OBR – The Sloth of Sportswriting Demagoguery Inflicts the World Cup

It may be turning customary to refer to pop culture duels in the light the Jay Leno-Conan O’Brien Tonight Show feud that very publicly occurred on NBC over the last year.  In sports commentary, and specifically exposition meant to have varying levels of insight punctuated by humor, Bill Simmons was a trailblazer, the original sports blogger.  When he was able to arrive at juggernaut ESPN, he had to move toward the center for the Disney subsidiary (and has complained about it).  As tempting as it might be, comparing Simmons to Leno, even while acknowledging someone more like Drew Magary at Deadspin as Conan, is a bridge too far.  It’s unlikely that Magary could ever go to a mainstream audience like ESPN, as not only the content of so many of his columns is astonishingly crude (occasionally coming dangerously close to filthy-for-the-filth-of-it territory—great moments in poop history I’m looking in your direction), but also because much of it has a quirky genius that only certain segments of a viewing audience will respond to.  Conan struggled to adapt himself to a mainstream audience while flourishing with the more targeted live audiences of his tour and the internet.  As Simmons has gone mainstream, his jokes often ring hollow or are tired retreads; and even though his columns aren’t terribly frequent, he has made ridiculous statements reminiscent of someone not exactly lending his full attention, or pumped out championship previews reeking of an author who has become lackadaisical in his writing. But Jay Leno?  As bad as some of Simmons’ attempts at humor have gotten, he still surprises with an edge every once in a while—although perhaps to the downside: “Also confusing: ESPN using Michael Buble’s romantic swing music as the theme for tonight’s telecast. I can’t tell if we’re drafting players or trying to roofie them”, which raises the question, did he just make a rape joke?  About raping NBA draftees?  But he’s never quite sunk to the Jay Leno level of tired freeze-dried TV dinner comedic horseshit.  No sad puns followed by a head waggle cum rimshot. Don’t google those last three words; see, that right there is what I’m talking about.

But there is someone on ESPN that mails it the fuck in with lame attempts to humor on a consistent basis.  And he, like Leno, was a highly-respected writer before moving to his present gig.  Our author, of course, is Rick Reilly (who at one point, ironically, was accused of ripping off a Simmons’ column).  And there’s no better example than one of Reilly’s latest columns, annoying things about the World Cup!  Now aside from the fact that every four years when the World Cup happens, sportswriters trot out this tired old chestnut so they can effectively take another week of summer vacation, this is probably one of the laziest goddamn installments for a horse that’s been beaten well past death—like, say, another fucking “Headlines” gag.  As if to ram home this point, Simmons actually produced an excellent soccer column shortly after Reilly’s (aside from coming within shouting distance of claiming he was the key to soccer’s acceptance in the America).

So if anyone is a Leno doppelganger at the mothership, that person is Reilly.  And we’re about to see why, FJM-style.  Sully a worldwide sporting event for us, Rick:

World Cup buzz kill

Is that a vuvuzela pun?  In the fucking title?  This…this is going to be bad.

Here are the top 10 most annoying things about watching the World Cup already:

“Already”?  Were we waiting breathlessly for you to sling this moldering sack of rat feces at us?

1. That pesky cerebrum-blowing incessant buzzing sound coming from the TV set.

It was a vuvuzela reference.

“Babe, something’s wrong with the TV,” my wife said Saturday. But there wasn’t anything wrong. It was the dreaded vuvuzelas, the yard-long plastic horns (voo-voo-zella)

Typically you’re supposed to put the phonetics directly after the word they’re describing, but whatever, we’ve only been writing for 20 some odd years.

that South African fans blow all the time, without rhyme nor reason, when something is happening and when it’s not (it’s usually not), during timeouts and time ins, during halftime and at the breakfast table and while they’re on the bus and while doing their taxes,

“HA!  THEY DO IT ALL THE TIME!  EVEN WHILST BEING OPPRESSED BY THE WHITE MAN!  What?  I can’t put that in the column?  But it’s so topical.  I read all about the negroes getting beaten up like hotcakes in Newsweek.”

until you just want to stab two fondue forks deep into your ears and stir.

