blair, Garlett, Gray, LeCras, Zorko, Giansiracusa and Jetta have been tackling in the forward 50 like never before. Rioli’s fellow Hawks Breust and Puopolo have also followed suit, and last season they joined the Swans (Parker and McGlynn) and Cats (Selwood and Murdoch) as the three teams with two 20-85 players – and all three sides finished in the top four.

Tackles are only one metric, of course, and this is a clear example of an arbitrary statistical cut-off being used to enhance an argument. But Rioli’s forward pressure, whether it results in a tackle or not, felt incredibly new in 2008 in a way that it doesn’t in 2015. A modern expectation upon elite small forwards is that they conduct their AFL version of forechecking throughout games by chasing, disrupting and tackling in ways that were unheard of prior to the turn of the century and extremely rare prior to Rioli’s emergence.

In the history of the AFL, only two players have had 5 seasons in which they have scored 20 goals and made 85 tackles. Midfielder and future Legend in the AFL Hall of Fame Gary Ablett is way out in front with 9 such years, leaving Rioli second with 5. Paul Chapman (4), Jason Akermanis, Luke Breust, Keiran Jack and Ben McGlynn (3) are the only others to have achieve the feat more than twice. Who’s to say if the small forwards amongst them would have ever done so had it not been for the example set by Rioli as to how disruptive and valuable a speedy pest in the forwardline can be.

Rioli will never reach the Hall of Fame and is not regarded by many as a genuine star of his generation, particularly as he only averages 15.5 possessions a game. However he is one of the best defensive forwards the game has ever seen, and his play has changed our expectations of what greatness in the forwardline should look like.

Each season, the NHL award the Frank J. Selke Trophy for the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game. If the AFL ever decides to inaugurate an equivalent honour, it may just be best placed to be named after a trail-blazing Hawk.

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Questionable Collectibles

Occasionally, one tries to forget the weight of the world and escape by remembering the simpler times of one’s childhood.

As a sports-loving male Canberran primary school student in the late 80’s, it was incumbent upon me to be a part of the rugby league cards craze of the time. My obsessive collecting and swapping lasted four years, from 1987-1990, and seeing the images of the cards at Dan’s NRL Collectables online creates an instant nostalgia for afternoons spent playing pretend football games on my bedroom floor with the cards for players, wooden blocks for goalposts, and a scrunched up strip of paper for a ball.

But even in this relatively innocent world, the cards still leave a number of heavy, unanswered questions hanging on the soul.

Questions such as:

Did Steve Larder every actually dodge an opponent, or was he instead constantly dodging thin air?

Steve Larder 87Steve Larder 88

Was this the best facial expression that Greg Florimo made during 1987?

Greg Florimo 87

Are these men rugby league players or serial killers?

Billy Johnstone (rlporsc)Tony Rampling (rlporsc)Peter Kelly 88 (RL player or serial killer)Robert Simpkins (rlporsc)

Was this the best facial expression made by Greg Florimo in 1988?

Greg Florimo 88

After the disaster of ’87, couldn’t the photographer instead have let Florimo pose beautifully as he did Gavin Jones?

Gavin Jones 88 (comp to Florimo)

How many of the Roosters later obtained roles on Downton Abbey?

Wayne Challis 87 (old schl)Kurt Sherlock 90 (old schl)Hugh McGahan 87 (old schl)

Why did Peter Jackson film The Lord of the Rings trilogy in New Zealand when hobbits were already roaming the western suburbs of Sydney?

Royce Simmons (Hobbit) (do with Fenech)

If Mario Fenech knew this moment was going to be memorialised forever, would he have closed his legs?

Mario Fenech 89 (open-crotch Frankenstein)

How long did it take John Cartwright to get over his constipation?

John Cartwright 90 (constipation)

Did Michael Carberry ever notice that men would often cuddle his legs?

Michael Carberry 87

Has Kevin Hastings just thrown this ball, or is he about to catch it? If he’s just thrown it, how the hell are his hands now in the position they are in? If he’s planning on catching it, how the hell will he do so with his hands in the position they are in? If he’s neither throwing or catching the ball, what the hell is he doing with his hands?

