You're grieving for sports

May 29, 2020

When it comes to sports, I gather a lot of us feel displaced and anxious right now. Major sports teams provide entertainment and cultural identity to millions of Americans that’s moored to the seasons, tracking the fundamental rhythms of life, and the global pandemic has disrupted that expected progression.

It’s a huge loss and something we ought to name because collective grief is influencing when and how big time sports return.

The ballad of Bam Bewton: What I learned from playing a bunch of NCAA Football 14

May 22, 2020

Ahead of the 2013 college football season, Bam Bewton was a 6-foot-5, 238-pound quarterback from Iron Mountain, Michigan with the college football world tracking his every move. He’d just completed a stellar senior season in which he led his team to a state championship, he was the consensus top recruit in the nation, and he had yet to commit to a college program.

Adding the DH to the NL is a half-measure; here's the full measure

May 15, 2020

Should Major League Baseball owners and players agree that the National League would use a designated hitter if there is a shortened baseball season this year, it would make all sorts of sense. For decades, it’s felt inevitable that the NL would adopt the DH because players want another starting job, owners don’t want weak-hitting pitchers to get at-bats, and apparently the parties felt that coronavirus negotiations would be the right time to finally go through with it.

In recent years, I’ve come to to accept the NL’s inevitable capitulation on the DH, even though the DH, as a concept, still feels incorrect. Yes, every league I’ve ever played in — youth through high school through adult rec leagues — had some version of one or multiple DHs allowed in the lineup, but there’s something smoothly satisfying about a lineup that has nine players, all of whom hit and field.

But as long as there’s a DH in MLB, and we’re completely dispensing with symmetry and the principle that each player who hits is assigned a position in the field, it’s worth thinking about whether even greater specialization would make baseball better. What if the manager were allowed to use as many DHs as they wished in the lineup?

How fast was Michael Jordan, really?

May 11, 2020

At one point in The Last Dance, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams claimed he witnessed Michael Jordan running a 4.38-second 40-yard dash, which would be amazing today for a guy who’s at least 6-foot-5, let alone in the early ’80s. The New York Times reported a similar story back in 1983, so let’s say Jordan likely ran a hand-timed 4.3 or 4.4.

I don't believe he was that fast.

There has to be a better way to measure Jordan’s speed than anecdotes about hand-timed 40-yard dash times recounted in the service of fluffing up a great athlete’s legend. With a little digging, I think I’ve found a way to tell if Jordan was legendarily fast or if he was merely fast for an early ’80s college basketball player. (Spoiler alert: He was not legendarily fast.)

Is your newsletter fully yours? Before starting one, consider how independent you want to be

May 8, 2020

Substack on a screen

I love newsletters. I have five subscribers to the 29 Sunset newsletter as of this writing, and, as a writer, I love that this message goes directly to your inbox, where you’re notified of its existence and can read it at your leisure on the device of your choosing.

There’s something about email newsletters that feels more personal than when I choose to visit a website and browse its offerings, perhaps because email is a deeply personal medium, a platform where I’ve been trained to think of every message as being specifically for me, because that’s how it was in 1995 when I got my first email address. Of course, I get messages from companies trying to get me to buy things, my doctors’ health network sends me updates that I can’t figure out how to stop, and I know that all the newsletters to which I’m subscribed go to many other people, too. But this feeling that each email I receive was meant for me persists.

Newsletters have been having a moment the past couple years. At a time when the journalism industry has hemorrhaged money and jobs, a whole bunch of professional writers seemed to realize at the same time that instead of trying to start independent blogs, they could cut out most of their administrative costs and energy (or take a pass on learning a new medium like podcasting) by promoting and publishing personal email newsletters that allowed them to send messages directly to readers on an ubiquitous and stable platform.

More attractive, though, is that sites like Substack and Patreon have created simple ways for individuals to charge for access, and a few people have, so far, managed to make a living on those subscription fees. Others, like Dave Pell, whose NextDraft newsletter predates the current boom, and other, more corporate-inclined publications, have sponsors for their content.

But there’s one big problem with where independent newsletters are going that I think those publishers would be well-advised to consider: Right now, under the model most of them are using, their content lives on another entity’s URL and their design is so limited as to be effectively branded by the platform. Yes, the decentralized nature of email newsletters means archives are less important because the content also lives in multiple Gmail inboxes and archives, and sharing is as easy as forwarding. However, don’t you want your publication to be as unique as you are?