This is the Sports Page
You’ll never guess what it’s devoted to.
Oh. Well, well done you!
When I wrote the piece below, which could as easily be in the Life is a Fountain Library Room as it could be here amid the Tony Trabert Signature Wooden Tennis Racquets and such, Sam Kerr was playing for a Women’s team in Chicago. She has since moved on to play in Europe where I’m pretty sure all the proper Women’s club soccer is now played. The h8ers in America can go suck it. Look for fewer and fewer Women’s World Cup Victories for the USA in the years to come.
Anyway, it’s about Sam Kerr, and my library:
We are holding a very fancy betting pool at my library to celebrate The Women’s World Cup. Because $20 here bought a person a randomly selected team and an also random Golden Boot Player (that’s the person who scores the most goals in the tournament), loyalties were widely distributed and the library fanbase was scattered across 24 teams.
That was until Australia’s Sam Kerr was briefly interviewed following a dramatic come from behind victory against Brazil in game two. She said something to the effect of:
“We don’t listen to the h8ers. Me an’ the girls showed them and they can go suck on that one.”
Perhaps curiously, we all became Sam Kerr fans.
Then, five days later, Sam Kerr scored four goals against Jamaica to propel Australia into the round of 16. At this point Sam Kerr hysteria seized the library staff. Yellow and green started showing up everywhere. People were drinking Fosters in the break room at all hours. Walking by any conversation between co-workers here, one could catch the tang of fake Australian accents, and it was a matter of course to hear the phrase “The h8ers can suck it.”
Why Sam Kerr? What captured our imaginations?
We library employees are pretty civil people, not overly given to coarse language. And also we are in the USA where our team looks far more likely to triumph in this World Cup than a scrappy, mixed blessings Australian team with one great player instead of, let’s see, seven, no, eight!
But here’s the thing: These American women are great. They are admirable. They all seem like people who are going to do well in life. The look like they’d make good Vice Presidents, heads of marketing divisions, Directors of College Athletics Departments, big time Head Coaches. They seem like young, successful people, jocks, crisp and apple pie and strong and lean and off into the upper middle classes and beyond.
And good for them.
But Sam Kerr is easy to picture working at our library, angrily shelving away the afternoon, irritated beyond reason about misfiled items, muttering “h8ers!” to herself. One can naturally see her kicking our automated check in bins to get them working. It is no stretch to envision her here in our back room, grousing to her co-workers about some unpleasant patron, or the indignities of management, inappropriately uttering “they can suck it” as everyone awkwardly wanders away.
Media reviews are mixed at best about Sam Kerr’s intemperate remarks. There were plenty of commentators ready to call her classless or claim she was distracting her team. But you gotta expect that kind of noise from the h8ers. We at the library take no particular stand on Sam’s rustic expression. That’s not the point.
We simply recognize her somehow, for good or ill, as one of us.
Since Life is a Fountain is pretty close to empty all the time, it is about time I started doing more inscrutable things here, for my own pleasure. And if certain rooms here start to occasionally read like a private journal, so be it.
I have for six or seven years obsessively followed Barcelona Football Club. I watch every single game they play. But the question has been:
How much is that following the career of Messi and how much the club?
And the answer is slowly clarifying now that Barca has fucked things up so badly that Messi has had to find a new team, in Paris.
As it currently stands I am following both PSG (Paris) and Barca (Barcelona). But I am leaning strongly to PSG. Not only am I bitterly disappointed in Barca, but I don’t like their manager in the least, I even hate him a little, and the fan base that supports him as well, and I am fond of perhaps half their players.
Meanwhile new club PSG is wildly in the news as I write. And the end of the transfer window promises everything from wild changes to nothing happening at all. This, I’m afraid, is just how transfer window roll. In addition to Messi, a player I have the strongest of delights in, I also like Neymar, Hakimi in a seriously growing way (he is new to PSG, just like me and Messi!), Di Maria after a luscious Copa where Argentina finally triumphed, and Verratti.
