Bullying in the NFL, the couple who organised baseball fixtures, the basketball coach who exploded, the Irishman with the best job in the world and the fan who played for West Ham
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When Richie Incognito sent threatening text messages to his Miami Dolphins team-mate Jonathan Martin, he did not hold back – concluding them with the pithy: "Fuck you, you're still a rookie. I'll kill you."
When Martin reported the abuse, the NFL punditocracy did not leap to his defence. Rather, the men of this macho world turned on him, calling him a soft coward who should have honoured the code and stood up for himself in a more manly fashion. Not only was Martin bullied by his team-mate, but he suffered the indignity of being judged by the rest of his sport.
Brian Phillips of Grantland has dissected this reaction and tried to explain why so many of the sport's leading figures sympathised with the abuser rather than his victim: "This idea that Jonathan Martin is a weakling for seeking emotional help is some room-temperature faux-macho alpha-pansy nonsense, and I am here to beat it bloody and leave it on the ground.
"Every writer who's spreading this around, directly or by implication; every player who's reaction-bragging about his own phenomenal hardness; every pundit in a square suit who's braying about the unwritten code of the locker room — every one of these guys should be ashamed of himself, and that's it, and it's not a complicated story." Take that NFL.
Ten years' worth of Major League Baseball fixtures could generate more potential match-ups than there are atoms in the universe. That's a lot of possibilities for the 30 teams who play 2,430 games over 180 days every year.
For the past two decades, the job of organising the league's calendar has fallen to the husband-and-wife duo Henry and Holly Stephenson, who needed nothing more than a pencil and a piece of paper to work it all out. In this 30 for 30 short by ESPN, the documentary film-maker Joseph Garner discovers how they did it.
Mark Farrelly managed Everton to the Premier League title while playing Richard Dunne in goal for most of the season. Of course, as Farrelly explains in this piece for Balls.ie, his managerial experience is confined to the virtual world of computer games. But still, Richard Dunne.
Farrelly's undisputed managerial nous has not earned him the Premier League job he deserves, but it provides him with a good introduction to this interview with Niall Redmond, one of the programmers on the Football Manager games.
Redmond is a self-confessed "Football Manager hipster". Taking over at Everton would not excite him; he prefers the challenge of leading Woking through the divisions: "They're always in the conference with limited resources and the challenge of getting them up the leagues is a tough one. I've got them to the Champions League a few times but never won it … that's still the dream."
Mike Rice was just another college basketball coach until a video of him screaming homophobic slurs at his players, yanking them by their jerseys, shoving them, kicking them and throwing balls at their groins found its way on to YouTube last April.
After millions of people watched the video and millions more tuned in to see his outburst parodied by Melissa McCarthy on Saturday Night Live, Rice did not seem to have a future in the game. But he is fighting back. Rice has to fight back; there isn't much else for him in life. He was raised by a basketball-obsessed father to become a basketball-obsessed son and was only ever going to work in the game.
He was good at it. His players improved under his leadership and he made sure they did their schoolwork. But he could not handle losing and took his need to win too far. When his career was reduced to a few minutes on YouTube, the world did not like what they saw and he was pushed out of the sport he loves.
Jonathan Mahler spent a lot of time with Rice while building this 7,000-word profile for the New York Times. He discovered a complex character working in a complex job: "When you think about it, all of the words people use to describe [Rice] at Robert Morris [a college where he coached] — 'passionate', 'emotional', 'intense' — are not that far from 'out of control'. We tend to treat competitive sports, often justifiably, as a vehicle for all sorts of noble principles. But they are also, maybe more fundamentally, a realm in which men can behave like emotionally stunted rage machines.
"Anyone who watches college hoops is familiar with the sight of a coach in a suit and tie, neck veins bulging, screaming his head off. This may have something to do with the nature of the sport itself. Because basketball is so free-flowing, there's room for only so much strategy. A coach's ability to motivate his players – to somehow will them to play over their heads – is paramount. In this context, the raging coach seems perfectly normal. Out of context, you would be inclined to conclude the individual in question is seriously disturbed."
Mahler's character study of this serial winner who pushed himself too far boils down to a few simple questions: what is the point of sport; how should we teach; and can we really change who we are. Answering them is far from simple.
