journalism, sports

Review: “Last Days of Knight” is flawed but essential

Cross-posting at 

ESPN is gambling these days.

The new “30 for 30” documentary, Last Days of Knight, gambles on three levels:

  1. It’s being shown exclusively on ESPN+, the company’s new pay service, a good way to draw attention to it but not the best way to get this film the wide audience that many previous 30 for 30 entries have found.
  2. It tells the story of a journalist, CNN’s Robert Abbott, who pursued the story for months. As an Awful Announcing review says, the film attempts to tell Abbott’s story and Knight’s, and it sometimes falls between the two stools.
  3. A lot of people still maintain loyalty to Bobby Knight after all these years.

Others can debate No. 1. The questions here are No. 2 and No. 3, and the disappointment of Last Days of Knight is that we get too much of No. 2 and not enough exploration of No. 3.

Like all 30 for 30 films, LDON is a slick presentation. And the story is compelling, even with the unusual focus on Abbott. CNN’s reporting became part of the story itself, for better or for worse, and you don’t have to be a journalism junkie to appreciate the insights on how everyone involved interacted with the media — Knight as one of several bullies, players and staffers afraid to speak, administrators being weasels, etc. Abbott’s reflections and the nitty-gritty at CNN, including some clumsy threats by people working on Knight’s behalf, provide a new angle to an old story.

But that story bogs down with an extended, guilt-ridden take on the post-scandal life and death of Neil Reed, the player Knight assaulted in a video that hastened his downfall. It’s a sad and yet sweet story of someone who reclaimed his own life and was clearly loved before his untimely death from a heart attack, but its placement in this film is odd, as if it’s suggesting Reed’s death was somehow collateral damage from Knight’s antics and/or the media coverage. Abbott regrets making Reed uncomfortable in his pursuit of the story, but it seems a bit much for him to interpose himself in the family’s mourning process.

And we’re left wanting something more. Abbott and some of his colleagues are seeing the old story in a new light. Anyone else?

Perhaps it’s me — I wrote about irrational mobs in my review of Jesus Christ Superstar — but I really wanted to see some reflection from the people who defended Knight when he was quite clearly indefensible. Knight, predictably, wasn’t interested in participating. But what about the students? Former players? Now that the heat has died down, what would they do differently?

But even if we don’t see such reflection on camera, we have to hope it’s happening elsewhere. It’s not happening in this dismissive review from The Daily Hoosier.

The value of a story like Knight’s is that it holds up a mirror to us. How much are we willing to excuse if a guy wins some basketball games? Can a man impart military-style discipline and behavioral values if he doesn’t live up to it himself or hold himself accountable?

We see hints of these questions in Last Days of Knight. Just not quite enough.


journalism, sports

A quick bit of Icelandic history (or why I’m rooting against my ancestors)

My favorite bio is at Popdose: “Beau Dure learned everything he needs to know about life while stuffed into the overhead compartment of a bus while writing Enduring Spirit, a book about the Washington Spirit’s first season. … He’s best known for his decade at USA TODAY, where he wrote about Icelandic handball.”

Yes, covering Icelandic handball is one of my fondest memories of USA TODAY. I went out on my own accord to see them once, telling my editors they had the potential to be an interesting story.

Far more interesting than I thought …

What we thought before this game is just to do what our forefathers did. They at most endured, like, two or three days at home in peace, and then they had to destroy something. They had to go and fight war somewhere. They went with their boats and stuff like that, and we were just on our boats, destroying something. That’s how we went to the game, just to enjoy those 60 minutes like our (unintelligible) in life. That’s what you do. That’s what you live for.

I have no idea what I asked to get a quote like that from captain Olafur Stefansson. But the rest of the team was fun as well.

It doesn’t matter what time it is, the game starts at 6 in the morning in Iceland, and I think 80-90% of the nation was watching. That’s just typical when we are doing well, everybody follows us.

So said Robert Gunnarsson, a big bull of a central player about the Olympic quarterfinal victory I covered.

Others in the U.S. media, especially Washington Post writer Dan Steinberg, took notice. He and I were among the other American journalists present when Iceland won the biggest game in its history (until today), beating Spain 36-30 in the semifinals. We went to the mixed zone to meet the well-connected first lady of Iceland, Dorrit Moussaieff, who immediately ushered us past security onto the floor, claiming Dan was her husband. (I have no idea who I was supposed to be. Chief of staff? Special Icelandic security detail?)

Gunnarsson compared the game to 300, a movie in which he very easily could’ve been an extra. Gudjon Sigurdsson told me he’d happily play in a U.S. pro handball league if we ever formed one. (Why have we not done this?!)

Moussaieff was clearly the outgoing one between herself and her husband, president Olafur Grimsson, interjecting several times in his interview with us. She was perhaps the most convincing spokesperson for Icelandic tourism imaginable.

Grimsson took office in 1996 and was widowed in 1998. So you can imagine Moussaieff as Annette Bening in The American President, sans the controversy.

Even the best stories have some dark times, though, and Grimsson and Moussaieff are leaving office under a bit of a cloud. The Panama Papers had some sort of link to Icelandic politicians and to the Moussaieff family fortune, and though no one’s being prosecuted for any misdoing, Grimsson abandoned plans to stand for re-election. The next first lady of Iceland, oddly enough, is Canadian.

