If cable TV has a rock star, it is not a music network, but ESPN. It keeps behaving badly and just keeps getting more popular. Those Guys Have All the Fun is an oral history of ESPN’s rise to “world domination.” The book could have been titled how to make a television network from scratch, warts and all, completely uncensored. For those of you who hate sports, I should have said upfront that the story of ESPN is a compelling American odyssey involving all sorts of people and from all walks of life. It is a story that transcends the knocking of balls and cracking of skulls. It is the American dream realized. It is our collective nightmare. Maybe that’s hyperbole. It is a story of big personalities, big money, sex, and TV.
ESPN started as a family business made possible by intra-family loans. The network grew as cable grew – truly home grown in the nowheresville town of Bristol, Connecticut. Eventually, real money gets involved – Mickey Mouse money. Yes, Disney bought ESPN. You’ll learn why your cable costs so much. Hint: it has something to do with Hank Williams and Monday night. Miller and Shales don’t turn a blind eye to the entrenched culture of sexual harassment at the network. Think Mad Men but as a qualification to get hired at this agency you have to be a sports fanatic. Yeah, it was bad. Racial tensions within the network were a microcosm of racial tensions in our culture at large. This continues to this day. With matters of race and sport tied so closely together, how could it not?
Some have criticized the book for letting ESPN off the hook. If Those Guys Have All the Fun handled its subject with kid gloves, I’m afraid of what a more rigorous examination would look like. Differing points of view on controversial subjects were all given a chance to make their case. I listened to the book on Playaway. The weight of its length is lessened by multiple narrators. With different male and female voices, it feels like you are in the room while the interviews are happening.
I stopped paying for cable years ago but can enjoy much of ESPN’s programming via their Podcenter. There you can find streaming and downloadable versions of their radio and TV talk shows. I still unwind most work days by listening to Around the Horn featuring my favorite sports writer Kevin Blackistone. He was the only commentator on the show brave enough to call out the press for making such a fuss over the “death” of an imaginary woman whenever there was a real death at Notre Dame that went conspicuously under reported.
Oh, and the Super Bowl? I’m rooting for coach Harbaugh.
Somehow discussions of T-Day’s favorite roasted bird ended up being about the best audio books to listen to in your car when traveling this holiday season. You’ll learn what a poult is. We end with what is tickling our fancy and what we really think of ABC’s television series Nashville.
We all know the real star of the Olympics is Bob Costas. Unless they are using an android instead of the real Bob Costas. We’ll figure it out. Also, we celebrate the birth of Alfred Hitchcock and the mourn the death of Ernest Borgnine.
Just in time for football season, check out this character study of obsessive New York Giants fan Paul Aufiero (comedian Patton Oswalt, in a remarkable performance). After some overzealous stalking of his favorite player leads to an assault, he has to decide where his loyalties lie. Some of the best moments are the nightly calls he makes to his local sports radio show, as well as his rivalry with another frequent caller, Eagles fan Philadelphia Phil. Highly recommended even for non-sports fans (it was a Sundance favorite last year, and was directed by the screenwriter of The Wrestler).
You don’t run. You hate sports. You should read this book anyway. Not focusing on running celebrities or ego-maniac endurance athletes, McDougall profiles the Tarahumara tribe of northern Mexico. With a cultural tradition of ultra-distance running (i.e. 50-100+ miles), the Tarahumara are some of the best runners in the world and seem to do so simply for the joy of it. He compares the Tarahumara with a handful of American ultrarunners who have a similar approach, and, you guessed it, are some of the best in world. People who choose to run 50-100+ miles are kind of nuts. Born to Run is a kaleidescope of lovable whack jobs (in this it shares some resemblance to John Waters’ recent Role Models). We meet Zen kickboxers, self-declared Victorian sports experts, and sex cultists. One such turned-on-tuned-in-dropped-out runner, “Caballo Blanco” dreams of organizing a race between the Tarahumara and like-mined Americans. The story of the race is as inspiring as best sports tales without devolving into the pity fest cliches that ruin so many other true life sports stories.
A significant portion of Born to Run is a lot of science about human physiology and nutrition. McDougall aims to prove we are literally born to run. Many of the ideas are controversial within running circles. McDougall makes a good argument but definitely presents only one side of the evidence. I’m neutral towards the science. Much of the nutritional evidence is backed up in Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald, though said book is coming from a diametrically opposed philosophical direction. I don’t know if we were born to run. I’m not an evolutionary biologist. Isn’t it obvious though our lifestyle and food choices have sky-rocketed rates of cancer, diabetes, and heart disease? As was pointed out in the 1970s when running exploded with popularity, running helps prevent the aforementioned diseases. An uninterested reader could skip these passages and stick to the dramatic narrative about the race and larger-than-life racers.
As someone who has ran until I hallucinated and loved it, I loved this book. An ode to the joy of running, this book will not only inspire you to run more and have more fun doing it, but motivate you to get off your tukhus and accomplish other goals you thought were impossible.
This heartfelt film by the writers of Half Nelson realistically follows the life of a minor league baseball player from the Dominican Republic. With a stunning lead performance and an unexpected resolution, this is not your average sports movie.
Senior Sports Illustrated writer L. Jon Wertheim weaves an intricately detailed recounting of what all agree was an epic, thoroughly well played tennis match into a compelling multi faceted book.
This is a very descriptive portrait of each man’s differences, backgrounds, tendencies, technical strengths and styles, coaching entourages and personalities which leads up to the titanic Wimbledon final that was played over five sets and seven hours in July of 2008.
Many interesting behind the scenes moments, humorous asides and detours including how Federer met Mirka, his disdain for Djokavic’s “boorish” parents, Nadal’s family dynamics and upbringing, racquet comparisons and endorsements all add background color to the event. Even chair umpire Pascal Maria gets his time in the sun (or rain as it were) here.
One of the best tennis books I’ve read; an often witty and full account of the quirks and glories of Wimbledon, “The Championships” and of what makes both Roger Federer and the eventual ’08 Champion Rafael Nadal so outstanding by anyone’s standards.
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