Kevin Hastings 87 (did he throw or catch)

When the Newcastle Knights gathered for their individual photos at the start of the team’s inaugural season in 1988, why wasn’t Alan McMahon more embarrassed about leaving his uniform at home?

Knight 1Knight 2Knight 3

Was this the best facial expression made by Greg Florimo in 1989?

Greg Florimo 89

Did Michael Pobjie not only dodge non-existent opponents, but do so in slow motion?

Michael Pobjie 87 (slow mo)

Back in the days when it was legal to use bongos as shoulder pads, what noise did they make when Laurie Daley was tackled?

Laurie Daley 90

How many complaints from animal rights activists did Mark Bugden’s consumption of a cane toad instigate?

Mark Bugden 90

Why did the photographer in the Balmain dressing room ask Benny Elias to pose, but not extend the same courtesy to David Brooks?

Ben Elias 89 (comp to Brooks)David Brooks 89

Do footballers actually play better with their eyes shut?

Paul Taylor 89Shane Flanagan 90 (best pic)

How often did Dale Shearer confuse his teammates with his inexplicable movements, as he did the guy behind him in 1988?

Dale Shearer 88

Exactly how excited was Greg Florimo in 1990 to find out that the photographer who had been trolling him for the past few years had decided to stop?

Greg Florimo 90

And why did the photographer turn his trolling to Peter McPhail instead?

Peter McPhail (compare him and Bears with Florimo in 90) 90

Had the show existed back in 1988, who would have finished second to Brent Todd in ‘Dancing With the Stars’?

Brent Todd 88 (slow mo)

Exactly which collectors of rugby league cards were Col Fraser and Brian Johnston attempting to appeal to? And which of them was more successful?

Col Fraser 89Brian Johnston 89

And finally, has anyone ever won at rugby league cards as convincingly as Bob Lidner did in 1988?

Bob Lidner 88


Posted in Rugby League, Sport | 1 Comment

Reinstating a Hero

One small jersey is perhaps the most shameless, most unethical, most ironic, most disappointing, most infuriating piece of sports marketing you have seen in a long time:

Peterson Jersey

It’s a jersey for a toddler. Someone of an age when they’re picking their first favourite player, a hero selected for often arbitrary and irrelevant reasons, who should remain treasured as the child grows into adulthood. A player who should remind the beholder of a simpler, more innocent time in their life.

Of course, thanks to the actions of some athletes, the choices of some kids turn out to be less simple-naïve-adoration and more innocence-shattering-life-lesson.

In ‘One Week at a Time: Sex, Footy and the Flag” – an extract of which is one of the great pieces of Australian sports writing – Stephanie Holt provided a stunning example of this when describing her young daughter Lydia’s joy at presenting a jumper to a random player at the St.Kilda Family Day:

“Lydia, concentrating on doing everything right, takes the stage right on cue, hands over a jumper as Leigh Montagna is introduced…turns and heads off stage.

“‘He asked me if I’d like a kiss,’ says Lydia; when I pump her for details, afterwards, and though she’d been too nervous to answer, she is delighted by the brief, gallant brush on the cheek she received. ‘He’s really really nice,’ she tells me.

“We head off to buy a Leigh Montagna badge. Lydia’s beaming fit to burst.

“Less than two days later, we wake to the news that Stephen Milne and Leigh Montagna have been accused of sexual assault.”

Throughout sports history, when stars commit atrocious acts – be them related to betting, to drugs, or to far more heinous crimes – parents are thrust into the role of translating such adult material to children still young enough to be imbued with a belief in the inherent goodness of their heroes, if not all of mankind.

And yet, the first item on the ‘Toddlers 2-4’ page of the Minnesota Vikings online store is a toddler-sized Adrian Peterson jersey. In fact, three of the first five items are emblazoned with Peterson’s name and number, including a pink “Girls Vikings Adrian Peterson My Crush T-Shirt”.

Last September, Adrian Peterson was indicted in Texas on charges of reckless or negligent injury to a child. Peterson used a tree branch with the leaves removed – which he referred to as a ‘switch’ – to thrash his four year old son repeatedly on his back, backside, legs and scrotum. Apparently, the kid had pushed another of Peterson’s children off a motorbike video game. TMZ published photos of the kid’s injuries, which won’t be linked to here.

