Perhaps you need something to read on the plane home, or something to distract you while you avoid your in-laws. Here are the most compelling long features and essays we published this year so you can catch up before we do it all again in 2019.
As he was questioned by lawyers in 2015 over and over again about what he did and did not know about sexual abuse suffered by Olympic athletes, then-U.S. Olympic Committee lawyer Gary Johansen made a choice. No matter the question, no matter which lawyer asked it, Johansen did not say “child abuse,” he did not say “sexual assault,” and he did not say “rape.” What he did say, over and over again in his deposition, was “SafeSport.” The USOC, he said each time, wasn’t responding to a crisis of rampant sex abuse. No, he said, these were “SafeSport issues.”
George Washington’s men’s basketball team started its 2018–2019 season with two ugly home losses. First, the Colonials blew a 22-point lead to Stony Brook, then they came back two nights later and got rolled by Siena. Neither squad would have been expected to beat a GW team just two years removed from an NIT title.
But unexpected losses have become commonplace for the Colonials, whose program has been in turmoil since firing its head coach more than two years ago. The two disastrous home games marked the start of the program’s first year since the loss of athletic director Patrick Nero, who left for no obvious reason in the middle of last season, further roiling a university where hoops is the only sport that matters.
“This was the original price,” Serap Jangbu Sherpa assured them as he pulled down a waterproof jacket from the rafters, “but now you get 35 percent discount.”
It was fall clearance at Tent & Trails, a decades-old, family-owned outdoors retailer in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from the World Trade Center, and Serap was helping a group of three middle-aged Chinese tourists. One of them tried on the jacket, held his arms wide, gestured to his companions for advice. Recognizing a language barrier, Serap retrieved a notepad from his desk and wrote out some calculations. “This is how much you save.”
When a survivor of Larry Nassar’s sexual abuse makes her impact statement to the court, she is first asked to state and spell her name for the record. And then Judge Rosemarie Aquilina asks her, “What would you like me to know?”
When did the modern-day fitness movement really begin in the U.S.?
Maybe our infatuation with getting in shape can be traced to when President-elect John F. Kennedy published an article in Sports Illustrated titled “The Soft American,” urging “the United States to move forward with a national program to improve the fitness of all Americans.” Or perhaps in 1982, when Jane Fonda donned Spandex and leggings and released the first of her best-selling workout videos. Cynics might cite the first time athletes gobbled down blue Dianabol pills, the first “mainstream” steroid, back in the 1950s.
Another candidate: That day in 1965 when Joe Gold, a crusty Merchant Marine from East Los Angeles, opened a workout space for hardcore weightlifters and bodybuilders on a desolate street in Venice Beach.
It was more than five years ago when Lance Armstrong went on Oprah, looked her in the eye, and admitted to the world that his iconic comeback story was fueled by the most comprehensive doping regimen in cycling history. The seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor had spent his career brashly denying that he’d ever doped, going so far as to shoot defiant commercials about how clean he was and shouting down his detractors in public. Armstrong was a fiery champion, one who had succeeded in making Americans care about a far-flung sport simply because he was so dominant and so unapologetic in his mastery of it. And then there he was, flagellating himself on the nation’s biggest talk show, to the nation’s foremost public confessor, and admitting that he’d deceived everyone. It seemed like it was as low as he could go.
It was not.
LIMA, Ohio — Within five minutes of meeting Janet Garrett’s campaign team for the first time, I’m asked to help with their speaker set-up. The laptop audio playing the Spotify playlist is coming out of the projector, and they don’t know how to hook it up to the main speaker, where it would be louder. I’m happy to try and do it, eager to prove my tech savvy to my hosts, but fail miserably and give up after spending a couple of minutes on my knees on the hardwood floor, testing a few different cords in vain until Garrett’s campaign manager eventually gets it to work.
Lacrosse was played by Native American nations across North America long before it was colonized by Europeans. But despite Native people’s historical and cultural connection to the game, they were periodically banned from playingbefore the 1973 American Indian Religious Freedom Act restored Native peoples’ right to practice religious and cultural ceremonies. Native Americans who play and coach lacrosse today have recent ancestors who were forced to play in secret.
Every so often, some publication or other—often a fancy one—will run a fawning profile of PFT Commenter, the sports satirist who works for Barstool Sports and co-created the wildly popular comedy podcast Pardon My Take. These profiles are all more or less the same.
Gary Cantrell clanged a bell at 6:40 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 20, signaling 70 runners to jog off into the woods on his farm in Tennessee. They had an hour to complete a 4.1667-mile loop trail. Easy. Most of the group finished with 15 minutes to spare. The bell clanged again at 7:40 a.m., and they ran it again. And at 8:40 a.m., and 9:40 a.m., and every hour after that until, one by one, they quit. There was no known finish line. The race went on, day and night, until the bell clanged and only one runner answered.
