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NTSF 112: Misadventures in the land of the Giants

TOOLING AROUND THE NET…

  • Documentary examines struggle of gay baseball player Glenn Burke (Ann Killion/SI.com/09 November 2010) — Americans by and large are uncomfortable with anything that deviates from the norms they’ve imagined for their society. Immigrants who don’t fit the lily-white look of the original American populace, whether from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia or from the rest of the Americas, have known for centuries that they would face hardship upon reaching the shores of opportunity. Hell, half a century ago even Catholicism was a radical concept, one which split the country en route to JFK’s election. Since those days we’ve become a far more tolerant society. But that final frontier, acceptance of whatever sexuality with which a person is identified, still has a long way to go. No athlete currently plying his or her trade in the United States will admit to being gay, still stigmatized in a realm where machismo is a badge of honor. Killion does a great job reawakening a time and a person who wasn’t afraid to be honest about himself, capturing the sentiment of past and present perfectly with her final line: “We may think we’re all more enlightened these days. But would anything be different for Glenn Burke now?”
  • A life too short (Eleanor Oldroyd/BBC Sport/09 November 2010) — A year ago this week, German soccer lost their top man in goal when Robert Enke committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. The number-one for his club and country, Enke was suffering from clinical depression and hurting from the death of his two-year-old daughter. Oldroyd takes a look at the young German’s self-shortened life, why he decided to take himself off the planet, and illuminates the effect it has had on both those close to him as well as the wider German community. A year later, a country still mourns despite the successes of the past summer, left to wonder what might have been had Enke still been with us and able to compete in South Africa and where Hannover would be with their captain. It’s a sobering tale about the stigma that still surrounds depression amongst athletes.
  • Man-U’s Man Child (Brian Phillips/Slate.com/04 November 2010) — So Wayne Rooney is going to remain a Red Devil after all. We were left to wonder what had transpired between Rooney and Sir Alex Ferguson, what had prompted the young English star to request out of one of the world’s most well-known and revered clubs. But this was hardly the first time we’ve seen the dark side of Rooney. As Phillips notes throughout his article, Rooney has survived drinking like Gascoigne and an Eliot Spitzer-like love of ladies of the night. But nothing — not even denigrating his own compatriots as they booed the national team — has seriously injured his good standing with the public quite like the early-season spat with Ferguson and Manchester United.
  • The children of Bhopal still play (David Picker/E:60/10 November 2010) — Many of us have memories of an old sandlot or some other jury-rigged space from our youth, a place where the pockmarked ground and pebbles transpired into a field of dreams. It’s truly a universal concept, from the favelas of Brazil to the abandoned courtyards of the projects. In the Indian city of Bhopal it is no different, as kids from all around the poorer parts of the city make their way weekly to an abandoned factory that remains contaminated decades after its abandonment. For these kids it is a cricket pitch of unimaginable beauty; for the company that poisoned the earth it is an afterthought; and for the Indian government it is apparently perfectly safe. The reality is far from this alleged truth, and the long-term effects of this seemingly healthy exercise might have patently unhealthy consequences.

