Guess Where I’m Going This Summer?


Turns out that 1. the Women’s World Cup final is in Vancouver, which is basically Northern California, and 2. tickets are still available and not expensive, which is a little insane.

Also, I’m a little obsessed with the Women’s World Cup, which I wasn’t even totally aware of until this past summer it became very clear when people talked about the World Cup that I thought they meant the Women’s World Cup. What other one is there?? Come on, I’m of the generation of girls that all played soccer and grew up with Mia Hamm. Somewhere there’s a picture of me and my sister at a match at Soldier Field when it was in the U.S. in 1999—also the last time the U.S. won, so, maybe I’ll be a good luck charm.

Basically, how could we not go when it’s a short flight (or a long drive) away.

This is now the thing I am most excited about this year.

I’ve been having a lot of self-question moments lately in terms of: What kind of journalist do you want to be? And, even if you tell the honest version of the story, isn’t it still your version? And, aren’t you—even the best reporters—capitalizing on someone else’s story? And, who the fuck are you to judge anyway? Anyway. I’ve been having some kinds of questions like that. This story highlighted a lot of those issue for me. It was great. But, it also really made me think about how I would have written it. I don’t know that I could have or would have done a better job.

Maybe Skiing is My Thing


This is me looking super serious cross-country skiing. (Actually, it’s after we skied from the trailhead to the downhill resort and were taking a break while we tried to decide where to go.)

I am not bad at cross-country skiing. I am surprisingly good. It may be the first thing in a long time that I’ve been good at and liked right away—probably since I was unexpectedly fast at running my freshman year of high school. This isn’t to say I’m good. I’m just good for having done it only three times now. And, given that we have a lot of cycling and running clothes and aren’t unfit, Steve and I tend to look like we must know what we’re doing—until one of us wipes out. Also, cross-country skiing fun.

If I lived somewhere with snow and trails and could just go every day, I might get actually good. Or, not. The list of things that I’m pretty good at, but then never get much better, is a long list.

This is basically a Clif bar ad.

I am always fascinated, though, by what we could or might be good at. How do you know what you would be best at? What if you never find it? What if what you think you’re good at is simply a dictate of convenience and circumstance? I grew up without a lot of money in Chicago. Skiing was something rich people did, which is also what I told Steve the first time he wanted to go skiing. From Chicago, you pretty much have to fly to Colorado to be a skier. It was not something I would have ever known I was any good at.

The Australian Institute of Sport developed this series of tests a few years ago to find talent and most accurately direct that talent to the most appropriate sport for them, so that Australia could continue winning lots of medals and stuff. Man, I wish I could take those tests. I wish they had those tests for life too. And, then, that you also could still be like, “Nope, sorry, don’t feel like listening to your test. Just wanted to know. Still going to do this my own way. K, thanks.”

My way better picture of Steve.
My way better picture of Steve.

It turns out I’m actually not a terrible cross-country skier, which is unique solely in the fact that I’ve never been pretty good off the bat at anything involving coordination. But, all I tried was ‘classic’ or Nordic skiing. Because I was searching the difference between classic and ‘skate-skiing’ so much on my phone, Google recommended an article, which led to another article, which led to the fascinating and complicated history of the invention of skate-skiing in cross-country racing. Seriously. It’s weirdly interesting.

In Japan, teenage baseball players routinely pitch 700, 800, or 900 pitches over a few days. The lesson is in the doing to exhaustion, until your body has nothing left to teach you. It may also be why so many Japanese pitchers get hurt early in their careers, after coming to MLB. Or, it’s because they get soft in America and stop going past that point of failure. Either way.

Why the Judge Got It Right on Ray Rice

Two weeks ago, a visitor to one of my classes told us to write about how the Ray Rice incident has completely changed society’s perception of domestic violence. I’ve been putting off the assignment, because there’s only so many ways to say, “Has it, though?” But, given that the judge has now ruled in Rice’s favor against the NFL’s suspension, it seems like an ok time to finally find another way to say: It’s incredibly rare for any one thing to change everything. That’s not typically how massive societal problems are solved.

Putting aside the entire issue of rehabilitation v. retributive justice and whether (or for how long) a person should be punished before they can re-enter society, the judge’s decision still is not surprising. And, it’s not necessarily wrong.

What Rice did was wrong. Knocking someone out — unless they’re about to knock you out, which I think we can all agree was not the case here — is wrong. That’s why it’s a crime and why there are punishments outlined for that crime. That’s why the NFL followed its however-flawed protocols when Rice was charged initially. If those punishments and protocols are not appropriate, then they should be changed. (Clearly, they should be changed.) But, in our system, generally speaking, the rules can’t be changed after the fact. The guilty are meant to be afforded just as many rights as the innocent. It’s sort of part of the ugly beauty of the system.

And, that’s pretty much what the judge said. Seriously, read what the judge said. The NFL doled out its initial punishment and then changed its mind later. The NFL changed its mind not because any facts changed, but because suddenly everyone was forced to confront exactly how badly the rules needed to be revised. I’m glad we’re mostly all on board with that now and I’m sorry it took actually seeing someone get knocked unconscious by a loved one to finally believe that this happens, but our mass ignorance is not Rice’s fault. We may want it to be. We may want him to be punished more thoroughly for getting videotaped punching his wife. We may want to unleash all our righteous anger on a very deserving target. But, our desire to turn one person into a rallying point doesn’t make it so.