Peterson referred to the incident as a “whooping”. He pleaded no contest, avoiding jail through a plea deal.

After being suspended from the NFL for a season, Peterson was reinstated last week and is reportedly receiving interest from a number of NFL teams keen on obtaining his services from the Vikings.

Different sports in different cultures draw their ethical lines in different places. This past weekend, the tennis cognoscenti tut-tutted about Genie Bouchard’s arrogance and lack-of-sportsmanship when she refused to follow Fed Cup tradition and shake her opponent’s hand before the tie. Meanwhile, the NFL is famous for employing players who are suspected of murder or who have served time for severe, indescribable cruelty to animals.

And in 2015, no longer is it bad enough for a child’s hero to fall from grace. Now, the modern NFL is ahead of the game: they promote the idea of pre-schoolers worshiping a man who beats up pre-schoolers.

Posted in NFL, Sport | Leave a comment

Like a Girl

Unsurprisingly, I have no clue what relationship my four-week-old daughter will have with sport. I mean, she’ll be forced to have some idea about it – she won’t be able to avoid footy unless she spends her winters in a venue that isn’t our place or those of her grandparents. But who knows whether it will become a lifelong interest as it is for her mother and myself, or a great passion as it is for her 3-year-old brother.

Regardless of this, it’s impossible not to look at her brother – a guy who spent a recent Sunday morning watching some of the Davis Cup and flicking through the pre-season Footy Record before deciding to get off the couch to play some serious hallway cricket – without wondering how the modern sporting world might appear to a girl born in 2015.

For starters, the kid’s been born but months after cuts to the ABC led to the announcement that the channel will no longer broadcast the WNBL or the W-League. As Australian Womensport and Recreation Association executive officer Leanne Evans said, now “You’d struggle to find much at all in terms of women’s sport on television.”

So how might a newborn-come-infant-come-toddler respond to this kind of world? When even though her parents always have sport on the television, women cannot be seen participating either side of netball, Grand Slam tennis tournaments and Olympic fortnights?

Suddenly, one is forced to really consider the moments when one’s daughter might actually see a female on a mainstream sports broadcast. There are occasional female commentators, although with the exception of the NBA they very rarely commentate on anything other than women’s sport. There’s also a goal umpire or two, cycling’s podium girls, and cheerleaders are apparently still a thing. Other than that, there are women in the crowd enjoying the spectacle of men’s athletic achievements and there are some on the ads, of course.

Obviously, this is all common knowledge. And it’s not as if a lack of sports coverage is anywhere near the list of Biggest Problems 21st Century Women Face, as emphasised by the debate surrounding the latest ad for the ANZ Championship. As Traci Holmes said on Offsiders this past weekend, when Sharni Layton appears in the last shot with the remnants of a black eye, it’s supposed to present the sport and the women who play it as fit and tough. But unfortunately, in this day and age many people look at an image of a bruised woman and automatically associate her with the world’s incomprehensible number of victims of domestic violence.

But the contrast between how a girl or a boy might respond to modern sport is still worth asking questions about, right?

Is it harder for girls to find sporting idols, leaving them instead more likely to choose someone from the entertainment sphere to look up to and love as a child?

Do young girls even think about sport becoming a part of their pretend play, the way that the 3-year-old does when he impersonates Mitch or Rhino when bowling down the hallway?

Are stereotypes surrounding athletic girls – from the traditional “tomboy” to the notion that only butch or gay women play cricket, soccer or footy – still going to exist as the newborn progresses through the 21st Century?

Will we look back at Australia in 2013, when one of the four women’s sports leagues on television was the Legends (formerly ‘Lingerie’) Football League and see it as an anachronism or as a precursor to the future of women’s sport on television?

What is the true impact of men calling for women to wear more revealing uniforms, or of the most marketable female sportspeople being the most attractive ones regardless of their on-field success?

And, ultimately, does any of this actually matter to the health, joy and wellbeing of a young girl, regardless of her level of interest in sport?

Parenthood brings so many uncertainties into one’s life. At least Mrs EPO and I can rest assured that we both know tens of wise, compassionate, honourable, modest, spectacular women who the newborn will be surrounded with throughout her childhood and adolescence. May they help us guide her through the minefield of life, including discussing issues in women’s sport as often as modern life will permit and, sometimes, require.