“I compare it to being punched in the face—light punches,” Cantrell said. “After awhile you just don’t want to get up for it any more.”
Brandeis men’s basketball head coach Brian Meehan joined the program in September 2003; since then, he’s taken the program to the Division III Final Four and become the winningest coach in program history. The Judges’ on-court output has slipped over the past five years, due in part to the team’s inability to recruit and, more notably, retain quality players. A group of former players who spoke with Deadspin claim this is the direct result of Meehan’s abusive and sometimes racist behavior. One player recalled a particular incident in which Meehan told a black player, “I’ll ship you back to Africa.”
The goal always was to make money. You’re supposed to be able to do that with a 6-and-a-half-foot heavyweight who can—through reputation, striking physical appearance, and a contentious line of bullshit delivered in a distinctive floor-rumbling bass while riding the wave of a street fight with Mike Tyson that briefly put his picture in every paper and celebrity gossip show in the U.S.—draw a raucous crowd made up in equal parts of defenders and detractors simply by walking from one city block to the next.
For years, one guy in the Dallas Mavericks sales department would come into the office and watch porn at his desk. Former employees don’t remember exactly how often he did it—they were trying to avoid seeing it, after all—but it was often enough that multiple people who worked with him remembered seeing it multiple times.
Here are just a few, tiny things that happened in a dark, bizarre, depressing Year of our Lord 2018:
On the night of Sunday, Jan. 21, as the entirety of the sports world was consumed with football and the results of the NFL’s conference championships, Dejan Kovacevic made an announcement. It was almost understated, given the importance of the changes to his site, DK Pittsburgh Sports. Kovacevic wrote that his Steelers beat writer would be promoted to editor-in-chief with “final say in editorial matters,” and his wife, Dali, would take over managing the site’s staff: “Basically, she’ll run the place completely.”
Kovacevic said he was excited about the restructuring, in part because “honestly I’m that much more excited that I don’t have to do it. Mostly because I don’t think I’ve been very good at it.”
George Andrie has always been a devoted father to Mary Brooks and her six siblings. But with the benefit of hindsight, Brooks also sees that something was always a bit off about her dad, going back to when she was a child. The outgoing guy she always knew suddenly became less socially engaged in the early 1980s, about 10 years after Andrie retired from the NFL.
“He was definitely a family man; I want to make it totally clear that he was a loving father,” Brooks said. “I just thought that he was needy. I thought he was middle-aged, grumpy. I knew that he was withdrawn and a little distant and had a very hard time with social situations and things like that—and he didn’t used to be that way.
“But we didn’t know. If you look back now, the man suffered forever. It all makes sense now.”
BERLIN — There’s this picture of Ira Mowen that pretty much sums up the quest he’s been on for seven years. In it, he’s standing mid-frame, gazing into the lens of the camera – or the phone, whatever. He looks like he’s just waking up, or he’s stoned, or he’s recovering from a sneeze, because he’s got that countenance that sometimes crosses the faces of people and makes them look, fleetingly, innocent; unencumbered by the machinations of adult minds.
This May, Carolina Belmares traveled to Kansas City to attend the 2018 Fitness Summit, an annual conference that was co-headlined by nutritionist and author Alan Aragon. Belmares says she was looking forward to the event as a way to build relationships with other people in the industry, noting the “laid-back vibe” that helped business owners like herself network with their colleagues.
Belmares and Aragon met for the first time at the conference, and while she says she had “heard warnings” that he could be “too friendly” when he’d been drinking, she says she saw “no reason to be afraid.” She was just getting her own business started, while Aragon was a foundational figure in the “evidence-based fitness” movement. This was his turf.
If you’ve been following the ongoing developments in the Larry Nassar scandal and Michigan State University’s sexual-assault crisis , you’ve recently become familiar with the phrase “#SpartansWill.” If you’ve spent any time around East Lansing, you already knew about it, because it’s all over town. You see it on banners hanging from streetlights when you drive into campus—“Who will? Spartans Will,” that sort of thing—and the two words saturate the university’s marketing materials. It’s usually presented as a statement of purpose, something bold and thoughtful:
SANDUSKY, Ohio — There is more than one enormous rubber duck. I did not know this when I decided to travel to Sandusky to see one, but I can’t unlearn it now. Though there was once a bigger duck in Saint-Nazaire, France, the monstrosity anchored in Sandusky comes with a registered trademark: it is the “World’s Largest Rubber Duck®.” Co-owner and local resident Ryan Whaley said that he believes it is the biggest duck in the world at the moment, but the realm of colossal avian inflatables is surprisingly convoluted.
