Bryan Joiner

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How to pick up soccer (Or: What worked for me)


It all makes sense now. I finally get soccer. I finally love it. And you can love it too.

For me, it’s been a long time coming. After a decade’s worth of failed attempts to pick up the game by watching Arsenal games with my friend, who insisted I was an Arsenal fan until I believed it, I have finally swallowed the game whole, Arsenal included. (Quite recently, it’s been the bitter pill.) Previously, I have watched the World Cup, and I watched parts of the last five Euro tournaments, but not until now did I care about the sport itself, divorced from a single competition. I only understood the tournaments, not the game.

I tried going to soccer bars in the city to be around ‘real’ fans. I tried buying various kits, to see if being a part of the ownership society would work. I even tried pretending that my ¼ Italian-ness meant I liked Italy in the World Cup.

Yeah, well, it still hadn’t worked: not the gear, not nuthin’. It made me feel like a buffoon, not a Buffon. I appreciated soccer, but I still couldn’t enjoy it for long periods of time. It just wasn’t my shit. Now it is my shit, and I think the method that finally worked for me is a pretty good way to actually learn to like the sport, and it is very simple. Here it is:

Watch the best teams.

Full stop. Soccer works very unlike American sports, which are self-evidently the best leagues in the world; not so in Europe. This means a lot of the teams in Europe are butt, and are not fun to watch. For that reason, do not force an attachment to a team in England (or Spain, or Germany) and try to follow it alone. It will not work. Pick a team in England or elsewhere and follow it, then watch Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, Juventus, Zlatan and whoever else among the baddest dudes alive is playing on your television. The more you watch, the better it will get and the better it gets, the more you watch.

Fuck Real Madrid, though. You can skip them and the German teams. Bayern is great and Dortmund is everything I like in a franchise, but the sound of 60,000 Germans screaming rubs me the wrong way even if I was born 33 years after WWII finished in extra time. I only hear the Horst Wessel song, and I don’t even know how it goes.

What I do know is this: I can’t see myself going back. The Netflix revolution has made me allergic to commercials, and my allergies only get worse as I age. This is all I can handle, and it’s everything I want and more — even if it means Arsenal choking away its best chance at a title in 10 years. After all, if life was all roses, I would have never turned to this sport in the first place. I came here in desperation, but I’m not desperate any more.

A minor sports journalism scandal

Today SB Nation published and took down a very bad story about a convicted rapist that had no business existing. That’s bad. However it happened, the story was trash, and they know it. Twitter has made certain of that.

Without picking sides, I wonder why Twitter gets so mad about these things, so I’m going to project, hard-core. I think that there are so few ‘good’ jobs in journalism that the average person is probably working below their station and doesn’t feel good about it. That magnifies any real screw-ups from the people with the ‘good jobs,’ because they’re laid bare for the people without the ‘good jobs’ (i.e., us) to pick apart.

To that end, while the merits of this story are nonexistent, they are at least existent in theory, in that it is possible to write about a convicted rapist in a fair way. This was not it. Insofar as it caused damage to the victims of his actions beyond his actions, I’m not sure it did much. The stories to which it obviously compares, in terms of recently hyper-Internet-local journalism, are those of Dr. V at Grantland at the Geithner dude at Gawker, but I think both of those were orders of magnitude worse than this one — in both cases, there was an irreversible, negative first-order impact on its subjects. Not so with today’s disaster: only embarrassment.

So as bad as this was, it could have been worse, and it invariably will be, the next time.

Dad for a year

My daughter turns one tomorrow. Here’s what I’ve learned about life:

a) Conservatives are nuts

The craziest thing to me about having a kid is realizing that the people who have a ton of children are the ones who think that we are intelligently designed, and not evolved from monkeys. First, is there anything about giving birth that seems intelligently designed? A single thing? No, there isn’t. Second, have these same people held their baby monkeys? My child grips everything she can like a monkey, and grabs ahold of anything possible with her little baby toes. She’s a monkey like the rest of us!

b) People who don’t have kids miss a thing

Not a value judgment! I think most people have kids, so I’m preaching to the choir, but something activated in my lizard brain once Lila was born. Every baby I saw, I was attached to, be it in real life or on TV. When I see Bill Maher be Very Sure Of Himself On Things Because He Never Had Kids, I get a weird feeling now, because I know that having kids will change your brain, and it’s hard to sympathize with someone so anathema to the idea. The kid will become your life, even if you are very much still vibrant and alive, and I feel like that transition is a real part of modern life.

c) It will kick your butt into some gears and not others

I’ve spent a couple years not writing or reporting as much I would have liked. I thought I would stop when I had a bebe. I was wrong. This is what I was meant to do, and nothing has set me back toward what I was meant to do by having a baby. Instead of overthinking what I should or should not be doing, I now do my shit with a promptness. The time is now, whenever I have the time. Lila and Lisa own my time now, and that’s how I want it, and it’s only because of that that I can finally relax in my own time. So get ready for the good stuff.