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A Kyrgios is a Kyrgios

Australian tennis’ newest star Nick Kyrgios finds himself as modern tennis’ referendum on the note that Birdman’s protagonist Riggan has on his dressing room mirror: “A thing is a thing, not what is said of that thing.”

Those who are fond of Kyrgios – either as a person, or at the very least as a “breath of fresh air” – take a Swiftian haters-gonna-hate stance, wherein critics of on- and off-court style and persona are irrelevant in an individual sport where results are the only things that matter. It’s a stance in which one of tennis’ great purities comes to life: that all a player need do to gain entry into the world’s biggest tournaments is to earn a ranking that’s high enough. No proving one’s self to scouts, seeking the approval of judges, or taking psychological tests to be drafted onto a team. You just have to be able to play.

Those on the other side, criticising Kyrgios for his personality regardless of on-court success, instead play the role of Birdman’s Tabitha, the theatre critic sitting alone in the corner of a bar, pouring scorn on an as-yet unseen play because it stars a movie idol rather than a theatre actor: “After the opening tomorrow I’m gonna turn in the worst review anyone has ever read and I’m gonna close your play. Would you like to know why? Because I hate you and everyone you represent. Entitled, selfish, spoiled children.”

For the reputation of a polarising tennis player evokes Birdman at its most existential. What is the point of being one of the best players in the world if the people watching don’t like you? Or should the question instead be who cares about what people think of you if you’re one of the best players in the world? Is the pursuit of excellence purely for its own sake, or is it for the sake of entertaining and earning the appreciation of others?

Fred Stolle, a commentator and ex-player safely ensconced as one of the bastions of Australian tennis, provided perhaps the most telling – and most hilarious – criticism of Kyrgios’ persona during the Australian Open: “Asked whether Kyrgios could learn from Lleyton Hewitt, whose fierce on-court behavior came under scrutiny early in his career, Stolle said: ‘Yeah, but Lleyton never smashed racquets. Lleyton got annoyed and abused people but he never, he never broke racquets.”

Stolle’s comment was an imbecilic version of the insta-classic Birdman quote from Edward Norton’s character Mike Shiner: “Popularity is the slutty little cousin of prestige.” It’s as if Stolle’s saying, “Win a prestigious tournament, Nick, and we’ll forgive you all of your previous ills. Once Lleyton won prestigious events and became one of us, his behaviour became irrelevant. Until then, you’re nothing.”

For this is Australian tennis, where Lavers, Courts, Newcombes and Rosewalls have blazed trails. And where Philippoussis is forever a disappointment. A wasted talent. A failure. We expect more from our freakish athletes when tennis is their sport of choice. Patty Mills was handed the keys to the country when he was the eighth best player on a successful NBA team, but Scud failed to live up to his potential despite once being the eighth best player in the world. Australia now holds the same expectations over Kyrgios as it once did of Philippoussis – two Slam finals and a top ten ranking won’t be enough to avoid being an eternal disappointment to the country’s sporting critics.

Actually, the modern requirement for entry into Australian sporting royalty is winning two Slams. Pat Rafter won two and he has an arena named after him. Meanwhile, Sam Stosur is the only Aussie woman to have won a Slam since Goolagong in 1980, and yet every summer Sam’s trotted out as fodder for the sportspages. For can’t you see? She’s a failure who needs serious psychological help.

Of course, as Birdman’s Riggin shouts at his critic, “That’s a label. That’s all labels. You just label everything. That’s so fuckin’ lazy… It’s just a bunch of crappy opinions, backed up by even crappier comparisons… You write a couple of paragraphs and you know what? None of this cost you fuckin’ anything!”

For the moment, as we viewers of tennis’ play-within-a-play wait to see exactly how it’ll all end up, we know that Kyrgios cares about some labels. When he rocked up to the entrance to Rod Laver Arena for his quarter-final, he asked court announcer Craig Willis to introduce him to the crowd as “The Wonder from Down Under.”

Oh for the unexpected virtue of ignorance.

Posted in Sport, Tennis | 1 Comment