Reasons to Follow Sports (and Bill Simmons)

Over the last ten years my interest in sports has shifted away from closely following teams and players and towards:

1) maintaining cultural literacy and facilitating social bonding by understanding the basics of the most popular sports and the most important facts associated with them (e.g. who Lebron James is or which teams are in the NFL Superbowl).

2) following how sports generally affects culture and the economy. What's the economic impact on a country when its team wins the World Cup?

3) using the rich examples in sports to learn about widely-relevant ideas.

#3 is most important to me. For example, I'd rather read about how Baron Davis manages side projects than follow the Warriors' specific wins and loses. Other examples:

  • One way to think about the general idea of whether you'd want to be universally loved or loved and hated to a greater degree is to compare Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
  • One way to think about the general idea of how superstar contributors affect group dynamics is by pondering Barry Bonds' impact on the Giants.
  • You can discover the power of framing by reading about the non-differences between dog fighting and the NFL.

General ideas found in sports are served up regularly by some excellent sports journalists whose writing you can admire even if you can't keep up with all the details. Frank Deford has interesting things to say on NPR. Gregg Easterbrook mixes smart commentary on sports with nuggets on economics and finance. Even if Rick Reilly is past his prime, he's wise and still finds inspirational stories.

But the most famous sports writer of today is Bill Simmons, who writes for ESPN.com. Here's a quick take on Bill Simmons' new book with this interesting nugget:

Mr. Simmons may be the first sports writer to see the games purely from the view of the fan — and a very modern, unsentimental fan at that. As Mr. Simmons sees it, his job is not to get into the heads of the players, but into the heads of his readers.

Tyler Cowen says, "Bill James and Bill Simmons are two of the greatest living social scientists. Seriously."

Bottom Line: Even if you're not a hard core sports fan there are still good general lessons to be taken from the sports world and excellent writers, such as Bill Simmons, who can deliver them to us.

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If you want to experience the fascinating and under-researched phenomenon of goosebumps caused by an emotional reaction and not cold weather, watch this clip of ESPN highlights from the past 100 years. One word: goosebumps.

2 Responses to Reasons to Follow Sports (and Bill Simmons)

  1. Simmons is the only guy that I don’t even hesitate to read 5K words from. His balance of sports and pop culture is impeccable.

  2. Alex says:

    Bill Simmons is not an “excellent” sports writer. At least not in relation to sports. He’s a biased joke of a writer when it comes to sports. His only good articles are about his trips to Las Vegas with his buddies from home.

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