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So far Joe Levin has created 28 blog entries.

Let the Marathon Record Stand

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JOY AROUND THE WORLD

Eliud Kipchoge grew up in eastern Kenya and every morning, he’d run to school. Wouldn’t it have been cool if  he had a stopwatch, a log of how quickly he could make the trip, trying to beat the bell? How old must he have been when he first broke the 10-minute mark? Did he even break a sweat?

Last Saturday, all of Kenya—with the rest of the world—watched Kipchoge run, and this time, there was a stopwatch. We kept looking back and forth, back and forth, seeing if he would actually make it. In a special event in Vienna, Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner in the world, was trying to run 26.2 miles in under two hours. One hour, 59 minutes, and 40 seconds after he started off, he crossed the finish line. In his hometown of Eldoret, crowds had gathered to watch a broadcast of the feat. It looked like they were watching the World Cup. When he finished, there was elation.

It was a landmark achievement, one that Kipchoge and race organizers compared to man walking on the Moon. The Atlantic wrote of the limitations of that comparison, “Running’s original moon landing, the sub-four-minute mile, took place back in 1954. Yesterday, Kipchoge launched running to Mars.”

Almost immediately after the cheers faded, though, skeptics started crowing. The run would not count as a world record, because it wasn’t an official marathon. Kipchoge ran on […]

2019-10-18T03:30:40+00:00

The NBA, China, and the Purpose of Sports

Lost in Translation

Jesus brought basketball to China. Okay, that might be a stretch, but it’s not exactly wrong. Missionaries did it in the early 1890s, a handful of years after James Naismith first hammered peach baskets to the wall of a Massachusetts YMCA. They built courts there, and now if you enter the walls of the Forbidden City, you’ll find basketball courts between centuries-old palaces, just waiting for a pickup game.

The Chinese army brought Chinese basketball to America. And yes, that is exactly true. Mao Zedong banned all Western influences and culture—Beethoven, bibles, and baseball were all taboo—but basketball was always encouraged, especially in military camps. He viewed the game as a way to increase comradery and project national strength. For many years, only two sports were allowed in the country: basketball and ping pong. When Wang Zhizhi became the first Chinese national to play in the NBA in 2001, he was a member of the People’s Liberation Army and was ordered to report for duty back in China after every NBA season.

It was Yao Ming, though, who tied the NBA and China at the hip. More than 200 million Chinese fans watched Yao’s first NBA game (compare that to the 98 million Americans who watched Super Bowl LIII this year). In 2008, over a thousand people lined up for the opening of Beijing’s NBA Store. Just a month ago, the country hosted the FIBA World Cup. This week was supposed to be a celebration of the union between country […]

2019-10-11T17:07:58+00:00

The Sun Sets on the Golden Age of QBs

The Sun Sets on the Golden Age of NFL Quarterbacks

Let’s get nostalgic for a moment. Where were you 16 years ago? Here’s some context to help you remember: “Finding Nemo” had just been released, “Hey Ya!” was a #1 hit, and Michael Jordan had finished his final season with the Washington Wizards. It seemed like Howard Dean could possibly win the Democratic primary. And maybe you were in the crowds boycotting the Dixie Chicks?

It was also the last time we had an NFL Sunday without Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning starting at quarterback. For 5,748 days, one of those three have started for their teams every week of the NFL season. Now, with Brees and Rothlisberger sidelined with injuries and Manning benched in favor of rookie Daniel Jones, the sun is beginning to set on the league’s golden age of quarterbacks.

Who knows what lies ahead for young stars like Lamar Jackson and Patrick Mahomes, but it’s likely that their careers will differ from those of Brees, Roethlisberger and Manning in one key way: They won’t be synonymous with their teams the way that their predecessors are.

Our idea of a “franchise quarterback” is based on the model that this aging generation of signal callers created (or in the case of Tom Brady, will continue to create as he wins Super Bowls for the next 50 years). They defined their franchises. Sure, Brees started his career as a Charger, but he is the Saints. The New York skyline consists of […]

2019-09-20T14:37:28+00:00

Test of Faith

Test of Faith

Every day, it seems, we get a little bit closer to the day that college athletes start taking home a paycheck. The latest development? The California state legislature passed a law this week that would legalize college athletes’ ability to sign marketing deals (it would go into effect in 2023). Predictably, the NCAA appealed and called it unconstitutional, claiming that it would give California schools an unfair advantage. They’re right about that last part. If enacted, why would a top college basketball player go play for free at Duke when they could get paid (modestly, but still) at UCLA? Everyone knows what decision would be made.