Stir?  Why would you stir with fondue forks?  Stabbing, yes, but stirring?  Don’t you dip with—shut up, I’m not overanalyzing this.

They never stop.

Get ready, Reilly’s about rip off a string of flailing searches for a simile resembling humor

It’s like having a desk in the center cubicle at American Bee, Inc. They sound like 80,000 yaks getting sick. They are the leading cause of Tylenol sales in the world today.

My, that was tedious.  Don’t worry, he’s going back to that well.

2. The embarrassing photographer bibs the guys on the bench have to wear during the game.

What?  Who even notices this?  Or cares?  These players are on the bench.  They’re not even in the game.  This has nothing to do with the actual action and, unlike the vuvuzelas, you barely notice them.

They’re very purple and dorky. My God, who knew you could make a World Cup team and be made to look like a geek? Hey, are you on the American national soccer squad or do you throw bags for Northwest Airlines?

Mr. Reilly is going to have an abnormal amount dog crap smeared on his checked baggage.  And yes, I’m suggesting Reilly smears dogshit on his luggage with no possible explanation for such behavior.

3. The Twinkie-fingered gloves goalkeepers wear. No wonder the English goalkeeper allowed that easy shot to give America a 1-1 tie in the Group C opener.

I’m going to wager that Reilly thought about looking up the goalie’s name and then decided on internet porn instead.  What?  Well, in a free country, I could place money on such a bet.

You couldn’t stop a beach ball with those big goofy things.

Whoops, Rick’s going over the wall again.

What, is Hamburger Helper a sponsor? Why must they be so huge? Doesn’t Roger Rabbit need them back? And where do the batteries go?

Batteries?  An Energizer bunny reference…maybe…we think.

How are goalkeepers expected to hang on to the ball with them on?

Really more for protecting your hands when people are rocketing 70 mph shots at you.  Goalies tend to only be able to (or try to) catch long crosses or shots that hit them in their center of mass.

And is it difficult to play goalie while also taking things out of the oven?

And now the jokes are starting to give me a rash.

4. The godforsaken vuvuzelas!

Notice this is the second time, in a ten item list, he’s mentioned vuvuzelas, the most oft-mentioned feature of this tournament.

Make them stop! One of the charms of soccer is the singing that fans do. There is always loads of singing and chanting because every game is 1-nil, so there’s plenty of time for singing and chanting.

Now I can see why some people don’t like soccer because it doesn’t seem like a lot happens and it’s low scoring, although soccer does play continuously for at least two 45 minute periods, different from pretty much any other sport and games often finish in under two hours.  But Americans like to pretend their cherished sports are action filled contests.  And while they may be higher scoring, as the Wall Street Journal has pointed out, there’s plenty of time for myriad other activities (like marching bands!) during American football: “Out of the typical 2 hours and 54 minutes of the average NFL broadcast, a whole 11 minutes actually feature live game action. So next time you want to call out soccer or baseball fans for following a sport where nothing happens, you might want to tend to your own garden.”

Soccer fans sing and chant inane hilarious things like, “We are from Norway! We came on a plane! And we are very drunk!”

Humor!  Effective humor!  I see it!  It’s right there!  Almost!

But we don’t get to hear the singing and the chanting because of the horrible, hideous, heinous vuvuzelas! My god, they should take them into the mountainous caves region of Pakistan and play them until Osama bin Laden comes running out, screaming, “OK, OK! I give!”

This joke would make more sense if anyone was still looking for Osama bin Laden.  And if it wasn’t a hackneyed premise.

5. All the faking.

Well, we knew this was coming.

I haven’t seen this much bad theater since I saw former “American Idol competitor” Ace Young starring in “Hair” on Broadway.