PITTSBURGH — I hadn’t even made it to my seat, and Pitt basketball was already living down to my expectations.
Just inside the main entrance to the Petersen Events Center were maybe two dozen security personnel and ticket takers. Nearly all of them milled about next to the metal detectors, with nothing to do. Until a few years ago, this was one of college basketball’s most raucous arenas. But tonight—with Pitt sitting at 8-20 (0-15 ACC) heading into a 9 p.m. tipoff on a Wednesday in late February against Wake Forest, a bland-but-superior opponent—there were few paying customers coming through. Tickets were selling at the gate for $45, but I was able to grab two for $31 through a reseller on my phone, even though I only needed one. I should have acted sooner; that afternoon, the same reseller had been offering seats for as little as $3.
Baseball consensus holds that umpires only get noticed when they make a bad call. Steve Fields’ career as a major league ump was bookended by two calls that put him in the spotlight. But he went to his grave insisting both were right.
When you’re watching porn, especially one of those gauzy-lensed sensual ones, you generally do not find yourself thinking, Boy, that porn star fellow must be quite the gentleman at home.
In 2015, Time Inc., the listing titan of 20th-century publishing, bought FanSided—a network of more than 300 sport- and team-centric blogs producing the sort of easily digestible and SEO-friendly posts that exist purely to show up near the top in Google searches—and attached it to their legacy publication, Sports Illustrated. This year, the Meredith Corporation, backed by the Koch brothers, bought Time Inc., gobbling up both properties, among many others. Lost in these shifting corporate ownerships and sought-after synergies is FanSided’s production class: thousands of workers who write thousands of posts each month for little or no money.
Last month, Michigan State settled with 332 victims of Larry Nassar’s sex abuse for half a billion dollars. While it’s still unclear how exactly MSU will pay out that substantial settlement, the prevailing wisdom is that some combination of insurance, public funds, loans, and university money will cover it. It was clear from the outset that a public university like MSU was going to survive this scandal, if perhaps not with its reputation or credit rating perfectly intact. This would’ve been true even if the settlement amount had been larger than $500 million. In the profoundly depressing phrase given to us by the 2008 financial crisis, Michigan State is “too big to fail.”
It’s a phenomenal time to be a chess fan. We can follow live action from thousands of games all around the world on our phones, from elite super-tournaments to the smallest club competitions. Freely available learning and training resources by far supersede anything the famed Soviet system could ever have offered. The world champion streams his one-minute online games while drinking beers and talking trash with his mates.
To clear up any confusion, let’s get this out of the way: Merril Hoge and Peter Cummings, who co-authored a book called Brainwashed: The Bad Science Behind CTE and The Plot to Destroy Football, are not CTE deniers. They do not dismiss the scientific notion that repetitive brain trauma is a high-risk factor for the onset of chronic traumatic encephalopathy and other degenerative brain disorders. And they’re correct in their assertion that there’s still a great deal of murkiness about the relationship between head trauma and CTE, including whether head trauma in and of itself actually causes CTE.
“Did he still have The Brooks Room?” one of my dad’s old friends asked me at his wake last July. It wasn’t the first time I’d heard the question that day. The Brooks Room was what his friends called the small basement room in Queens where he kept his collection of baseball cards, programs, figures, pins, bobblehead dolls, Wheaties boxes, and other assorted sports memorabilia. A healthy percentage of the collection in The Brooks Room featured players on the Baltimore Orioles, which was my father’s favorite team. A healthy percentage of that featured Hall of Fame defensive wizard Brooks Robinson.
When it was time to change her husband Greg’s diaper, Deb Ploetz followed a routine. First, she would lead him to the bathroom of their rental house in North Little Rock, Arkansas, where they had moved to in February of 2015—in part to be closer to Deb’s family, and in part because memory care facilities in Texas and Colorado had been too scared of Greg, a 5-foot-11, 205-pound former football player, to let him stay.
Bao Nhia Thao is maybe 5-foot-2, with an enigmatic smile—smooth and benign.
“Nine-three,” she said quietly, noting the score before tapping the birdie over the net.
The late-model Washington Wizards are broadly competent, secretly mediocre, spotty, and more boring than they are not. They could be nutshelled as an equal and opposite reaction to their counterparts of a decade ago. Those Wiz teams, which weren’t better but sure were stranger, boasted a bigger collection of goofballs, harmless and otherwise, than any follower of the NBA or any major sports league had ever seen.
Or read about. Everything those historically wacky Wizards did was chronicled on the fledgling internet; in an era before NBA Twitter existed, this team seemed determined to somehow will it into existence. Gilbert Arenas, the face of the franchise then as John Wall is now, deviously mentored a horde of younger teammates—including Andray Blatche, Nick Young, and JaVale McGee, the Tinker to Evers to Chance of off-court fails—into virtuoso clowns, and then played ringmaster to the circus. These lads launched a thousand basketblogs—or was it vice versa?