But what the NCAA’s lawsuit is really about is that they’re scared of other states—football-crazy Alabama, hockey-mad Minnesota—following California’s lead in hopes of competing for national titles. Once that happens, there wouldn’t be any need for an organization hiding behind a shield of so-called amateurism. The NCAA’s decision to challenge the law is purely one made out of self-preservation. They don’t want to save college athletes from the horrors of being able to make some extra cash. They just want to protect their revenue streams.

 So much of what we focus on here at Religion of Sports is centered around you–the fan. Why do we watch, what traditions do we follow, what would a win mean to us? What would it mean to our families?

Every […]

2019-09-13T16:32:16+00:00

Mr. Fantasy

Mr. Fantasy

This Sunday, the entire country will park itself in front of a TV, and soon after that, muscle memory will take over. We’ll switch from channel to channel, game to game, taking note of who’s breaking off big runs or dropping touch passes into double coverage. And all the while, we’ll be on our phone or computer, obsessing over decimal point differences. Fantasy football season kicks off this Sunday. 

Oh right, the NFL does too.

This year, an estimated 60 million people will play fantasy football, according to the Washington Post. To put that in perspective, 17.1 million people attended NFL games last year. 60 million is about the same population as the entire country of Italy.

To see just how much our obsession with fantasy football has changed the way we consume the NFL, look at the way the sports world reacted to the news of Andrew Luck’s retirement. Indianapolis Colts fans booed him as he ran off the field, and immediately–on Twitter, talk shows, and columns–they were eviscerated as immature, brutish fans. Sure, it’s ridiculous to boo a player for prioritizing his health over a game. But it’s a fan’s primal instinct to cheer for people who help their team and to boo those who hurt it. By choosing to leave the team moments before the start of the season, Luck was hurting the Colts, plain and simple. 

Outside of those diehards, though, it was hard for anyone else to see […]

2019-09-13T16:18:17+00:00

WATCH: Tom vs Time, Epilogue

Q&A with Tom vs Time director and Religion of Sports co-founder, Gotham Chopra

1. How did the idea for Tom vs Time come about?

I had gotten to know Tom six or seven years ago when he spent his offseasons in Brentwood, a part of LA not far from where I live. I'd been a lifelong fan of the Pats and obviously a big admirer of Tom's because of all the success he'd helped bring the franchise. I tried to keep that hysteria in check, albeit with mixed success. Over time, as we got to know one another and Tom's rise and the team’s run continued, I kept trying to convince Tom that we should document it.

He politely declined every time, but then, after Super Bowl 51 — the historic way that game ended and just the drama of that whole season — I think Tom realized on his own that something special was going on and it was worth capturing. He called me during that offseason and said I could bring a camera to some of his workouts. I was there in 24 hours!

The Facebook idea was an evolution from there. He already had a relationship with them because of his presence on the platform. They were launching a new product (Facebook Watch), and collectively we came up with an idea of chronicling his offseason training leading up to his 40th birthday. So away we went!

2019-04-08T22:13:45+00:00

50 Years of Memories

50 Years of Memories

Tomorrow marks the 50th anniversary of Open tennis — that is, when the U.S. National Championships became the U.S. Open and allowed professionals to compete.

Let’s take a look back at some of the most iconic moments in the tournament’s history, shall we?

  • 1968: Arthur Ashe, a lieutenant in the United States Army at the time, wins the inaugural U.S. Open. Fun fact: As an amateur, Ashe was unable to receive the champion’s prize of $14K, so he took home a mere $280 in per diem.
  • 1971: 16-year-old Chris Evert takes two weeks off from high school to play and advances all the way to the semifinals. She’d win five of the next nine U.S. Opens while advancing to at least the semifinals in all of them.
  • 1988: Steffi Graf completes the “Golden Slam,” winning all four majors AND a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea.
  • 1991: 39-year-old Jimmy Connors makes an improbable run, eventually losing in the semifinals. His performance was so memorable they made a 30 for 30 about it. Watch this, it’s awesome.
  • 2006: Andre Agassi addresses the crowd after playing his final match (a third-round loss): “The scoreboard said I lost today. But what the scoreboard doesn’t say is what it is I have found. Over the last 21 years, I have found loyalty. You have pulled for me on the court and in life.”
  • 2008: Roger Federer becomes the first […]
2018-09-05T02:11:15+00:00

Blue Collar vs. White Collar

Blue Collar vs. White Collar

A lot of US cities — and, by default, their sports teams — are thought of as, and consider themselves to be, “blue-collar.” Pittsburgh immediately comes to mind. As do Philadelphia and Cleveland.