Few dreams come true during pre-season friendlies, but Steve Davies has a story unlike anyone else in football. You might have read about the day Harry Redknapp plucked him from the crowd to play for West Ham, but you can now listen to Davies tell the tale on this episode of Howler Radio.
For his latest interview in Boxing News, Don McRae met Nonito Donaire in a swanky restaurant for a three-course meal of risotto, steak and a creamy dessert. The pair dined in the build-up to Donaire's recent fight against Vic Darchinyan, which he won in the ninth round.
Donaire did not seem overly concerned about the forthcoming bout and spent more time talking about fatherhood than fighting. His relationship with his own dad has been complicated, but he has resolved to be an unrelentingly loving father to his young son. Donaire's honesty is refreshing, especially when compared to the trash-talking other boxers will trot out before fights. Perhaps more boxers should be interviewed while they are nursing their children.
When a Russian website polled readers on how they would feel if Zenit St. Petersburg signed a black player, the responses were staggering. Saul Pope has translated them into English on his blog The Slacker.
After meeting Tony Cascarino in his previous Irishman Abroad podcast, Jarlath Regan has spent some time with Paul Kimmage, the former cyclist who became a sportswriter and co-wrote Cascarino's autobiography.
Kimmage talks openly about life on the Tour de France, his award-winning memoir Rough Ride and his long relationship with Lance Armstrong. It's all fascinating stuff, but Kimmage really comes into his own while discussing how people react to his work. He has always endeavoured to tell the truth, but he maintains that most readers would prefer to be told the fantasy than have to face the facts.
Carving out a niche in the jam-packed world of online sportswriting is not easy. And for this achievement we must salute the mighty fine Match Day Burger, purveyors of local sport and meat reviews. Amid their lengthy sketch of the Clifton Cup Horse Races – where the horses play second fiddle to the old-fashioned country hospitality and prestigious awards for Best Dressed Lady, Best Dressed Young Lady and Best Dressed Man – reporter Nicholas Turner articulates a truth about where sport and animals meet:
"Allez Charlie is no wins from eight starts. I gaze at his awesome hind and wonder why he doesn't have the edge. He certainly has the motor. I give his ear a little bit of a flick and get his attention, and that's when I tell him that I know he doesn't know what's going on. An animal couldn't ever really cross over the intellectual divide to understand a concept as oxymoronic as 'structured play'. Sport, in other words. But I also tell him that there's good news in all of this. The good news is that no horse, no horse ever, has understood. And so if he, right now, is able to understand what I'm telling him, to grasp this concept and really and truly be the first horse to actually want to win the race – when all the other horses out there are slavishly responding in delay to kicks and whips – then he'll surely win today. All you've got to do, Charlie (I presume to use the familiar title), is want this arbitrary thing we call the win, glory, and all that stuff. And even though I've lost everything today and really need some good to come from the last race, I decide not to go too much into explaining to Charlie the concept of betting and how all that works, how it's the very fact that horses don't know what they're doing and can't explain what they're feeling that gives this event the eternal variable that enshrines it at the epicentre of sports gambling. That that's why we people are not as keen to gamble on, say, people racing. He's already got plenty to think about before the jump. Charlie does a quick shit then the strapper takes him off to get dressed. He looks good in the ring. Nervous, but good. This whole epiphany must have taken him by surprise, but I have faith that he'll digest it before they release the gates."
Football fans do not always come across well on film. On one extreme you have the crazed critics who ridicule their team if they don't win every game and on the other side you have the defensive fans who see no fault in their own club. In the middle are the down-to-earth supporters respected by everyone.
George Forster is such a man. The 87-year-old Sunderland fan set up the club's official supporters' club in 1965 and remains dedicated to the role 48 years later. He has sold programmes, pens and pies on match days; he raised £700 to buy goalposts in the 1990s; and he even shared a pot of tea with Steve Bruce when he took over as manager in 2009. Forster deserves this video tribute.
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2) Ranking boxing's 10 hardest punchers
3) European football review: players, teams and tactics
4) A guide to the language of Sunday League football
5) The best celebrations of the 1980s
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