Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I read this article

By Chuck Klosterman, writing for Grantland about an interview with Royce White, estranged forward of the Houston Rockets in the NBA. It's mostly about mental illness.

It's a remarkable article, one of the best pieces of sportswriting I've read in a long time.

A few quotes:
"But if you want to talk about it through that lens, every player should have their own doctor. The reality is that American businesses are built on the idea of cutting overhead. And how do we cut overhead?" White points to the door that leads from the patio to the main restaurant. "Why do restaurants put exit signs over every exit? I bet if Cheesecake Factory didn't have to do that, they wouldn't. Because it would cost less to do nothing. They have to be forced to do that. So if a team or a business can save money by making things less safe, they're going to do that. They don't care. It's a conflict of interest to have the team doctor paid by the team. What we need is a doctor who can look at a situation and say, 'Listen, I know the team wants you to do this, and I know their doctor is saying you should do this. But as a non-biased doctor with no interest in how you perform athletically, I recommend differently.' Right now, you have players pushing themselves back in three weeks who have three-month injuries."
He's speaking about the NBA specifically, but it's easy to see how this argument generalizes to all professional sports. One might easily read this passage as a response to the Robert Griffin III injury of a few weeks ago.

Q: So what would you have done if, upon drafting you, the Rockets had said this: "Look — this is going to be hard for you. It might, in fact, be detrimental. But that is just part of competing at this sport at this level."
A: You can't do that, though. You can't discriminate against somebody, because that's ADA law. People say I'm getting special treatment, but it's the NBA who wants special treatment. They want to say they're this rarefied profession where laws don't apply. But ADA law is federal.
This gets at a whole lot of questions about how we view athletes as people outside of society, people (or, instead of people, competitors) who exist in a world with different rules and different expectations. But White's point is well-taken. Viewed simply, why should the NBA be exempt from something like the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Part of what I like about this article is that it operates beyond the cliches of the typical reporter/athlete interaction. The classic joke about athletes is that they're too dumb to talk in anything but hackneyed phrases: "we gave 110%"; "I want to thank God for this win"; "I'm just happy to get the win"; etc, etc. But an interview takes two. Athletes provide idiotic responses to interviewers who ask idiotic questions. When Klosterman (not really a sportswriter by trade) engages White with intelligence and respect, White reciprocates.

Give the piece a read.

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