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'Sports can’t sink much lower than Mayweather-McGregor' and 25 more of the best articles from 2017

Featuring Wright Thompson, Marina Hyde, Paul Kimmage, Rory Smith and many more of the finest journalists out there.

Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) defends against a punch by Conor McGregor during their super-welterweight bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (L) defends against a punch by Conor McGregor during their super-welterweight bout at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Image: UPI/PA Images

1. I arrived at 7.45 and sent a message to his room: “Anseo.” Five minutes later, we were shaking hands in reception. “I was taking a bit of a chance there,” I smiled, pulling up a chair. “Wasn’t sure you’d know what that meant.” He pulled his phone out of his pocket and flashed the most brilliant grin: “I had to Google it,” he laughed.

Paul Kimmage’s two-part interview with Rory McIlroy is one of the most entertaining and illuminating pieces on the golf star that you are ever likely to read.

2. School is about to break up and the memorial means the kids from the Holy Child Primary that stream out onto Central Drive will always be aware of the area’s history. Their present is shaped by the past. McClean is their modern-day idol.

Outside of here, he can be depicted in less flattering terms. The aggression when he’s on the pitch and the tackles, the tweets, and maybe even the tattoos, are used to cultivate an image. And in November, the month where there is a space on his shirt where every other professional footballer in England wears a poppy, that image can be spun into a caricature. There are people who see what they want to see.

But to understand James McClean, one must understand Creggan. This can be the only starting point for his story.

Dan McDonnell’s long read uncovering James McClean is well worth a few minutes of your time.

3. “He can be himself,” says a local historian and professor, Rusel Barroso. “One day he was in town driving and someone asked him to stop for a photo. It was in the middle of the street but he got out anyway and suddenly everyone was coming and the traffic was halted. But nobody could care, least of all Diego.”

Ewan McKenna on ‘The Great Contradiction of  Diego Costa’ is a must-read for anyone seeking to fully understand the talented but temperamental striker.

4. “Where to start? During a four-day “international press tour” in mid-July, Mayweather called McGregor a “pussy” and a “bitch” so often that they seemed less like epithets than verbal tics. McGregor responded with some “bitches” of his own and a custom-made pinstripe suit with the words FUCK YOU printed on it, before telling Mayweather to “dance for me, boy.” He then called Mayweather illiterate and in an interview referred to African-American sparring partners as “monkeys,” a day before he insisted he couldn’t be racist because he’s “half-black from the belly button down.” Mayweather responded to this level of discourse by calling McGregor a “faggot.” This was over four days. The fight is still four weeks away. I’m not sure we’re going to survive long enough to witness the actual fight. I am not sure we will want to. This is making the living envy the dead.”

There were plenty of Mayweather-McGregor articles in 2017, but few if any were more eloquent in expressing the sheer indignity of this fight’s build-up than Will Leitch in New York Magazine.

5. Their concern has always been how much the IRFU really care about the women’s game?

“Yeah, how much of a shit do they give? That goes down to club level. I am highly involved with Galwegians. I’ve been highly involved in the committee structures of Connacht rugby. You are looking to get things done, to grow the game and the attitude is ‘Of course, we are really supportive of our women’s team, sure we have one’.’

Gavin Cummiskey’s interview with Ruth O’Reilly in the wake of the Irish women’s team’s Rugby World Cup had some explosive lines and caused no shortage of controversy.

6. “Like, I come from a big family. I know better than anyone that you have to earn your crust and get on with other people to be a success. I remember having it out actually with Mam and Dad one day. Just telling them that I wasn’t enjoying it, that I was sick of that perception that was out there. For a few years, every time we lost, it was nearly on my head.”

Vincent Hogan’s piece with Joe Canning contained plenty of insight into what makes the Galway hurling star tick.

7. The life of the Superbowl winner is supposed to be measured in script. Be it abstractly in the length of their contribution to the ‘history books’, or more practically on websites, in dusty records books, on photo frames and plaques. If playing is ephemeral, then winning is eternal.

George Visger is a winner. His emblem is the 1981 Superbowl with the San Francisco 49ers, and his life is measured in script. Exhaustively.

Gavin Cooney of Balls.ie details George Visger’s Battle With Brain Injuries And The Hypocrisy Of The NFL.

8. Quagliarella, now with Unione Calcio Sampdoria and a three-time Serie A Italian champion, sat down with Bleacher Report and spoke in stark detail about how a stalker was able to penetrate his inner circle and victimize him and his family for years. B/R also tracked down Quagliarella’s stalker, who spoke for the first time about the verdict and the aftermath of the trial—and who had a revealing reaction to the mention of Fabio Quagliarella’s name.

