Commentary

A sports (note)book of dreams

From movies to golf to Yogi, it was a big weekend in the sports subconscious

Originally Published: July 19, 2010
By Jeff MacGregor | ESPN.com

A sports notebook this week, a midsummer catch-all of trims and bits and leftovers, stray thoughts and sentence fragments.

A very big American weekend for movies and dreams. Nothing unusual there; the movies have always had a reciprocal relationship with our dreams, each informing the other from the very earliest days of the medium. From George Méliès to Freddy Krueger, and from "Dreamscape" to "Hamlet" and "What Dreams May Come," movies are the conscious reflection of our collective dream life.

[+] EnlargeRacing Dreams
Chris Keane/Getty Images for Hannover HouseThe cast of "Racing Dreams," from the left: Josh Hobson, director Marshall Curry, Annabeth Barnes and Brandon Warren.

Sports are too, of course.

So the terrific new documentary "Racing Dreams" succeeds not just as a snapshot of sporting life in 21st-century America, but as a trackside dream notebook and Rorschach blot.

The story of three tweens and their NASCAR ambitions, it is a straightforward and unsentimental survey of go-kart hotshoes and young love, of money and sweetness and bad fathers, of broken hearts and soured futures.

Wherever you are, please find it. Already in limited release, it opens this week in Los Angeles.

I'm a sucker for NASCAR, of course, and for racers and racing generally. So I'm not surprised to see NASCAR on the verge of revamping its championship system again. "The Chase," with its late-season points reset, has never made any sense except as a marketing gimmick. The tour needs to go back to the old Paleolithic system of points won across the grind of an entire season.

I see, too, that they're trying to phony up some sort of statistics now for the teams and the cars and the drivers. "Quality Passes" is a statistic? Really?

What NASCAR sells is heroes. Folklore. Dreams.

[+] EnlargeWorld Cup Trophy
AP Photo/Martin MeissnerHandle that trophy with care. It's a blunt instrument.

Numbers just make the sport look small.

I wish my colleague David Poole were still here to remind everyone of that.

I just looked at the baseball standings for the first time this year. Huh.

The World Cup -- which is not a cup at all, but rather seems to be the murder weapon from a poorly imagined slamming-door comedy -- is the ugliest trophy I have ever seen.

I miss those breakfast broadcasts, though.

And how did we go half a summer without a "vuvuzela"/"Zuzu's petals" joke?

I send the warmest thoughts of this column to my colleague, Christopher Hitchens, with whom I often disagree. I would like to continue doing so.

The enemy of good writing is sentimentality. Sadly, sports writing bathes in it, swims in it, drinks it in; on its worst days, the sports page is like a trip to Lourdes.

[+] EnlargeMel Gibson
AP Photo/Donald TraillDid the star of "Braveheart" go too far this time?

On its best days, it is a clear-eyed look at everything human.

We might have chased former Lakers' season ticket holder Mel Gibson entirely out of the country. Thus Russell Crowe moves up one rung on the "Things of Which Australia Should Be Deeply Ashamed, But Isn't" ladder.

Remind me, please, later this year to write a column called "How Sports Ruin Everything." It'll be about how we've taken to arguing politics the way we've always argued sports, thereby ruining both.

If I hear one more sports announcer use the phrase "into space" when they mean "in the open," I'm going to go ballistic. Into space! Play-by-play everywhere from the World Cup to the NFL sounds like Cronkite at Cape Canaveral. 3 … 2 … 1 … Into space!

(Also: Anybody up in here with "Five Keys" or "Ten Keys" or "Twenty Keys" to anything better be a janitor.)

My colleague Mitch Albom has won the Red Smith Award. My colleague Dave Kindred, a Red Smith winner himself, wasn't unqualifiedly delighted to hear it. I send the studiously neutral regards and congratulations of this column to them both.

[+] EnlargeVan De Velde
David Cannon/GEtty ImagesA word was born in this pond at the 1999 British Open, as Jean Van De Velde "Van De Velded" the tournament away with a triple-bogey.