I have found that when there are a variety of possible outcomes it is hard to remember what one originally hoped for. And, while this will likely be unintelligible to anyone who might read it, it might be useful for me to set down how I feel about the possible outcomes of this transfer window for PSG.
1 Lose Mbappe, sign no one new.
This is the saddest outcome and will make for kind of a miserable year of dreams smothered. But, I suppose, with expectations so lowered, wonderful things could happen out of nowhere, and be all the sweeter.
2. Lose Mbappe, sign Camavinga, and Ronaldo.
The sheer circus wonder of this is the best possible scenario, even if it may end in tears. I want it a lot, but think Ronaldo will go to City, probably. This is never the stuff I am good at predicting. And Ronaldo is over the hill. And I am blown about by every wind. But I would really like to watch this madness.
3. Lose Mbappe, make some interesting signings?
I don’t really know who. I can live with it, if I like the signings?
4. Keep Mbappe for one sad year.
Also a spectacle, albeit the one we were originally promised. I’ve come to resent this young Mbappe, who appears to be a coward, but one of those very lucky and talented cowards. But if he were to rise to play unselfishly, and with joy, with Messi and Neymar I could have some fun this season. A lot of fun this season, along with many other people.
My (almost certainly very wrong) predictions:
1 Mbappe stays and that’s about it.
2 The MNM trio is great even brilliant at points, but somehow not quite as brilliant or successful as one imagined. A great front line. A good team. And not quite… it.
3 Injuries will contribute heavily to point number two.
4 Hope will appear that maybe PSG will grab everything everything after some shaky starts. But ultimately they will fall short. The unholy soccer world will be unwholesomely delighted in this, embracing a bit of freakish luck as a writ of skill.
5 I am very Eeyore. I know. It will all be okay though because the Argentina Copa win meant so much to me.
6 And there’s always next year, maybe, though it will probably be Covid riddled still.
7 Oh, bonus. Barca will muddle along decently with some bright moments and I will be conflicted about their successes.
Over the last two days I have been on a feverish mission here at Life is a Fountain. I have been going into every room (this, as a reminder, is a room, specifically the Sports Room, and Life is a Fountain is at once a Website, and a rambling and mysterious mansion on the edge of town, full of, yes, rooms!), and I have been putting something new into each of the rooms (there are currently around 30 or 40). The reason for this project is that I went on vacation for the first time since I created Life is a Fountain, and then I was slow to get back to working on it when I returned, so I wanted a kind of freshening up, something new to be found anywhere anyone would go throughout Life is a Fountain.
I have now added something to every page. Almost all of it from more or less appropriate essays from the history of clerkmanifesto, my voluminous blog that has been reborn as this more wild Mansion in the Woods.
This page, or room, I mean, is the last of them to get something new. And the reason is because my extended inactivity in Life is a Fountain, the thing that caused it to coat over in dust, had to do with sports.
I came back from vacation and found, from out of nearly nowhere, the one athlete I devotedly follow, Messi, likely the greatest soccer player ever, was, for bizarre, complicated, and ultimately tragic reasons, summarily dropped out of his lifelong team, Barcelona, also the team I have feverishly followed for six or seven years.
I won’t try to explain this too much, though, honestly, I could explain pages and pages of it and still come up short. But in brief:
Messi did not want to go.
Barcelona did not want Messi to go.
And yet, nevertheless, due to financial mismanagement, the pandemic, labor laws, and some league rules, he had to go.
There were tears.
I followed the tears obsessively.
I think I was looking for how I feel.
I don’t know how I feel.
Messi is now playing for the Paris team, PSG. They are full of great stars. But soccer has a weird way of only sort of caring about that. You need a great team more than you need great stars. But you need great stars to make a great team.
Will you watch Messi and PSG, or Barcelona?
He is a Barcelona fan.
Messi made me a Barcelona fan.
I will watch both, but if it is too much I will watch PSG.
And if somehow the magic is all gone, I will watch the birds out my window.
Last night I took an hour to an hour and a half to share my thoughts here on my distaste for what could be called unnatural sporting events, particularly as they apply to swimming. Then, in the process of posting it up here, my careful essay was simply… drowned, sent to live with the fishes who ate it, or, to put it more simply, lost.