Kelly Naqi of Bleacher Report goes ‘Inside the Stalker Hell of Italian Footballer Fabio Quagliarella’.

9. Shane Donohue was in the Lower Hogan when he heard his brother’s name, surrounded but alone. In the truffle dig for All-Ireland tickets, he had ended up getting separated from the pack. His father Francie was over in the Cusack Stand, his mates and clubmates dotted all around. You know the way it is for a final – you take what’s going and the stranger at your elbow is a friend for life for the afternoon.

So when the Galway captain paid tribute to Niall, Shane stood there with thousands of Galway fans around him feeling as if he was in an empty room. In the days that followed, Burke was praised the length and breadth of the country for his speech, for the first ever mention of depression from the steps of the Hogan Stand especially. Standing there, a dot in the thousands, Shane Donohue was an audience of one.

The Irish Times’ Malachy Clerkin writes movingly about the late Galway hurler Niall Donohue.

10. Frey was a can’t miss kid in sportswriting in the early 1990s. Just months out of Harvard, she was subjected to a high-profile episode of sexual harassment on the job. In response, Frey spoke forcibly and with righteousness for her gender and her profession in print and on national television as the controversy over women in locker rooms crested.

“There is a lot of talk about the players’ indignation at being forced to allow women into their dressing room,” Frey wrote while still an intern at the Miami Herald. “Few people are aware of the indignities felt by women beat reporters who are frequently harassed by athletes who do not understand that the women are there to do a job, not enjoy a peep show.

“It is not fun for a woman to go into a male locker room. It is not exciting. It did not ‘turn me on’ when a major-league baseball player dropped his pants and asked me to evaluate his anatomy.”

Dave McKenna evocatively recalls the rise and tragic fall of Jennifer Frey, ‘The Writer Who Was Too Strong To Live’.

11. The digital clock above the door in Pat Riley’s presidential suite counts down the minutes to tip-off. The room is in a back hallway underneath the arena, a few feet from the secret path beneath the bleachers that he takes to his seat. I sit on the couch and read a laminated prayer card the team made for the game. Nobody else is here; his wife, Chris, is out blessing different parts of the arena. Tip-off is 29 minutes away, the last game of the season. The Heat need to win and see one of two other teams lose to make the playoffs. Still no sign of Riley. For the past two months, he and I have spoken nearly every day, which continues to shock his wife, who knows how private he can be. But earlier today, someone with the Heat suggested I tread lightly. The boss is in a mood. A peak state of Rileyness.

ESPN’s Wright Thompson produces a typically brilliant piece on ‘Pat Riley’s Final Test’.

12. “The letter from Dan Ashworth [the FA technical director] said they wanted me to be part of this exercise as an ‘iconic England player’. They felt I was in a position, after 11 years on the England team, to speak about the culture. For many years I’d been a mouthpiece for the FA. If you look on YouTube you will see an interview with me for Show Racism the Red Card, wearing an England shirt on behalf of the FA. I know I would never have participated in an exercise like that [the culture review] and lied. Yet the irony is that lying would have saved me. If I had been untruthful we wouldn’t be having this conversation. To have said ‘everything’s hunky-dory, everything’s fantastic, I’ve had two great years with [the England women’s team manager] Mark Sampson and the culture’s great’ would have saved me. Telling the truth was more risky but I told the truth because I thought it was confidential. I trusted the FA.”

Daniel Taylor’s interview with Eni Aluko in The Guardian was among the most important pieces written in 2017.

13. On Wednesday night, a woman named Erin tweeted a series of screenshots announcing that Schultz is not actually Ryan, a married father of two studying to become a pharmacist. Instead, Schultz is a 21-year-old college student in the Midwest, whose entire career as an aspiring baseball writer has been under a fraudulent byline.

Schultz began contributing to Baseball Prospectus’s local White Sox blog at the end of the 2016 season and wrote for BP South Side and BP Wrigleyville throughout the 2017 season. Additionally, Schultz wrote for the SB Nation sabermetrics site Beyond the Box Score throughout 2017.

People who knew Ryan Schultz online say that in retrospect, some of his behavior seemed odd, but no one expected that this moody White Sox fan from Missouri would actually be a teenage girl.

There were few more incredible stories than Deadspin journalist Lindsey Adler’s article on the ‘Teen Girl Posed For 8 Years As Married Man To Write About Baseball And Harass Women’.