I’m all for a good obscure reference but this somehow managed to combine esoteric with useless pop culture with a startling lack of funny.  And it raises many more questions than it answers, mainly about what Mr. Reilly fancies in his free time.

These guys collapse as though they’ve just caught a javelin in the groin every time an opponent so much as asks them for the time. These guys make Paul Pierce look sincere. Sell it somewhere else, Sven.

Ah, the safety of a Scandanavian name.  Can’t possible offend with that.  Fucking Vikings.

We live in the U.S., where hockey players pop their eye back into their socket without missing a shift.

Yes, hockey, the game that’s a distant fourth to three other sports (and that’s if we’re not counting NASCAR, AND WE ARE NOT).  I think Reilly may be referring to Canada.

This will be the new rule when I’m made president of FIFA: If you stay on the ground longer than 30 seconds, you’re out of the game; 45, you are taken directly to the nearest hospital; 60, you get a telethon.

80 and WE KILL RICK REILLY.  Wouldn’t want that on your conscience, would you, Sven the diving moose-herder?

6. The yellow cards. I love the way the refs come running up to the player as though he has just taken out a chainsaw and sawed somebody’s hand off. The ref looks very stern and upset. And then all the ref does is snap his little yellow piece of paper out of his shirt pocket and stick it in the offender’s face, as though the little yellow card has some kind of superpower.

It’s really just signaling the penalty.  Like when NFL referees make those delightful hand motions denoting the foul.  Strangely enough, Simmons specifically said he’d like to see yellow and red cards signal technical and flagrant fouls in basketball.

As if to say, “Ha! you are powerless against my little yellow piece of paper, which shows your less-than-average marks from third grade!”

Like a frowny face sticker?  Kinda like to see that, myself.  Instead of a yellow card, huge frowny face sticker on your jersey.  And a kick to the taint.  Can’t discount the deterrent of a good taint-kicking.

I’d love to see that in the middle of an NBA fight. Can you imagine seeing some ref come running up to Rasheed Wallace after laying out Carmelo Anthony with a roundhouse right and sticking that yellow card right in his face? He’d soon be digesting it through his ear hole.

We’re talking about the same Carmelo Anthony who punched someone and then ran 40 feet the other way?  Of course, he’s the victim in this hypo, but the obvious person to mention would have been Captain Jack or Ron Artest.  But that may have been a bridge too far for the ESPN censors in bringing up that late unpleasantness in Detroit.  And I think, and this is just a thought, that soccer refs have to deal with far more violence and threats of violence than just about any other referees.

7. The ties. In the NFL in the past 10 years, there have been two ties.

Quick, someone alert Donovan McNabb!  Yeah, that’s going to haunt him for some time…and that joke is likely to haunt me.

As of Tuesday morning, in the first 11 games of this World Cup, there have been five ties. You will not see more ties at a J.C. Penney’s Father’s Day sale.


I hate ties. Doesn’t anybody want to win in this sport?

You can’t tie the final.

All these ties are about as exciting as a Jonas Brothers roundtable on sex.

Actually the ties only occur during the group stages, then it goes to penalty kicks, which I don’t like, so I’m actually in agreement here.  I’d have it go to penalties in the group stage and then play until someone scored in the bracket stage.  I’d also like to erase that Jonas Brothers joke from my brain with a claw hammer.

8. The World Cup itself. Really?

Honestly, no sport has a great trophy except for the Stanley Cup.  And maybe baseball but only if it involves Chris Duncan:

All this running and vuvuzela-ing and pulling off shirts for that trophy? It looks like somebody soldered it together in their basement — after drinking a handle of Jack Daniel’s.

In south St. Louis city, drunken basement soldering is a pastime and a spectator sport when the cops show up…or if you’re broadcasting it on chat roulette watched by three injury faking Svens windmilling their dicks.

It looks like something you’d use to prop open your Tuff Shed door during spring cleaning. It’s gold and small and looks like somebody accidentally melted it somewhere along the way.

