Strongman competitions, but even more, it is about the tragic death of one its own. It almost serves as a warning, too: Don't date your coach. Don't take performance-enhancing drugs. Check your trauma. But, it warns without heavy handedness.
It is written crisply and simply, though I know the reporting that went into this was anything but simple. The writing? Even more complex, likely siphoned through teams of lawyers, much less editors.
Give it a read. It's the best thing I've read this week.
(Oh, and if you can't read it because of the paywall, pay 99 cents and you get the NYT for a week. Set a phone reminder to cancel in six days. Support journalism, even with a dollar. Seriously.)
I'm so bad at keeping up with this, but that doesn't mean I haven't been reading great journalism, great fiction books, great non-fiction books. Since I'm on sabbatical, I'm actually reading even more than usual. But, since I have failed to update the blog, here is a list of the best works I've read since the winter:
* April 7, 2022: Inside an L.A. youth home where a violent clash ended in a counselor's death. Los Angeles Times reporter James Queally heard about a youth counselor being beaten to death by teens in an LA group home. He tweeted that he then spent the next year figuring out what led to this tragedy.
This piece just showcases what terrific reporting looks like -- finding and rubbing together public documents, conducting great interviews. Excellent piece of journalism.
* March 22, 2022: 'This Whole Thing Has F---ed Me Up': When the Raiders’ Henry Ruggs III drove 127 mph into a stranger’s car, a man living in a nearby garage rushed into the fiery chaos. Tony Rodriguez did not, ultimately, save Tina Tintor—and that haunts him to this day. This is a Sports Illustrated piece in the vein of the OLD Sports Illustrated, completed with a former senior writer for the magazine, Jeff Pearlman.
When I was young, SI was the pinnacle of sports journalism. It showcased longform before "longform" was a word or descriptor. The writers were pillars of what I, growing up, thought sports journalism was -- Gary Smith, Sally Jenkins, Leigh Montville, Frank Deford, Rick Reilly, Johnette Howard, Rick Telander. They told vivid, memorable stories.
Pearlman does exactly that in this piece. You aren't going to forget this one.
* March 15, 2022: Lia Thomas controversy surrounds NCAA swimming championships, incites national debate. There is no more divisive topic in politics and sport right now than the trans athlete. (That is insane to me, given that trans people make up .5 percent of the population and even fewer are competing in athletics, but I digress.) The topic includes biology, psychology -- all these "sciency" things. The topic is complicated, nuanced, sensitive. Behind the "topic," though, is a human being.
There is no better writer on all of this than ESPN's Katie Barnes. And Barnes hits this out of the park by making the complicated understandable with a non-judgmental perspective while still bringing the humanity out.
If you're looking for some great fiction, "Cloud Cuckoo Land" by Anthony Doerr is my favorite so far this year.
It has been a while since I posted, so I'm going to give you the best thing I've read this week and last week.
Let's start with last week. In the lead-up to Super Bowl LVI, there were so many feel-good stories about Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow and his small hometown of The Plains/Athens, Ohio. Athens, it turns out, is also my hometown, so I read all those stories -- and there were a ton of them -- with fondness.
But, the best piece to come out of Media Week in Los Angeles was a column by the Washington Post's Candace Buckner.
See, for every warm-your-heart story in professional sports, there is another to expose the gnarly underbelly of it all. And pro sports, my friends, are ugly.
While SoFi Stadium and all its ostentatiousness glimmers under the L.A. sun and now homes the NFL championship Rams, there was a story Buckner needed to tell about the city the Rams left behind (St. Louis) and the mess the shrine of a stadium has made in its own neighborhood (Inglewood).
Buckner pulls all the punches here and it is a brilliant piece.
This week, I finished the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction-winner, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson.
Given that an awful lot of what daily life is like in North Korea is largely unknown, Johnson fictionalizes life in the dark nation, but uses a lot of research to inform that fiction. It's part dystopian and part historical fiction, but also examines sacrifice, love and politics in a staggering manner.
Remarkable work that I won't soon, if ever, forget.
2019 FIFA Women's World Cup: Media, Fandom, and Soccer's Biggest Stage is available online and in hardback from Palgrave Macmillan.
Molly Yanity, Ph.D.