MICHAEL MOYNIHAN: Engaging in a different kind of sports debate

I stumbled across a very interesting chat the other day between Malcolm Gladwell and Bill Simmons on the future of American football - and whether it has a future.

This is a theme that popped up in a conversation I had with writer Chuck Klosterman, soon to be seen here, but what caught my eye was Gladwell’s ‘second conversation’ theory about sports.

The author of Blink, Outliers and other books suggested that there are at least two conversations going on about each sport at all times. One is what happens in terms of scores and events and plays on the field, and then there’s a second, which puts the first in a much broader context, a follow-up discussion which runs both parallel and perpendicular to the game itself.

In baseball terms, for instance, Gladwell saw the ‘second conversation’ as essentially ‘the Moneyball conversation’ about numbers and data and so on, one that shadows the ‘first’ conversation about a particular game or team or season.

In basketball the two conversations differ again, he said: “. . . an obsessive first conversation about a beautiful game, and a great second conversation about how basketball has become a mixed-up culture of personality and celebrity.”

Simmons, never one to back off a good idea, certainly doubled down on this idea of second conversations: “For college football: Should they pay the players?

For college basketball: How do we stop one-and-done?

For golf: Will Tiger ever get his mojo back?

For tennis and men’s soccer: Why is America getting its ass kicked?

For women’s soccer: How can we convince Americans to care beyond the World Cup and the Olympics?

For UFC: Can it thrive long term with so much superstar turnover?”

One and done?

We can come back to that sometime, but the two men agreed on the second conversation when it comes to American football. Concussions, and what those indicate for the future of that game.

In future weeks I’ll be revisiting this very topic, having spoken to a couple of former NFL stars about this while in Lisbon recently. But you can see the attraction of this idea of the second conversation, and its applicability. Think of your own favourite sport and kick that one around: what is its second conversation? For hurling, for soccer, for rugby, Gaelic football, UFC, athletics?

Take it a stage further and look at Gladwell’s and Simmons’ breakdowns: how many of the US sport second conversations could be imported and simply tacked onto Irish sports?

There’s a different perspective for you.

The sounds of a sportwriter’s season

This is how December is. You’re rooting around trying to sort things out with your bag, say, the half-eaten sandwiches, the dog-eared match programmes, and one of those things to be sorted out is the dictaphone, or voice recorder, or the smartphone recorder, or whatever you use for your interviews.

Scrolling through them tells you the ups and downs of the sportswriting year. At the start of the folder there’s an echo to the conversations because a lot of them are held in empty corridors after pre-season competitions, off-Broadway locations where you can hear the clack of passing boot-studs: you can practically see the puff of January air with every answer. Occasionally there are a few notes of birdsong audible in the background.

Later on there’s a different backdrop. These are the post-championship game quotes, and the crackle of an after-match crowd is audible. The players are more animated, and often struggle for breath — they were playing in a provincial final five minutes ago, after all.

The contrast between the odd press conference which pops up is marked — with those events there’s the sound of the scrape of a chair being pulled out, a manager or player’s invitation to question, and a faraway query which just about makes it onto the tape. The other markers? Either the wince as a bottle of water is opened or long exhalation at yet another question about next Sunday’s opponents . ..

There are other textures. The sit-down chat over lunch means the odd answer is muffled by the tomato from a salad (never chips) being dispatched, or the glug of a (still and never sparkling) pint of water.

What happens to them? It won’t be long until it’s 2017, and you’ll need all that memory again. A poke at the DELETE ALL option and a year vanishes. Just like that.

Common sense at play on female foot

In a missive from the department of the obvious, I note that adidas have now released a new football boot specifically for the female foot.

Their two designs, called the Ace and X, have shorter and smaller studs than the male versions, and adidas claims the boots were engineered to specifically fit the female foot, having worked with players such as US team captain Becky Sauerbrunn.

I understand that adidas felt that women’s feet generally have lower instep and narrower bend, meaning the manufacturers had to create a new sole to accommodate the needs of women athletes.

As no-one has ever mistaken your columnist for Jimmy Choo, I presume that adidas are not joking with this discovery. It seems absurd to have taken this long to work out that there was a significant difference between men’s and women’s needs from their football boots.

Switched off: Gilmore Girls have lost a fan

I have to confess that I tuned out early from the Gilmore Girls episodes which popped up on Netflix. I count myself a fan of Stars Hollow and all its works and pomps, particularly the vast number of muffins on display at Luke’s Diner . . . anyway.

As soon as Lorelei compared Rory’s array of phones to the burners of Omar Little I was a goner.

Omar does not belong near the gazebo in the middle of the park in S. H., because I can’t deal with a universe where Lorelei et al are actually bouncing lines from The Wire off each other. Okay? Otherwise worlds are colliding. Worlds are colliding!

(A small prize to the first person to spot that reference.)


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