So often we want the particulars of any one terrible event to be such that if we resolve them then that absolves us of fixing whatever caused that injustice in the first place. If Ray Rice can’t play football, then domestic violence isn’t a problem. But, clearly, that’s not how it works.

The Ray Rice incident — as it has, unfortunately, come to be called — did not fundamentally change the country’s perception of domestic violence. It changed it slightly. It made slightly more people realize that domestic violence is a problem, particularly in situations where we give one half of the couple undue power and influence. It made an even smaller number of people start to wonder if football is inherently one of those situations. It made the press slightly more inclined to ask a few more questions. It made the NFL likely to change the rules for how it deals with future domestic violence assaults. Because there will be future domestic violence assaults — of course there will be, not that much has changed. Not yet.


It Literally Does Not Matter Who Wins

At the USC-UCLA game yesterday (which is, apparently, the big game around here, and for which they can’t call their pre-game bonfire a bonfire, but have to call it Conquest), I was standing in line for the shuttle and this guy behind me was making a lot of comments to his wife — or the woman he was possibly romantically involved with, or not, whatever — about how USC students and fans were stupid, ugly, and deserve to lose. He wanted her to point out where the end of the line was only to UCLA fans. He also hypothesized that the USC slogan, “Fight On,” was a prison thing.

This guy was in his late-50s.

The only connection he had to anything about the game was that some of the kids playing in it currently attend the same institution that he once attended. That’s it. No one playing personally insulted him. Unless he’s a big gambler, he had nothing riding on the outcome. It literally did not matter that some people at a school he attended a long time ago might win a sports thing. That really shouldn’t foster hatred or any strong feelings whatsoever, if you think about it.

And, yet, it does.

I have a hard time understanding this. Of course, I understand it theoretically. Of course, I watch the sports things. And, I root for people/teams and I cheer and I care a little bit, but, unless I personally know you, I don’t really care that much. The outcome of a game is not going to ruin my day — even the ones, like the USMNT game this summer, that I totally mistakenly believe “we” are going to win — unless I get beaten up by an angry opposing fan. And, when you apologize to me later in passing for the outcome of a game, it will take me some time to figure what you did to me. Because the answer is nothing.

I really dislike plenty of people, but I dislike them on an individual level. Like the guy standing behind me in line for the shuttle. I was starting to really dislike him, but not because he went to UCLA, because he seemed like probably a jackass.

Fun tailgating, where we made friends with the tent next to ours (even though they were possibly fans of the other team) and played games.
Fun tailgating, where we made friends with the tent next to ours (even though they were possibly fans of the other team) and played games.

We Don’t Have to Be the Best at Everything

Last weekend, I went to a Galaxy soccer game with one of my classmates. It was, apparently, the playoffs. And, the Galaxy won 5-0. It was all very exciting.

So much soccer.

It was also pretty full. And, soccer crowds, for all that they tend to be small, are scrappy. They make up for their lack of numbers with volume and enthusiasm. I know that everyone is always worrying about how to make soccer happen in the U.S. When, oh, when, is soccer going to become big here?? But, I got news: I think it already is.

I was thinking about this when I was at the USC-Cal game on Thursday night. The Coliseum holds over four times as many people as the Galaxy stadium. (The Galaxy stadium, StubHub Center, actually sits on the campus of Cal State University, amid industrial-looking office complexes, and we got mildly lost wandering around the infinite number of drab buildings trying to find our car.) Yet, the Coliseum didn’t feel that full on Thursday night. It was sort of a low-key game. Sure, they had a horse and Miley Cyrus, but the stands didn’t shake with everyone stomping. No one tried to do the wave and the screaming didn’t overpower my ability to hear. I know there were more people in the semi-empty Coliseum than at the mostly full StubHub Center. But, maybe the number of people at the Galaxy game was enough people.

At the USC game.

IM Kona aired today on NBC. Triathlon will never attract the fans or the money of football, or probably even of soccer. Ironman races will never have live TV coverage. (There’s only a few of us who will watch a whole eight-hour broadcast of a race.) That doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty of money to made in triathlon — if there wasn’t then there wouldn’t be so many private equity and venture capital firms trying — and plenty of people who love the sport. NBC broadcasts an hour-and-a-half of highlights for the mainstream and maybe that’s fine for them.

Why do we need to be the most, the best at everything? The U.S. is very good at a lot of sports. Logistically, though, there has to be a limit. We can’t win at football and basketball and soccer and triathlon. Not getting into the whole inevitable decline of America thing, but we won’t be the best forever at everything. No one can be. And, there’s no reason we have to be.

The soccer game was still fun, even though Miley Cyrus wasn’t in attendance. The professional ultimate frisbee players I’m interviewing for a story will still play disc, even though they only make about $50/game. I still like racing triathlon, even though the sport may never happen in the U.S. Maybe I like it a little more because it hasn’t happened, because you have to be there because you want to be there. Maybe part of the appeal is not automatically being the biggest or the best.