HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS: All the world’s a tailgate

Top image: Why Isn’t Tebow’s Statue Throwing?, October 2012

Happy College Football Kickoff Weekend! Here begins the best damn months of the sporting year. You’ve got football, postseason baseball, NASCAR’s Chase, and a wee bit of golf here and there, plus the weather is pretty much perfect. Revel in it, friends, because soon enough we’ll be bitching about the cold.

I’m headed to Darlington, S.C. for the Bojangles Southern 500; complete recap on the mania that surrounds this race, and its heavy emphasis on “Southern,” coming next week. This past week, I published a big ol’ story on Serena Williams and the Compton court where she learned to play. Check it out; there’s some sweet video there with her childhood tennis coach on the original court.

We also posted a whole mess o’ Grandstanding podcasts this week, talking everything from Tom Brady to the godawful Redskins to Star Wars. We sure would love it if you would subscribe via iTunes or via RSS feed.

And now on with the show. Here are some fine stories I read this week.

My colleague Jeff Eisenberg at Yahoo Sports leaves his usual beat of college basketball to continue his series of up-and-coming athletes, in this case a crew of youth MMA fighters. Yes, really: “Boys and girls with nicknames like the Black Widow, the Savage or the Anointed One come as close to participating in full-contact MMA as California law will allow without anyone being led away in handcuffs. In one of the day’s first fights, a young boy exits the cage with a welt already forming under his left eye as a result of an accidental blow to the face the referee didn’t spot. In another bout, a preteen girl slams her opponent to the mat and pummels her with blows to the chest as a man standing beside the cage shouts, ‘Keep smashing her!'”

Justin Heckert at ESPN: The Magazine with the powerful, affirming story of Eric LeGrand, the Rutgers football player paralyzed from the neck down five years ago who refuses to wither away: “When you woke in the hospital, you didn’t know your vertebrae had been fused and an air tube had been shoved down your throat. You didn’t know that your ma took you out of the first room they had you in because there wasn’t a window, there wasn’t enough light, didn’t know that she refused to let the doctors tell you what they told her: that you’d never breathe on your own again, that you might never eat solid foods again, that you had no more than a 5 percent chance to walk again. Five weeks later, the tube was out and you were breathing on your own. Your ma put the word believe everywhere in the room.”

Kent Babb of the Washington Post lays out a devastating, well-researched portrait of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell floundering under political attack: “If a proposal was rejected or a decision skirted, Goodell’s default response by 2011 was to hunker down — or to explode. During collective bargaining negotiations with the NFL Players Association in 2011, Goodell’s face turned red so often that union representatives often spent mornings predicting which of the day’s topics would send the commissioner over the edge.”

Patrick Sauer at Vice brings us the tale of one of the most badass bulls that ever threw a rider: “Nobody wants to see a bull put down, but Mick E. Mouse was a big ole’ treacherous scary sucker, so there’s a real love-hate thing that goes on,” says Chase Outlaw, 23, a Hamburg, Arkansas native who rode the bull once and got tossed in 2.44 seconds. “He bucked hard. He broke one of my buddy’s arms and jaw, whooped him the face, and lacerated another guy’s kidney. That’s part of the sport, it’s not like Mick E. Mouse was trying to hurt the riders, but that’s what can happen. I’d love to have that big pretty bull standing out in my yard, but to be honest, I don’t think that many guys are sad they won’t get to ride him again.”

William D’Urso at SB Nation delves deep into the Native American sport of stickball: “To those who are not Choctaw, the sport at first appears chaotic, a silent film whose plot has yet to be revealed. Dozens of players wielding two long sticks called kabocca race across a the field, apparently smashing each other to the ground at random, a 12-foot-tall wooden post standing upright in front of each of the two football goalposts. The crowded field adds to the chaos, more crowded than for either football or soccer, and as they race back and forth, they throw something to each other, something too small to catch every time, almost too small to see and keep track of, a small ball, a towa, golf ball sized, spray painted orange. That makes it easier to see, and after a few moments, as the ball appears and disappears, now in the air, now upon the ground, and now carried between the sticks, the game begins to make more sense too.”

Martin Rickman over at Uproxx goes long on how to go on surviving when the job that gives you identity is suddenly ripped away: “Plopped in the middle of Texas, skipping the wedding of one of my closest friends to do this story, in between another stretch of three weddings in four weekends which included my sister and my best friend from home, I felt completely alone. Not just alone in the sense that I was staying in a random person’s house (shout out airbnb) in a city I’d never been, but alone because everything in my life was crumbling around me. I had put so much of who I was over the past two years into my job, even though I always promised myself I’d never identify as such. But it was hard when your entire life really did go into being a Sports Writer. I neglected everything else that mattered. My health. My friends. My relationship.”

Lars Andersen at Bleacher Report has some sobering words for those who believe Jim Harbaugh, once and future Michigan Man, will bring salvation to the Wolverines: “With Harbaugh—a 51-year-old man prone to emotional swings, an old-school authority figure famous for his eccentricities, a professional vagabond who has never been a head coach anywhere longer than four years—we must ask: Will Harbaugh’s love for this school turn him into a micromanager as he tries to personally fix all that he believes is ailing Michigan football? Will he push everyone in his program—from players to administration to janitors—to the brink of both physical and mental exhaustion? Will he, in short, start pissing people off?”

David Amsden in Rolling Stone tells the wrenching, cautionary tale of how playing Madden took over his life: “At my peak (or, looking back, my nadir), I was playing about 2,000 online games a year, which, at an average of 40 minutes per game, meant that I was spending about two full months a year playing Madden. Because I made the mistake of including my birth year in my gamer tag, many of my foes took to berating me as a “30 year old welfare virgin living in momma’s basement,” to quote one emblematic dig. Once, when I tried to explain that I was in fact “a writer of books who lives alone in Brooklyn,” my opponent, who described himself as “a 15 yr old who gets mad hoes,” was ready with a comeback: “Brooklyn and books are stupid.” That I was genuinely offended goes a long way toward explaining just how important validation in Madden’s online community had become.”

Thanks for checking out HALFTIME ADJUSTMENTS. To subscribe, click here, and to get more info on my upcoming book EARNHARDT NATION, click here. I’m on Facebook and Twitter, too, or you can email me directly. My lord, is this a needy paragraph. See you next week, friends.

A perfect Georgia September day

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