Isn’t soldering essentially the same as melting?  I thought it was on purpose!  THE WHISKEY TOLD ME TO DO IT.

I mean, there IS chocolate in the middle of that thing, right?

No, there’s merely a horde of drunken angry wasps.  Because really, why the fuck not?

But if it was chocolate, wouldn’t that make it a statue of Üter Zörker?

Maybe I just don’t get it.

Maybe because there’s nothing to get.  It’s just a trophy.

Personally I’d like to a gold plated soccer ball attached to a chain—basically a mace.  Nothing you can’t accomplish with a mace.  Defending your cottage from Sven the pillaging boatswain, conquering Moldavia, raising a child…

9. Stoppage time. Why can’t we know how much time is left? Why must it be such a mystery? Whose idea was this? Why do only the refs get to know? Wouldn’t it be more exciting if we all knew? You tell me which is more exciting:

A. “Ten seconds left now! Kaka needs to get a shot off here or it’s over! Five seconds! Kaka wheeling! Two seconds! There’s the shot! And … ”

B. “Well, the ref should be calling this game shortly. A minute or two. Maybe more. Actually, I don’t know. Nigel, do you know? Kaka seems confused. He’s dribbling. Wait. Now he’s stopped to examine a small scab, and well, that’s it. The ref says it’s over. I guess that’s it, then.”

All we get is B. Somebody needs to put some stoppage to stoppage time.

This just makes no sense whatsoever.  Particularly B.  B is never how it actually happens.  Usually play will not stop until a ball has been cleared into the midfield or goes out of bounds.  And if we’re watching the game, we do know how much time is left.  It says it right there on the screen.

I can see how soccer is somewhat jarring for the typical American sports fan in that it doesn’t have a specific discernable stopping point until the ref blows the whistle—and perhaps Reilly has stumbled upon why soccer is considered distasteful for a large portion of the viewing public.  It is a game of constant, but shifting, flows.  One team will build a threat and if it doesn’t succeed, often the transition to the other team that becomes a return threat.  But a lot of time is spent building a proper threat—the constant, but often unexciting flow.  When time runs out, a ref has discretion to let a threat die and call the game when the flow becomes neutral.  It’d be interesting to see Reilly explore the issue of flow in this text—obviously, that doesn’t happen because the next, final and most important point is:

10. The vuvuzelas from eardrum-hellas! Don’t tell me it’s discrimination to want them to stop. Don’t tell me it’s an essential part of South African culture. If it is, it’s an annoying part of their culture. Yes, I know that centuries ago, the vuvuzelas were made from animal horns to call the village elders in for a meeting. And I’ll bet you five wildebeests that when the elders finally got to the meeting they said, “Would you STOP already with the blowing? You’re making me crazy!” I’ve been to Africa four times. They do some of the most beautiful singing you can imagine. At the World Cup, I’m hearing no singing. I’m hearing no chanting. I’m hearing 80,000 kazoos on steroids.

Now, we’ve had some fun with Mr. Reilly.  As one of the dominant, if not preeminent, sportswriter of his generation, perhaps mailing it in for a few years at the worldwide leader is his just due.

But consider: according to the New York Post, rumor had it when Reilly originally signed with ESPN in 2007, he was being paid $2 million a year for five years for his signature Life of Reilly column.  Out of a 1,118 word column consisting of a top ten list, 372 words or about of a third of the article, was on a single list item.  Why not just write a column on how you hate vuvuzelas?  Why even bother with the other stuff?  You clearly hate South African culture, why not just go all the way?

But it still sounds better than Ace Young.

Annnnnndddd we end with a second American Idol reference.

I wish to throw myself in front of a train.

Any opinion expressed here is my own and not that of the firm which employs me.  Under no circumstances should writings or links on this website be taken as a solicitation for an investment or as investment advice.  These topics and commentaries are, whole and entire, for entertainment and discussion purposes only.


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