I was sad about this and went to bed.
Can I recreate my essay?
No, it was a lot of work.
But maybe I can try to summarize some of it, and once I get started who knows what’ll happen. I’ll probably get carried away.
I really don’t mind weirdo sports. They can be fun. But while one might want to experiment with an old fashioned sack race at a picnic, or maybe an egg on spoon relay, or play rock bocce ball while wilderness camping with your friend Grape, these aren’t appropriate Olympic Events.
I’m looking at you Butterfly Stroke.
There is no reason to swim like that, ever.
And while one might use the Backstroke because one is feeling a bit lazy about all the effort of regular swimming, what with one’s face in the water, no one needs to see who can do this the fastest in Olympic Competition. Likewise the breaststroke can be a nice leisurely way to venture about in the ocean, or cross a pool, especially if one wants to look more elegant than they would dog paddling, but it would be as silly to make a sporting event of it as it would be to make walking into an Olympic Track and Field Event.
No, don’t get me started on race walking! I’d prefer to pretend it has never existed.
And though I consider all of this sufficient reason to get rid of these sports from any serious competition, there is another, possibly even greater problem with some of these events.
Let us say, an overall issue of fairness.
Why does a great swimmer have an opportunity to win eight or, conceivable more medals in a single Olympics, when, say, the greatest shot putter to ever walk the Earth can only hope to win one single medal in an Olympics?
There is no good reason.
If the shot put were treated like swimming there would be the following events:
1. The standard shot put as we know it.
2. Combined shot put, where the throw distance from both left and right hands are combined.
3. The team shot put, standard.
4. The eight pound shot put.
5. The team eight pound shot put.
6. The oblong shot put, done with an oval shaped shot put.
7. The combined shot put totaling scores from the 16 pound left and right hands, the eight pound shot put, and the oval shot put.
I could easily come up with seven more shot put events.
Just like someone once did for swimming.
I am a great fan of Olympic Sports, and while I am particularly drawn to their purest, minimal versions; Who can run the fastest or jump the highest or lift the most weight, I willing to accept the sometimes very popular sports that people are really devoted to; diving or gymnastics or skateboarding, even if these sports are somewhat sullied by subjective scoring as opposed to purely objective measurements.
But I can only accept these sports when an athlete has a realistic chance at a medal in, possibly, a couple of events. If single athletes are regularly competitive in more than two or three (at most) events, then those events are almost certainly too tightly clustered together. The fact that almost no one can be competitive in both the 200 meter sprint in track and field and, the next distance up, the 400 meter run, speaks well of their distance spacing, whereas the fact that one can win a neck full of medals by doing the same four gymnastics events over and over is a disservice to every single-discipline silver medalist who ever competed in the Olympics. Why should they get one shot at a metal instead of six?
In my opinion relays are for picnics, and team events are suitable only in sports like Softball or Water Polo, where there is no individual aspect. Team gymnastics is every bit as ridiculous as team shot put would be. And while I accept that Michael Phelps is the greatest swimmer ever, his 28 medals is not an indication that he is 20 medals greater in his sport than Usain Bolt was in his. It is more so an indication of a sport that is over indulged at the Olympics, and is bloated with medal events.
I cannot change the IOC, or banish them from all sports as they should properly be, but I can try to hold in my head that until these simple, basic things are fixed, at the very least, some gold medals are worth far more than others.
Michael Phelps, at my underwater library, with the equivalent of 5 real gold medals:
I have barely touched this page since its creation. It is featured almost nowhere in Life is a Fountain, and being featured is like a door. Without the door it’s hard to get in. And in a rambling old website mansion, in a back room like this, with some old snowshoes and a few “Tony Trabert” brand wooden tennis racquets, we see so few people around it is hard to feel the motivation to put things in order for them . But as I am inclined to anticipate the lack of visitors so readily as I write on Life is a Fountain, I always have to come to terms with the one reader who is actually here as I write: You.
Does it feel more personal when you’re the only one here?