A NICKEL’S WORTH…

  • Call her 19-1-0-0, because Zenyatta was unable to displace Blame at the Breeders’ Cup Classic and thus missed her chance to be put to pasture as an undefeated champion. The six-year-old might’ve also missed her chance at being named Horse of the Year; after being pipped by Rachel Alexandra last season, it looks as though the one horse ever to beat her will find his way into being named 2010′s best. But what a career it was nonetheless for the horse, who helped reawaken some respect for the sport of kings with her late-charging style and theatrics. May she live on in our memories for decades to come… far longer than that excuse for a fight between Calvin Borel and Javier Castellano that transpired at Churchill Downs, for which both jockeys were fined as well as mocked on sports news ad nauseum…
  • It’s been some crazy times for the U.S. women’s soccer team, ranked number one in the world yet in danger of missing out on next summer’s Women’s World Cup after losing to archrival Mexico in qualifying for the first time ever. They still have an outside shot at reaching the finals, having dispatched Costa Rica 3-0 in a play-in match to earn the right to play a home-and-home series with Italy from which the winner will emerge with the final spot in the Cup. For a team that was once a Dream Team-like hegemon in the women’s game, it’s a far cry from the sports bra-flashing antics of champions past. But the dream still at least flickers a bit for the Yankees, a dream that would’ve been realized already if it weren’t for the heroic performance of a nation where the men have long dominated the Americans and the women have long played second fiddle…
  • First-timers pipped the field in New York City this weekend, as 26-year-old Gebre Gebremariam of Ethiopia won his first-ever race at the marathon distance and Edna Kiplagat of Kenya continued her storied 2010 with a victory in her first time running the NYC Marathon. Both Gebremariam and Kiplagat defeated veteran fields to emerge with the spoils. We were also treated to the final race of legend Haile Gebreselassie’s long and storied career. Earlier this year I profiled the Ethiopian star as he neared the twilight of his career, but I had no idea that Manhattan would prove his swan song. May Gebreselassie enjoy as much success in his life after running as he did during his two decades of dominance.
  • So Felipe Massa didn’t receive a jail sentence at the Brazilian Grand Prix, but it was his Ferrari teammate Fernando Alonso who nevertheless took third behind Red Bull drivers Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber and set up a tight finale in Abu Dhabi in a few weeks. Alonso remains in the lead in the race for the driver’s championship, though Webber and Vettel are now both within fifteen points with one last race left to go. Red Bull already has the manufacturer’s championship in the bag, their 1-2 finish at Interlagos sealing the title for Adrian Newey and his crew. It’s been one hell of a year in Formula 1, and we’ve still got plenty of suspense to carry us through the finish. Be sure to tune in next weekend as one of these three drivers takes the title…
  • And where would we be without talking about Alberto Contador? The beleaguered Spaniard, who is in danger of losing his 2010 Tour de France title and suffering the indignity of a two-year ban from his sport, saw the UCI formally start the proceedings toward sanctioning him for his clenbuterol positive from July. I’ve said from the beginning that it’s going to be difficult for Contador to pull off his tainted-beef defense; in every previous clenbuterol test case, even the ability to prove a supplement was tainted has not prevented an athlete from receiving punishment. So while Contador will continue to fight these charges, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll see him racing at next year’s Tour — or the one after that, for that matter…

FOLLOW NON-TRADITIONAL SPORTS FAN

ZACH BIGALKE HERE!

So yeah, this has been one crazy week in my world. I can now check another one of those places to visit off my list, though even the downsides of the vacation couldn’t prevent me from going back sometime in the future. Maybe next time, though, I’ll have to make my way a little further south. After all, now that I’ve got an acquaintance there who actually has seen the whites of my eyes instead of just the white spaces between my letters there’s another justification available for the road trip.

That’s one of the great things about sports. As my wife was saying while we sat around watching football, part of the beauty of sports is that it gives its fans an instant connection with one another. Guys who have spent innumerable hours talking together online can mesh seamlessly, without any discomfort in their initial face-to-face meeting, simply by having a link across time and space. Whether you’ve delved into the world of the traditional or the non-traditional, you’ve tapped into a wellspring of experiences and memories that bind us fans all together via events shared remotely and vicariously across state and national borders.

As you dive into the next week, it’s an instructive lesson for all of us who are prone to talking online at great length with others. There’s another face on the opposite side of that interaction, another fan with hopes and dreams just like you. We all might root for different teams, but we’re binded by the sports we love and the history that links it all. So dive on out there, meet somebody new, take a chance… and don’t fear the shifty homeless guy digging through your personal belongings. After all, in the land of the Giants, perhaps he was merely pretending himself to be a 49er or something as he ran from the scene of the crime. (And maybe that now-moribund franchise could use that foot speed lurking right there in their own city…)

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Zach is a writer and editor who covers a wide array of sports both traditional and non-traditional. Formerly the managing editor of Informative Sports before joining Sports Nickel, Zach has been covering events international and domestic for various publications since 2006. Find him @zbigalke on Twitter.

Zach Bigalke has written 289 posts for SportsNickel.com

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2 Comments

  1. Oso says:

    “…even when I’m trying to be the most nondescript bastard on the block.”

    Somehow I cannot see you ever pulling off being nondescript with you Zach Galifianakis looks or your unusual take on life in general. Still, I guess a guy can always try.

    I hope the Mrs. is feeling better and back on her feet.

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