Hot Wilbon Take

Earlier today, John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal tweeted this quote from ESPN’s Michael Wilbon, linking to a full rundown of an event that is just as exhausting as it sounds:

As it happens, what was once Grantland will be toasted at something like an Irish wake at venue in the city tonight with more than 1,000 people, including yours truly, having RSVP’d. Though Grantland was well-funded and played host to many wonderful pieces of journalism, it also ran very wonderful silly pieces, and many wonderful pieces that came from other reporting methods than the one through which Wilbon attained fame. Wilbon was no fan of Bill Simmons, and while Grantland doesn’t entirely fit the profile he was targeting, he couldn’t have considered it too far off, either. Now Simmons is gone. The blog king got. The Old School rules again. Or so it goes.

It doesn’t, but if he is obliquely right about one thing, it’s that the basics of beat journalism — talking to people, in person — can yield relationships and stories that cannot be unearthed in other ways. This is News, but it isn’t news. If he is wrong about the rest of it, and he is, it is because he has placed himself at the center of a universe in which he cannot be wrong, one in the Right People. Like him, Christine Brennan and Tony Kornheiser believe that the blogs are gonna ruin sports, or reporting, or America, or something, and for this they are afforded the gift of being on Wilbon’s level. If he his right, and I have no doubt he is, they’re professional equals only because they’re fading just as fast as him.

Some Fantasy Football notes to myself and okay you can look too

I’m an avid Fantasy Sports player, and I’ve found that my most astute observations about each game come in the middle of the season, only I forget to write them down and commit the same mistakes year after year. That ends tonight! Here are some Fantasy Football tips that are good for the way the game is played right f’ing now:

Wide receivers are the most important players in the game: There are no two ways around this one, and if it wasn’t for Brady and Gronk, they would be the entirety of the game’s most valuable players. Even in leagues where RB is the most important position in the game, the best RBs have proven to be largely fungible — both Jamaal Charles and Le’Veon Bell got hurt, and Charcandrick West and DeAngelo Williams are high-earning point-hunters in their stead. This isn’t always true — Alfred Blue isn’t exactly soaking up Arian Foster’s numbers — but it’s far more true than it is of the best receivers. If Julio Jones or Antonio Brown gets hurt, there’s only so much slack his backup can pick up.

The upshot: If you play in an auction league, like I do, it might actually be a good strategy to intentionally overspend on the best receivers in the game, even if it means blowing your entire budget. RBs will get hurt. TEs, QBs and defenses can be streamed. (We don’t play with kickers, and it’s a revelation.) The amount of season-long value at any position on the waiver wire in week 1 is insane — the only problem is identifying it. The only place you know it’s not going to come is on the wing. Grab the top WRs and win.

Be systematic: For the first month of the season (or first two months of the baseball or basketball seasons), work largely off of the beginning-of-season values. Take advantage of players who are willing to drop top players are dirt-cheap prices because of early season struggles. Shorthand for this is ‘get the name players.’ They didn’t become names by accident.

In the second month of the season, make lateral moves to fill out the depth of your roster. In the third month, exploit the waiver system to be ready to grab the best player available after any given week. If you have a mid-range waiver claim, don’t bother trying at anybody but the best players. Save up for No. 1. I’ve gotten DeAngelo and now Danny Amendola this way in just the last two weeks.

The upshot: As much as this might help you, the hilarious anarchy of Fantasy Football will ensure that your best laid plans eat butt. So take this with a grain of salt. At the same time, this won’t steer you wrong.

Make sure to grab fun players: Football is a TV sport, and you’re going to watch your players try to score points for you, and you’re going to enjoy it. That’s the plan, at least. Do draft players on teams that play close to you or you expect to see on national TV all the time, and try to cast as wide a net as possible (unless you just take all the Pats, like the Other Pats Fan In My League Did And Now He’s Gonna Win.) It’s diversifying your bonds to this dumb sport, and it’s a smart thing to do.

The upshot: You avoid realizing that you’re wasting your life watching this terrible sport.

Hope that helped. Good luck!

A sad toast

When I was a few months into my first reporting job at the Queens Courier, Daniel Pearl was killed by Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan. The Editor in Chief of the newspaper at the time was especially somber that day and served us all red wine in paper cups to toast ‘Danny’ at the end of the day. At the time I thought it was overly fatuous, but I was young and dumb. That editor has passed away himself since then, and I finally see at what he was getting. Even then, the journalism industry was small, and it still is, in relative terms.

When two local news reporters were killed today in the course of doing their jobs, I felt something like my editor must have felt back then. There but for… and whatnot. Not everyone in journalism ends up at The Wall Street Journal, like Pearl, but it’s a capricious and hardly egalitarian system into which we enter. With few exceptions, anyone could be anyone else. Maybe not everyone could have been Daniel Pearl, but anyone could have been a local TV camera operator or news reporter in Roanoke, Virginia, and that’s exactly why it hurts, and why today’s sadness hits so much closer to home.

Sox win

… and I wrap it all up.

In which I appear on a baseball podcast

Listen here!

An oral history of the Sox on the eve of the World Series

3,500 words, by me. One of my favorites.

New York Apartment

All I can hear from my apartment are the grinding industrial coolers of the building behind me, constant sirens and a small dog that never stops barking. And everyone who comes here says the same thing:

It’s so quiet.