Look around. Take anything you want; that old UCLA pennant flag from the 60’s, a battered softball, a baseball mitt that was broken in wrong and is only used in emergencies. Better this catchers mitt than that messed up one! There is this soft tether ball with sawed off rope, and a badminton kit in a box. And this football seems overinflated, but it’s kind of cool and super old fashioned looking.
Don’t mind the dust.
I have a hard time writing about sports because of its temporal nature. Maybe also due to its emotional nature. I have a nice description of a Messi goal somewhere, and I’ll probably dig it out and put it on this page eventually, I guess that’s a timeless idea. But my feelings about a World Cup group match is less compelling literature. And as I sit here with genuinely wild nerves over a Copa America Final, my analysis would have a shelf life of seven or eight hours. Us not knowing how Messi fares in what is probably his last chance at a title with his National team, Argentina vs. Brazil, puts us on flat ground, in a shared reality. But you as a reader being able to know what happens by the time you’re reading this, gives everything I write about it a kind of stale feeling, makes it old and dusty. Every guess and prediction, no matter how accurate it turns out, still feels just a little off, a little wrong. Antique.
Messi, the greatest soccer player ever, who has yet lost final after final with his national team, now goes up one more time, against a better team, to take his chances. A story is being written. Aye, the story is finished. But we in the story don’t know at this moment how it goes, even as every sign is all around us.
I can only say this:
I expect disappointment, but I cannot kill the hope.
A case in point is even in something as innocuous as what I posted below. Sha’Carri Richardson was booted from the Olympic team for testing positive for Marijuana (?)! Does it make the moment below less sweet?
Well, yeah. And I am only not deleting it for awhile as an illustration of…
Maybe that sports often get ruined by Sports.
I don’t know what that means either.
This is possibly the best sprinter in the world, the flamboyant Sha’Carri Richardson, after just qualifying in the U.S. Olympic Trials. This is worth a watch just because it’s very sweet. It starts in the middle of the clip and if you watch more than a minute or so I think they show the race as well (10 seconds and a bit more), I mean, if you want to see that too.
Recently in this space I was extolling something delightful my local indie alternative rock station was doing. The Current, a public radio station, was running down the best 893 (because their call number is 89.3 FM) songs since the year 2000, as voted by listeners. My point was that democracy made for great radio. And it did, especially when we were in the 500’s and then later the 300’s.
But I had an inkling that there might be a problem for me going forward. And I was right.
The higher we went on the list the more my sense of competition and judgement crept into it.
Avant Gardener by Courtney Barnett at 274 is an entertaining and interesting song, and one I just enjoy on its own small and appealing merits. But this song placing at 51, where it actually is, becomes a little irritating. Is it hundreds of songs better than Cat Power’s lusciously sad The Greatest? Could it possibly be a hundred places better than The White Stripe’s Ball and Biscuit, the greatest rock guitar masterpiece in 30 years?
No. It’s not.
It’s a nice song Avant Gardener, but it shows up very poorly against these other two songs. Very, very, very poorly. And down here in the top 100, or even more in the top 50, it gets harder for me to listen without all the context of competition.
This year I faithfully and with much delight watched Messi and The Barcelona team play a season’s worth of brilliant soccer. Messi astonished at every turn. I witnessed unworldly, wondrous things. And then late in the most important and contested competition of the season, with a seemingly unassailable first game lead, Barcelona were crushed, stripped of dignity, and summarily tossed out of the competition. I can barely express the devastation I felt. The joy of 40 games of soccer were stripped from my heart in roughly 30 minutes.
As I write the 893 songs count down slowly in the background. Number 42 is playing right now. Everything in its Right Place by Radiohead. I breathe a sigh of relief. With a song like that everything really is in its right place. But it’s all on the line now. Will I feel so approving about the next song? It’s all in my nature, and in the nature of competition. Less fun, more tension.
I have no solution here. Competition provides focus and clarity. It can filter excellence up, all in good fun. But it never knows when to stop. It’s only for the strong. It breaks hearts. It always, always, always gets too serious.
And it always ends in tears.