The Sports Pages: some of the week's best sportswriting

Paul Gascoigne’s tales from the dark side of celebrity, the origins of the Honey Badger and an incredible tribute to the elegant genius of Roger Federer: its our weekly round-up of the best the web has to offer.

Roger Federer: genius in motion.
Roger Federer: genius in motion.
Image: Rick Rycroft/AP/Press Association Images

1. “The day after the crash, the hospital said I died twice in the ambulance.” He punctured a lung, battered his hip, smashed up his face. “I had to get all me teeth fixed. I had them all done ages ago at Glasgow Rangers, but I smashed nine teeth so had to get them fixed again.” Did his heart stop beating? “I don’t know. I was dead.”

Paul Gascoigne’s battle with addiction has been a long a painful one, for the most part carried out in the public eye. Now, a year on from the car accident that nearly ended his life, the ex-England international talks to the Guardian’s Simon Hattenstone about the burden of his public persona.

2. “When news of Sammy Wanjiru’s death hit Kenya’s newspapers, it cued national grieving for a hero — the first Kenyan to win the Olympic marathon. But in letters to the editor and street-corner conversations, another narrative emerged: one about a young man who acquired too much fame and fortune too soon.”

Only months removed from an incredible victory in  the Chicago Marathon, Sammy Wanjiru– arguably Kenya’s most talented distance runner– fell to his death from the second-floor balcony of his home in Nyahururu, Kenya. In her profile of the troubled athlete for Grantland, Anna Clark asks the question for which a satisfactory answer has yet to be found: did he jump, fall or was he pushed?

3. “One of the sports things that drives me crazy is when a television broadcaster will stick with a point despite the obvious evidence. This happens in football a lot. An announcer will say something like, ‘The quarterback didn’t have anywhere to go with the ball there,’ or ‘That was an incredible block by the fullback.’ Then the replay will come on, and it will clearly show a receiver running open or that the fullback totally whiffed on his block. But the announcer will not acknowledge it. He will ignore what everyone is actually watching on television and keep saying what he had been saying.”

Joe Posnanski, one of American journalism’s most astute sporting polymaths (not quite the faint praise it sounds!), turns his attention to the media’s fascination with plugging ill-conceived sporting narratives in this week’s Sports Illustrated.

4. “Fraternity brothers aside, few segments of the population have more nicknames than professional athletes. Some are clever, others are not. Many are inscrutable. So it was a few weeks back when Mitch Holthus, the radio play-by-play man for the Kansas City Chiefs, referred to a Chiefs player as ‘The Honey Badger’. This was new to me and other listeners—and the naming happened so quickly that many fans couldn’t even tell which player Holthus was referring to.”

Reeves Wiederman, writing fro that onlint monument to the art of pedantry, the New Yorker’s blog, turns his attention to Yankees podgemeister C.C. Sabathia and the etymology of his most recent nickname, “The Honey Badger”.

5. “I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.

Anyway, that’s one example of a Federer Moment, and that was merely on TV — and the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love.”

If for no more significant reason than last month marked the third anniversary of his untimely death, it’s time to revist David Foster Wallace‘s stunning essay-length hymn to the genius of Roger Federer: “Federer as Religious Experience”. A must-read, and still available on the New York Times website.

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6. “Two years later, Davis was drafted into the US Army. He took over as the head coach of a military football team at Fort Belvoir, Va., that would lose only two games during his two-year tenure. Typically, he left a trail of controversy. His alleged methods for landing former college and pro players who had been drafted into military service nearly led to a congressional investigation into athletes receiving special treatment.”

The owner of the Oakland Raiders, Al Davis, who passed away yesterday at the age of 82, was an entrepreneurial dynamo and gifted managerial innovator. Over the course of an extensive obituary in the Los Angeles Times, Sam Farmer paints a portrait of a man whose lasting influence will be felt far beyond Oakland.

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