ONE BY ONE, THE LIGHTS GO OUT…(Michael Hastings, R.I.P.)

Anymore I only follow sports intensely for a few weeks out of the year.

Most of those weeks take place between the last week of May and the first week of July when the French Open, the NBA finals, the U.S. Open (golf version) and Wimbledon follow along in rapid succession.

During that stretch–even when every single professional athlete/team I have anything invested in isn’t coming up short in the most painful ways imaginable (that’s Maria Sharapova, Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, Phil Mickelson, Sabine Lisicki if you’re counting at home)–I’m likely to miss things and this year, what I missed was the death of Michael Hastings.

Hastings was the reporter who, among many other admirable things, caught Stanley McChrystal being the kind of general a society tends to put in charge when its political leadership retains a strong, security-state-maintenance-only interest in waging wars but is utterly contemptuous of anyone who might suggest they should also therefore take on the hellish task of winning them (or even, when it comes to that, in defining victory and accepting the possible consequences of coming short).

Hastings did much more important work than proving McChrystal was the particular breed of horse’s ass who airs his dirty laundry in front of a Rolling Stone reporter and then is shocked–shocked I say!–to find that dirty laundry in print somewhere. But it was that story that broke him from the pack and made him one of the very few “big league” reporters who might some day make the new security state nervous.

Of course, there is no evidence whatsoever that Hastings’ automobile “accident” was anything more than an automobile accident. Nor will there ever be such evidence. We know this because the FBI–not to mention the ever-reliable LAPD!–has already issued an assurance of such. And what more proof could we possibly ask for?

Granted, establishment journalists never seem to go out this way. But I’m sure that’s just coincidence.

All we really know is that when the sun came up on a particular day in the middle of June, 2013, there were a tiny handful of national reporters with both the will and the pedigree to rattle the system’s cage.

When the same sun came up a day later, there were  a tiny handful minus one and a convenient lack of witnesses.

Goodbye us.

 

 

SEGUE OF THE DAY (7/4/13–ESPN covers tennis. First the women. Then the men. Sports Moment #9)

Chris Fowler Once/Chris Fowler Twice…

Wow. Didn’t realize it had been so long since two elements informed and enlightened each other on the same day in just the right way! And, since it happened during Wimbledon, it pretty much had to be related to tennis.

Anyhow:

I usually think I’m jaded enough to not be surprised by much, especially when it comes to sports “journalism” and most especially when it comes to commentary on tennis, the one major sport where men and women compete for public attention on a more or less equal basis and, therefore, the one major sport where even the sport’s nominal sponsors (who might have something to gain by promoting it unabashedly), are dedicated to the relentless protection of male privilege.

How relentless?

Heck, they’ll stick with it even if it costs money–which, in this case, it does and which they know it does.

I know how this works. We all know how this works–right down to the routine denials by all parties involved of there ever having been even a thought of doing any such thing!

And–sad but true–I’m no longer young.

So I’m used to letting it roll off my back. Life’s too short.

If, say, Tony Kornhiser, co-host of a show called Pardon the Interruption (and life-long card carrying member of the Dead Brain Cell Count Brigade, Sports Division), spends a week mocking his partner Michael Wilbon’s tickets to the Ladies’ Semifinal at Wimbledon as being “worthless” because Serena Williams was knocked out of the draw on Monday, I hardly bat an eye. That Wilbon, if indeed he decided to use those tickets, would end up seeing the match of the tournament to that point (contested–on a knife edge throughout–between Sabine Lisicki, the enormously gifted young woman who beat Serena by outplaying her at her own game and very well might be a breakout star, and Agnieska Radwanska, the tennis player’s tennis player) was as predictable as sticking your hand in a bucket of water and having it come out wet.

As I say, I’m used to all that.

But there was a kind of twist on the theme during the 4th of July Wimbledon coverage.

The Lisicki/Radwandska match was covered by Chris Fowler doing play-by-play. (Chris Evert provided color commentary but really isn’t germane to this.)

I noticed throughout that Fowler–high-level DBCCB material himself–was remarkably subdued, almost as if he had started working for the BBC or something. (With them, understatement is a style. It’s a style no one has ever heard of at ESPN.)

Not only was the match filled with the highest tension imaginable (three-set matches generate such from the get-go, whereas even the closest high-stakes five-setters contested by the men usually don’t start raising anxiety levels unless and until there’s a fourth set between the small handful of actual contenders), it featured a bundle of the very sort of indelible, athletic shot-making under pressure that normally tends to make Fowler’s voice rise two octaves.

For Thursday’s match, he sounded like he was in church, wondering if he should nudge the deacon sleeping next to him in the pew, or just let him go ahead and sleep through the sermon.

“Gee, what happened to Fowler?” I wondered as the match came to an end (Lisicki winning 9-7 in the final set–that’s several extra innings of a World Series game, with everything on the line and no teammates to help you, for those of you who don’t follow tennis.)

I mean, I thought maybe MI6 had got to him. Possibly even turned him against us? Maybe promised him British citizenship if he proved he could keep his heart rate level throughout?

Something?

I started thinking, yeah that must be it.

We’re finally gonna get rid of Chris Fowler! This time next year, he’ll be doing soccer matches for Man U! Tennis and College Football will be free at last!

Then, just as I was breaking out the wine and cheese and preparing to celebrate, ESPN started running a partial replay of the men’s match from the day before between Brit Andy Murray (one of the men’s “Big Four” who have been dividing up the tennis slams between them for about three hundred Klingon years**) and persistent underachiever Fernando Verdasco.

And there was my man Fowler, in all his glory, calling Murray’s comeback from two sets down–an event that was surprising in the way that Russian Roulette ending badly when it is played without an empty chamber is surprising–and the comforting signs of hero-worship, heart-throbbery and man-crushery and all those other, more or less unmentionable, things that keep America strong were fully present and accounted for. The hyperbole! The two-octave rise! The persistent encomiums to how magnificent and “amazing” it all was!

So I had to put the wine and cheese back in the cupboard and accept that, alas, he is still one of us and that his palpable lack of enthusiasm for the genuinely exciting match that happened to be played by women a day later was just the same tired old double-your-standard-double-your-fun narrative being served up in a new bottle.

Almost got me there Chris. Well done!

And please do hold your breath waiting for it to happen again…

NOTE: Below is the best highlight package I could find on the net from the Lisicki/Radwanska match. Not ideal, perhaps (it leaves out many of the best points) but gives at least some feel for the match. The announcer who appears in audio snippets throughout seems to know a bit about building drama and calling a tennis match. In any case he has a great voice. There’s an ESPN logo in the corner, but, rest assured, this is not Chris Fowler.

Sabine Lisicki, Aga Radwanska (Wimbledon Semi-final Highlights, 2013)

And since, in one of those unlucky coincidences, those highlights begin directly after the point of the match, well, here’s the point of the match:

Sabine Lisicki, Aga Radwanska (Point of the Match, 2013 Wimbledon Semi-Final)

(**If there is no such thing as “Klingon years” please refrain from enlightening me. My present state of uncertainty is all the bliss I either deserve or require.)