Oosthuizen! Gesundheit! Sportswriting legend and giant Texan Dan Jenkins made a mockery of Louis Oosthuizen's name all week on his Twitter feed. (You can tune in Jenkins the Elder during the majors here. Surgically hysterical. Your last chance for 2010 will be the PGA Championship in August.)

Most of America was frankly hoping Mr. Oosthuizen would Van De Velde (verb: to choke horribly away in a foreign language) that last round Sunday. But it was not to be. The final 18 were as steady and dull as preventive dentistry. Why do you think they called Dutch South Africans "Boers"? In fact, Oosthuizen's own name translates as "lowest overnight ratings imaginable."

(Now if we could just get Oosthuizen behind the wheel of an IRL car for a weekend afternoon broadcast of a race live from a street course in Canada, you'd have the first television show in history to generate a negative rating -- a cosmic anomaly in which more people participate in the event than see it broadcast.)

One last note from the British Open regarding John Daly, the Neely O'Hara of the PGA: May I suggest that your clothing line hereafter be called "Shower Curtains From The Movie 'Trainspotting,'" and that everything be offered in two sizes: "slipcover" and "Sabathia." You're welcome.

Dwyane Wade just apologized for a poorly chosen reference to the World Trade Center, and lots of people are upset that some folks want to build a mosque near Ground Zero. I say we build a mosque so big you can see it from outer space, then tile the roof in letters ten stories high that read "You Don't Frighten Us. All Are Welcome Here."

[+] EnlargeJohn Daly's pants
Peter Muhly/AFP/Getty ImagesThis is why so many fans were wearing shades even on the overcast days at St. Andrews last week.

Caster Semenya won her first race back, thereby reminding us all never to read the online comments after any story anywhere.

There may be no better sporting pictures anywhere than the annual broadcast of the Tour de France. Stunning. A triumph of technology.

But cycling? Dumb.

Dumber.

Uh-oh.

Now that Deepwater Horizon has been sort of capped, can we get back to using "leaking oil" as a hackneyed punch line to describe the play of the Orioles and the Pirates, please? If not, some of us are going to have to stick with "mathematically eliminated since the dawn of the 21st century."

A.J. Burnett makes idiots and two-year-olds everywhere feel just a little bit smarter.

In most ways, George Steinbrenner remained a guy from Cleveland all his life. He was never a New Yorker. (He went to high school with my mom. Very polite.) It was interesting what Rush Limbaugh had to say about him the other day, about how much money he made for everybody. Is that the American Dream? You have to wonder which epitaph you'd rather have:

"He made everyone around him better."

Or …

[+] EnlargeYogi Berra
AP Photo/Ray HowardIn late September 1960, Yogi was fixing to play in his 11th World Series.

"He made everyone around him money."

Shoutout to Yogi Berra, too, after a fall on Friday kept him away from the Yankees' Old-Timers game. Yogi has always been my favorite Yankee, one of the few you could get your arms and heart around and really love.

In the offseason a million years ago, Yogi used to work selling men's suits. Ballplayers were paid like normal mortals in those days.

Our ESPN Salary Crunch feature makes a different point by allowing you to compare your earnings to those of our great current sports stars. Why anyone would ever do so except to stoke a revolution, I can't imagine. Do any of us really need to know that it would take the average household in America -- earning our median income of $52,000 -- over 350 years to earn what LeBron earns in a single season? Up the rebels! Down the aristocracy! Up the aristocracy! Down the rebels!

Here's a headline for the tabloids and soccer guys now that Thierry Henry is headed to the Red Bulls for another lucrative stateside semi-retirement in which not much is expected of an aging European star but that he make off with as much American money as he can lift: "Bandit Like Beckham?"

I had a weird dream the other night. I'd fallen asleep reading "The Recognitions" and awoke with a start several hours later having pictured Rush Limbaugh and LeBron James riding that statue of the Wall Street bull through the streets of Pamplona, goring innocent sports fans.

What might any of it mean?

No idea.

I await further word from the American subconscious.

Jeff MacGregor is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Please continue to submit your answers to his question "What are sports for?" You can e-mail him at jeff_macgregor@hotmail.com.

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