You’ve likely never heard of Joshua Simmons. You certainly hadn’t heard of him when he entered his name in the NBA draft. Five years ago, at 20 years old, Simmons was on the NBA’s official early entry list, despite having played just a handful of games at a junior college 30 minutes east of Greenville, S.C. By the time the list was released in May 2013, Simmons wasn’t even listed on Spartanburg Methodist’s roster—the only indication the 6-foot-5 wing had ever played for the program was the 5.2 points he averaged during his 13 games of eligibility.
Simmons was about to begin of his 15 minutes of fame, an experience he would come to hate in real time. But, five years and four schools later, he is only now winding down his remarkable college hoops career, and with something quite like closure.
For all that the ongoing FBI investigation into college basketball’s underground economy has and could yet reveal, nothing is more obvious and undeniable than this: The on-stage performers in a multimillion-dollar entertainment industry do, in fact, have value beyond athletic scholarships and small cost-of-school-attendance stipends . In response, observers ranging from ESPN’s Jay Bilas to Los Angeles Lakers guard Lonzo Ball to UConn football coach-cum-NCAA resistance-joiner Randy Edsall have called for a simple, obvious solution to what looks like endemic rule-breaking. All of them, the college basketball commentator and the recent All-American and the cartoon hardass with the whistle around his neck, have suggested that the NCAA throw its amateurism rules in the trash can, and let college athletes be paid.
If you missed the debut of breaking as an event at the 2018 Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires, Argentina last week, you missed another first—the crowning of a gold medalist named Bumblebee. The other medalists were also mononymous. The silver medalist was Martin from France. And in third place there was Shigekix from Japan. Bumblebee, for his part, dances for the Russian Federation.
Why? That’s the first question people always ask. Why would you want to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and then run a marathon? Why would you do it five days in a row? Why would you plan the whole thing yourself? In the five boroughs? In the middle of June?
“Why does anyone do anything?” answered Chris Solarz, a guy who read stoic philosophy in the sauna while training for such a feat. “Why do we try to run arbitrary distances in arbitrary times? I don’t know. There’s no easy answer.”
Nearly every day, news of some fresh tragedy arrives from Yemen, a nation that has been devastated by a brutal conflict between Houthi forces and a Western-backed military coalition led by Saudi Arabia. At some point, the ruination starts to run together. Yemen cholera outbreak kills more than 2,000. Yemen wedding bombing: 30 killed. Death toll in Yemen conflict passes 10,000, 20,000, 50,000. More than two million displaced. The headlines are a daily drumbeat of horror, staggering and staggeringly steady.
A floor seat at a basketball game has a powerful cultural weight. It helps that it’s the best and most exciting way to watch a basketball game, but it’s appeal goes beyond that. Those seats are where celebrities and investors go to see the game and be seen watching that game—a badge of wealth and prominence that’s priced accordingly. Even at the shittiest and least consequential game they go for around $1,350. At Oracle Arena, during the NBA Finals, they went for anywhere from $15,000 to $90,000 a game.
The NFL, a league whose defining characteristic is how much it wants more money, wants that courtside-seat money, too. They want Tony Robbins gesticulating at players a few feet away . They want people to talk about NFL Field Seats™, and they want every team to build them so that they can show that football—which is very rich but not terribly glamorous—can be a luxury sport, too. NFL owners are experiencing some acute economic anxiety, after all, given that they had to split a pot of just $7.8 billion between their teams in 2017. Something must be done.
Of course Anthony Vallejo knew about The Streak. He wasn’t overly concerned about it when he enrolled at St. Louis College of Pharmacy this past fall, but, during his recruitment, the 6-foot-5 guard did ask head coach Danny Brown why the team hadn’t won a game since November 2014.
INDIANAPOLIS — At 1:12 a.m., my phone lit up with a text. It was one of my spies telling me the party had arrived.
“Michael Irvin and Sean Payton talking,” the message read. “It’s on.” Then, a moment later: “And the Jerry bus is here. Jerry walking in.”
The Cinderella-est story of the schoolboy hoops season in the Washington, D.C., area came to an end over the weekend. It turns out the year’s most fantastical feel-good tale really was a fantasy after all.
NEW ORLEANS — Back and forth they went, both sides snapping off data points and counterpoints in a careful effort to leverage whatever they had. They were so into the task at hand that neither the thunderclaps from outside nor the 10-minute warning could interrupt their banter. They were teams of law students from Chapman and Villanova universities, they were representing an NFL team and an agent, respectively, and they had to get a contract done for defensive end Ziggy Ansah. They were running out of time.