14. Nick Kyrgios, the twentieth-ranked tennis player in the world, stepped to the baseline. He briskly bounced the ball and rocked forward to begin his serve, his arms swinging. He has a narrow waist and strong shoulders, a greyhound’s look, and a greyhound’s air of languid indifference. Kyrgios, a twenty-two-year-old Australian, is the only active player ever to defeat Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, and Novak Djokovic in their first meetings; he has beaten Nadal and Djokovic twice, in fact, and came within a few points of a second victory over Federer earlier this year. “I think Nick is the most talented player since Roger jumped on the scene,” Paul Annacone, a former coach of Federer and Pete Sampras, has said. Kyrgios is also the most mercurial. Jon Wertheim, the executive editor of Sports Illustrated, once called him “tennis’ id.”

Louisa Thomas’ brilliant profile of Nick Kyrgios is a must-read for hardcore and casual tennis fans alike.

15. They cruise down the dusty, open road, the teacher and the pupil, the making of history only months away.

What a pair they are as they roll through the 115-degree heat outside Phoenix on Highway 202, the intense desert sunlight bouncing off the black Mercedes sedan. Together they gaze into the barren landscape dotted with saguaro cacti and mesquite trees, and both see the same vision: a future in which a woman playing Division II football on scholarship is no longer a mirage.

“You are like my second father, and you’re a huge reason I’m doing this,” says Becca Longo, the pupil, riding shotgun. “You’ve made this happen.”

Lars Anderson of Bleacher Report asks: ‘Is this the NFL’s First Female Player’.

16. It’s imperative to cut through the noise surrounding Colin Kaepernick’s current unemployment, and nothing is noisier than the idea that NFL teams will not sign Kaepernick because he is a “distraction.” It’s football’s laziest cliché, a catchall for anything or anyone a team might not like.

Stop hiding behind code. Stop trumpeting the idea that sports are the ultimate meritocracy, then shrugging and say “thems the breaks” in the face of a visible potential case of discrimination. It’s intellectually disingenuous at best, indefensible cowardice at worst and sounds eerily like the worst of past evaluations and coverage of black athletes.

‘Colin Kaepernick is called a distraction, but from what?’ asks Bomani Jones. Of all the pieces written on the controversial NFL star in 2017, this lengthy but incisive piece for The Undefeated was arguably the best.

17. Four years from now, if all goes as planned, Nico Mannion will be on your TV, playing for a big-time college basketball program, like UCLA or Duke or Kentucky. He’ll lead the offense fearlessly, rain deep jumpers and regularly dunk on fools. He’ll also own a bazillion free pairs of shoes, eat Oreos whenever he wants and have, like, a hundred thousand followers on Instagram. He might even have a girlfriend, though he’s not totally sure about that part yet.

The reliably excellent Chris Ballard of Sports Illustrated writes on ‘A Fifteen-Year Old (Sorta-Maybe) Basketball Prodigy’.

18. Kate Maston takes off from third base, barreling toward home plate. Waiting for her arrival is the opposing catcher, a 12-year-old boy who is a year older and almost a foot taller than she. He’s also in her way. No big deal. She’s quick and she’s nimble. She’s also unafraid. In a race to beat the throw and the tag, Maston instinctively gets low as she closes in on home plate. So low that she slides her slender 5’0″ body feet-first through the catcher’s legs. A cloud of red dirt engulfs the catcher and Maston as she touches the plate, setting off an explosion of deafening cheers. High-fives all around. Maston just gave her team a 7-6 lead in the top of the fifth inning.

‘A Team of Their Own’ by Jessica Luther of Bleacher Report superbly profiles the trials and tribulations of an all-girls baseball team.

19. Finally, Simone allowed him to speak of his nightmare: the plane plummeting to earth, the dozens of grisly corpses, the blood soaking every inch of his body. Sharing it—hearing Simone’s soothing words—allowed Neto to overcome his dread and ride the team bus to Chapecó’s airport, climb the stairs and board the jet for a Série A match the next day in São Paulo. He almost forgot the nightmare entirely when, on Monday, Nov. 28, Hélio and the rest of the team’s contingent—22 players; 21 journalists; 23 members of the team’s board, coaching and office staff; and two local boosters—got on a commercial flight to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, where they transferred to a chartered four-engine AVRO 146-RJ85 for its 1,848-mile leg to Medellín, Colombia.

In The Fairy Tale and the Nightmare, Sports Illustrated’s SL Price captures the tragic consequences of the Chapecoense plane disaster.