That election was held in the midst of the Next Great Icelandic Sporting Achievement. The country’s much heralded soccer program has made a nice run through Euro 2016 and toppled not-so-mighty England today to reach the quarterfinals against France.

Which brings us back to 2008 …

Yes, “Dure” is a French name. But I’m rooting for revenge.

comedy, politics, sports

Potpourri: Boggle vs. Scrabble, the Bible, SNL meets EPL

So many links, not enough time …

1. With all due respect to fellow sports wordsmith Stefan Fatsis, I agree with this Slate writer: Boggle is better than Scrabble.

2. Lex points out the counterproductivity of current food stamp ideology.

3. A theologian tries to find a way out of the literal/metaphor debate of the Bible with a couple of interesting distinctions — the Enlightenment distinction between values and facts, the idea that the Bible is meant to persuade rather than prove — and a demonstration of God’s presence using a scene from Pulp Fiction.

4. I’m not sure everything mentioned here is a “placebo button,” but the underlying theory — that people don’t even notice a long wait if they’re moving and active — is sensible.

4. NBC promotes the English Premier League with a great ad featuring Saturday Night Live alum Jason Sudeikis as a U.S. football coach hired at Tottenham Hotspur. Blink and you’ll miss a neat joke about Wales:

politics, sports

Rageahol: Patriot Act plus sequester equals poor speedskaters

rageaholMy former USA TODAY colleague Kelly Whiteside has a good story about a speedskater who had to apply for food stamps after her monthly stipend was cut:

For some Olympic hopefuls, funding is a hurdle.

To which Mr. William Mansfield replied:

It’s called sequester. Owebama brainchild in 2011 after he resigned the Patriot Act so he could watch those that disagree with his tactics.

Have we mentioned, as Kelly did, that the government has nothing to do with funding for speedskaters?

Despite Mr. Mansfield’s rageahol, speedskater Emily Scott suddenly raised $15,000.

journalism, sports

OK, maybe we *are* unable/unwilling to adapt

Web hipsters have long had a field day scoffing at Old Media Companies’ supposed ignorance. It’s a little silly at time. “OMG, they didn’t recognize a picture of the guy who started Craigslist!” No, they didn’t, but that doesn’t meant they’ve failed to notice that Craigslist is eating away their revenue from classifieds.

So it’s often overblown. All businesses have some good ideas and bad ideas — Google does a lot of things right, and yet it launched Google+.

But then you read something like this:

Newspaper websites, can they be eliminated? – discussion thread

That’s enough to make you wonder what the heck we’re doing here.

Oh sure, you could possibly make a freebie weekly work with an editorial staff of two and a whole bunch of underwriting from local realtors. I somehow doubt that’s the long-term strategy of many major metros.

A colleague of mine once said: “This is the Information Age. Information is on computers. Any questions?”

That was in 1995. Now, the audience is on computers. All day and most of the night, to butcher The Kinks’ song.

So you can reach that audience — and have your content visible in search engines, Twitter, Facebook, etc. — or you can hope that someone is going grab your printed paper off a newsstand on the off-chance that they’ll stumble into your brilliant story on page 5.

Seriously — we’re still asking these questions?

The question we need to be asking is how we’re going to make the websites and other apps bring in more money. Slowly but surely, advertisers should realize that their targeted ads and display sizes on the Web and the iPad are better than a small random ad on page 2 of a newspaper. (Sunday inserts and full-page ads, on the other hand, should still be good buys — good news for those of us who don’t want print to disappear completely.)

And the NYTimes model has potential. It keeps the site’s content out there to be discovered by non-subscribers, AND it encourages people to subscribe. (Yes, I know a lot of you are freeloaders. The article addresses that. And pay up, cheapskates.)

If that doesn’t work for your paper, try something else. Leave the backwards time travel to Superman and the Enterprise.


journalism, sports

Have bloggers surpassed traditional journalists?

It’s a stupid question on many counts. Some “bloggers” in this post are actually professional advocates. Others are semi-pros who aren’t about to quit their day jobs but are getting money to drive traffic.

But however you define them, these non-traditional pundits and newsgatherers are often proving themselves far more nimble than the corporate folks.

Case in point: The story of Rep. Anthony Wiener and a mysterious semi-lewd photo on Twitter, as explained here by another non-traditional outlet, The Daily Show:


For those who don’t have time to watch the clip or unfairly label Stewart as a “liberal” unworthy of attention from right-thinking folks, the nutshell is this: Bloggers of various inclinations are digging up actual facts about the incident while CNN seems powerless to do so.

Sure, the blogosphere also is capable of digging up sheer dreck, giving a safe haven to birthers and other conspiracy theorists who enjoy inventing their own “facts.” But in best-case scenarios, they’re also capable of legitimate crowdsourcing.

That’s also the case with FIFA and CONCACAF shenanigans. Check the roundup on my other blog, SportsMyriad, and you’ll see that the indie media have certainly taken the story and run. Bill Archer has been a one-man FIFA/CONCACAF watchdog for years, while Tom Dunmore has contributed a must-read FIFA history that explains why so much of FIFA hates England and how the organization has simply swapped one bad habit for another.

In most respects, the “bloggers” (whether they operate a reverse-chronological site or not) are welcome voices, adding vital information. That’s great.

But we don’t want the big organizations to go away. When you have a lack of media oversight, you have … well, FIFA and CONCACAF, where the only people taken to task through official channels in the past week are those who have dared to ask questions.