Saturday, March 03, 2012

Not to Go All FJM On You...

I'm not a huge fan of ESPN: The Magazine. OK, I've subscribed for several years. This is largely because A)I get it dirt-cheap and B)it makes decent throne reading, but there's a certain formula there that's never grabbed me. On average, a given issue is going to feature one story about a perceived-bad-guy-who's-shown-to-not-be-so-bad, a big glossy spread on one of the minor sports ESPN is trying to push in its programming, a reprinted Bill Simmons ramble, and a whole lot of infographics. Nitty-gritty sports content of the sort I used to get from The Sporting News, not so much. Then again, TSN's gone all strange and occasional, and ESPN took that opportunity to transform its print edition into a dead ringer for TSN's old format, so what the hell do I know.
The latest issue, the slightly hyped "Analytics Issue" (as opposed to the heavily hyped "Let's Get Professional Athletes To Take Their Clothes Off Issue") does have some good reading in it. The piece on the efforts Stan Conte is making to quantify injury data? Very cool. The piece on A's pitcher Brandon McCarthy? Great stuff. And then, at the back, there's a thoughtful column from Chris Jones about a time he sat down with former NFL running back and widely mocked iconoclast Ricky Williams.
Jones makes some good points in the piece, most notably talking about how there are very real people who aren't emotionless robots playing the game, and that Williams overcame a lot more than Miami's lack of a decent pulling guard to play in the league.
But before you get to any of the good stuff, you get this:
When I first met Ricky Williams, he was in the kitchen hut in a commune-turned-campground outside Byron Bay, Australia, squeezing the juice out of a giant stalk of celery before he headed back to his tent to finish reading a book called Gardeners, Gurus & Grubs.
Great lead, right? And then it's followed by this:
That sentence could not be written about any other athlete in the history of the world.
Or at least, any other athlete not named Ricky Williams.
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