20. Initially, he was sure it was “not too serious.” There had been a strange sensation, coming from the outside of his right knee. “The same feeling as when you click your fingers, but without the noise,” he said. Aided by Max Sala, City’s team doctor, Gundogan got to his feet. He could stand. He could walk to the side of the field.

Sala thought it better if his game ended there, but Gundogan insisted he felt O.K. Despite the doctor’s doubts, Gundogan persuaded Sala he should be allowed to continue and trotted back into the game. The first few touches, the first few passes, went fine, but as soon as Gundogan tried to turn, he felt the sensation again.

Rory Smith of The New York Times tells the fascinating story of Ilkay Gundogan’s ‘Lonely Road Back From a Very Public Injury’.

21. I felt no real surprise when hearing that Foster wanted to talk publicly for the first time about his sexuality in this interview. Foster had not been tortured about being gay, or ashamed, and over the past 26 years he has lived with, and loved, two different men in long relationships. His family and friends are accepting and supportive.

Foster set eight world records as a freestyle and butterfly sprinter and won six world titles, 11 European championship gold medals, two Commonwealth golds and competed in five Olympic Games – even carrying the GB flag at the opening ceremony in Beijing in 2008. But he could not unlock a partially concealed secret about himself.

Mark Foster, an English former competitive swimmer, speaks candidly to The Guardian’s Donald McRae about his sexuality.

22. According to Rideaux, Tupac looked over the Long Beach Poly group, noted the collective youth and seemed to calm down. Around this point Knight had returned from inside the In-N-Out, and the players were equally shocked to be in his presence. “It was crazy,” Lewis says. “Not your ordinary rest stop break.” Tupac realized the teenage boys did not pose a threat.

Bleacher Report writer Jeff Pearlman’s piece on an unlikely encounter between a varsity football team and Tupac Shakur is one of the most entertaining pieces we’ve read this year.

23. Forgive me if the following comes across as naively euphoric. But we’ll only know it’s a truly watershed summer for women’s sport if we get through it without being overwhelmed by commentary on what men’s football could learn from it all.

They’re poorer but they’re a million times more dignified! They’re less watched but their crowds don’t have any hooligans in them! They may not have supercars but they have more nobility in their bus tickets than the entire Man City squad put together! They actually win stuff (like the chance to be used to mug off the Man City squad)!

The Guardian’s consistently excellent Marina Hyde asks: ‘Why can’t we celebrate women’s sport without relating it to men’s?’

24. “Someone asked me the other day when Odhrán crawled and I couldn’t remember. I don’t remember so much that happened at that time,” Flanagan reveals.

Football, eventually, provided a little respite but it was far from easy.

“The club started back in March, Mam was here with the kids so I went but there were nights I cried all the way up the road and back.

“It took all my energy to get in and train but it was an hour of your mind being turned to something else rather than thinking you were going to go mad.”

Not even a woman of Flanagan’s application and fortitude could face inter-county at first.

When Sligo boss Paddy Henry persuaded her back in 2015 she lasted just one session.

Writing in The Irish Times, Cliona Foley tells the moving story of Sligo footballer Etna Flanagan.

25. “Every night I was out until six. I was like 95 kilos, swollen from the drinking and bad food. I said: ‘This can’t be me, I don’t want to be that guy. I have something inside: I’m a football player.’ I called my friends, two real friends, and they came. Together, we cleaned out my fridge and the house. That day, I said: ‘No, stop it.’ I didn’t drink. I didn’t go out. I started cooking; I wanted to eat healthily. From one day to the next.” Boateng clicks his fingers. “If I did it slowly, maybe I wouldn’t do it. I needed a clean break.”

Former or current Premier League footballers are rarely as brutally honest as Kevin Prince Boateng turned out to be in this interview with The Guardian’s Sid Lowe.

26. “I’m still sick to my stomach, and not basically because the Republicans won or anything, but the disgusting tenor and tone and all the comments that have been xenophobic, homophobic, racist, misogynistic,” Popovich said. “And I live in that country where half the people ignored all that to elect someone. That’s the scariest part of the whole thing to me.”

ESPN staff writer Kevin Arnovitz’s ‘Why President Trump ignites Gregg Popovich’ perfectly conveys the widespread sense of disillusionment with the former television personality.

The42 has just published its first book, Behind The Lines, a collection of some of the year’s best sports stories. Pick up your copy in Eason’s, or order it here today (€10):

‘They don’t give a f**k about you. After 15 years that was it. I was crying all the way home’>

‘As a group of players, we knew things had to change’>

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