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Dublin: 12 °C Tuesday 19 June, 2018

Alcohol addiction in golf, the complexity of being number two and the week's best sportswriting

A fascinating profile of new Southampton boss Mauricio Pellegrino is also featured.

1. Hooper noted how the Soviet press covered the United States’s surprising victory over the vaunted Soviet hockey team at the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid. While American press reveled in the “Miracle on Ice,” the Soviet reporters focused on how Herb Brooks, the American coach, had once mentioned that he learned quite a bit about hockey from watching Soviets play. One article in Pravda allowed that the defeat had occurred, but stressed the worst part was that “our team’s disappointing ‘stumble’ occurred in a match with an opponent whose skill is clearly not the equal of ours.”

Russia v Slovakia - UEFA Euro 2016 - Group B - Pierre Mauroy Unlike the political media sphere, criticism of Russia's sporting prowess - particularly on the football field - is pretty substantial. Source: John Walton

Those times have largely changed, Hooper explained, but when it comes to events like the World Cup — or the 2014 Sochi Olympics — there is still the expectation that off-the-field coverage at least portrays Russia as good hosts during these global events.

“I think it’s clearly very different now,” Hooper said. “I think there is quite a lot of free room. But let’s be honest: there is explicit censorship on certain important stories that link the government to sports. That censorship is more deft than it was in Soviet times, but it definitely exists.”

To be sure, this is not a fully free press even in the sports world, and the conflicts can be seen on several levels. State-controlled media outlets like Russia Today clearly have a pro-Russian agenda throughout, but the tentacles of the government within private business can lead to the coverage of club teams — like Zenit St. Petersburg, which is owned by Gazprom, the Russian oil company — being less aggressive, even from more independent outlets.

With Russia currently hosting the Confederations Cup, ESPN’s Sam Borden looks at the country’s sports coverage and finds a big difference between it and the pressures of political reporting. 


The signature game of what baseball has become took place in Milwaukee on June 2. The Dodgers beat the Brewers 2–1 in 12 innings. What may sound like a thriller passed for a tedious revival of a Samuel Beckett play. Instead of waiting for Godot, the plot revolved around waiting for a ball in play.

Over the course of three minutes shy of four hours, 90 batters came to the plate and only 40 of them put the ball in play, or once every six minutes. Nine pitchers, all of whom hit 93 to 99 mph on the radar gun, including L.A. starter Clayton Kershaw, paraded to the mound to strike out a National League–record 42 batters. Nobody managed a hit in 13 tries with runners in scoring position. All three runs scored on solo home runs.

Reds Nationals Baseball Source: Nick Wass

Unlike most sports, baseball’s beauty is not only in its action but also in the anticipation of its action. The brief interludes allow conversation among friends, a pondering of the strategies and outcomes that may come next, and the hope—with caps turned backward and inside out—for the greatest excitement the game can allow, the extended rally.

That game is disappearing. In its place grows a game obsessed with power. It is driven by the pursuit of the most blunt of outcomes: strikeouts by pitchers and home runs by batters. Both outcomes, which render useless defense, baserunning and teamwork, happen more frequently this year than ever before.

Writing in Sports Illustrated, Tom Verducci ponders baseball’s slow, painful descent into the abyss. What happens to a sport when nothing happens?   


In 2013, she suffered a miscarriage. She reacted as if she had just lost a golf tournament, not a baby. It was part of her conditioning as an athlete, she said, “to get over it and keep going.”

“You don’t look back,” she said, adding: “ “It was another loss I kind of breezed right over. Like when I couldn’t play competitive golf anymore, I just said, ‘O.K., whatever. I’m fine.’”

But she was not fine, and alcohol became her form of self-medication. When Brittany became pregnant again, with Skylar, she said, she did not drink. But after the baby was born, the loneliness of caring for an infant while traveling from tournament to tournament with her husband upended her hard-fought sobriety.

PGA: AT&T Byron Nelson - Final Round Billy Horschel, pictured here after his AT&T Byron Nelson victory in May. Source: USA TODAY Network

“I was alone all day in a hotel room with an infant,” Brittany said, adding, “When Billy’s in tournament mode he’s really focused, which is fine, but even when he was back in the hotel room, he wasn’t really there. It started to wear on me.”

She did not ask for help, she said, because “I felt like that was my job to take care of my daughter. I felt like that’s what I’m supposed to be doing because I’m not doing anything else.”

Horschel said he knew his wife needed help when he started finding stray water or energy drink bottles scattered around the house that contained vestiges of vodka. He threatened her with divorce a half-dozen times. He professed his unconditional love for her. “Nothing I said got through,” Billy said.

The usual story is of the athlete who struggles with dependency issues. But for golfer Billy Horschel, it was a a bit different, as the New York Times’ Karen Crouse found out


The draft is a crapshoot where no one, no matter his pedigree, is a certain product beyond once-a-generation talents like LeBron. Years of hindsight undoubtedly clear vision. We now recognize the absurdity of a 17-year-old Darko Milicic being picked second overall in 2003, while Detroit bypassed proven collegiate commodities (Carmelo) Anthony, Dwaye Wade and Chris Bosh. 

“I could give a dissertation on that,” Joe Dumars, Detroit’s then-president of basketball operations told in 2012. “After I drafted Darko, from that point on, the amount of background we do on every single player that you see us draft is ridiculous. We do as much or more background than any other team in the NBA because of that.”

NBA: Draft Lonzo Ball was the most high-profile figure in this year's NBA Draft but what does it mean when you're the second pick? Source: USA TODAY Sports

“The background on [Milicic] was about 20 percent of what we do now. I look back on it now and realize you didn’t know half of the stuff you needed to know.”

The dilemma over how to handle the second pick has flummoxed organizations for years—most famously when the Portland Trail Blazers (with future HOF guard Clyde Drexler already on the roster) chose Kentucky center Sam Bowie over Michael Jordan in 1984.

“[Jordan] never misses the opportunity to remind me of that single oversight all those years ago,” Dr. Jack Ramsay, Portland’s coach at the time, told eight years ago. “And I’ve said to him, ‘Michael, we couldn’t draft you—we had players at your position. Had we known what you would be, we would have taken you and traded for a center.’ But Michael has a great talent for remembering slights of any kind.”

The NBA Draft took place this week, where the emphasis was more on 2nd pick Lonzo Ball than anyone else. Jonathan Abrams of Bleacher Report goes in deep on the curse and comfort of being the number two. 


Pellegrino once admitted: “Football was my school of life but I had a big deficit as a player: I didn’t enjoy it.” Now he believes he can help players do so and he has changed a little but that idea played a part in shaping him. “In Argentina football is cultural,” he explained to El País. “Losing is a drama; winning is only good because it means not losing. The social rejection you feel when you lose makes us very competitive.” Winning, by contrast, blunts your edge and avoiding that is something that preoccupies him. “Obsesses him,” according to one friend.

Spain: RCD Espanyol v Deportivo Alaves - La Liga Source: NurPhoto

Cañizares shared that attitude and laments its loss in the game but laughs when he recalls Pellegrino asking before the 2001 Champions League final: “What if we win? How will we get our humility back?” “Bloody hell, Flaco,” he replied. “Let’s just win first, yeah?”

The Guardian’s Sid Lowe pieces together a wonderful, intriguing profile of new Southampton manager Mauricio Pellegrino.  

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Eoin O'Callaghan

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