And then there are the “white-collar” cities. Los Angeles, Dallas. Washington, D.C. The list goes on.

But wait a second…

Is this whole blue-collar vs. white-collar thing merely a stereotype? Or is it actually rooted in facts?

Within the realm of sports — where, like I said, teams tend to take on their city’s identity — those two terms make complete sense and paint a very clear picture.

A blue-collar team will outwork you to death. What they lack in talent, they make up for in grit. A white-collar team is the opposite. Loads of talent. Superstars abound. But do they have what it takes to win the battle in the trenches?

Off the field, however, it’s not so black and white.

Because, I mean, think about it:

When you hear someone say “Los Angeles,” you picture beaches, mansions, and movie stars — which leads you to the conclusion: white-collar. And yet, the majority of LA’s residents can’t see the beach, don’t live in mansions, and definitely aren’t movie stars.

Similarly, when you hear someone say “Pittsburgh” a steel mill enters the frame; and when you hear “Philadelphia,” the Rocky theme song immediately starts playing in your head. Conclusion: BLUE-COLLAR! And yet, there are plenty of white-collar folks living in both of those cities.

And so, I ask you: What does “blue-collar” or […]

2018-08-20T04:29:26+00:00

The Sanity of Sports

The Sanity of Sports

I quit playing baseball in seventh grade. Lacrosse seemed cooler.

Plus, I was kind of over bubblegum and ranch-flavored sunflower seeds — and my splitter wasn’t breaking the way I wanted it to! (Just kidding, I threw a 55 mph fastball and a “changeup” that was really just a slightly slower fastball.)

Since hanging up my cleats, I’ve swung a baseball bat maybe ten times. It’s just not a sport that you can casually play with your friends, ya know?

And yet, despite all that, baseball holds a special place in my heart that no other sport can touch. Not even basketball, which I’m completely obsessed with; or lacrosse, which I played in college.

Every morning, you wake up and are instantly reminded that the world is INSANE. Your office is killing you. Sinkholes are real things that exist. We’re addicted to our phones. Your buddy from high school got rich off Bitcoin and can’t even explain what it is or how it works.

Meanwhile, The New York Times fairly recently informed us that the Pentagon’s secret UFO program (wait, what?) has mysterious alien “alloys” in a garage in Las Vegas (WAIT, WHAT?) — and our collective response was, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Like I said, INSANE. The world is insane.

Sports, however, are not. And that’s why they’re so important.

Sports just make sense, ya know? There are winners; there are losers; there are rules; and typically, there’s a clock that lets everyone know where we are, where we’re headed, and when it’s time to […]

2018-08-13T17:29:36+00:00

The Nostalgia of Baseball

The Nostalgia of Baseball

I quit playing baseball in seventh grade. Lacrosse seemed cooler.

Plus, I was kind of over bubblegum and ranch-flavored sunflower seeds — and my splitter wasn’t breaking the way I wanted it to! (Just kidding, I threw a 55 mph fastball and a “changeup” that was really just a slightly slower fastball.)

Since hanging up my cleats, I’ve swung a baseball bat maybe ten times. It’s just not a sport that you can casually play with your friends, ya know?

And yet, despite all that, baseball holds a special place in my heart that no other sport can touch. Not even basketball, which I’m completely obsessed with; or lacrosse, which I played in college.

Why? Nostalgia.

One of the earliest memories I have is of my dad pitching to me in the front yard. I was probably seven years old at the time.

Like most memories, certain aspects are more vivid than others. Was it spring or summer? No idea. But somehow, I can recall exactly what I was thinking as I waited for the pitch:

Bottom of the 9th. Two outs. Bases loaded. It all comes down to this.

I imagined myself in that moment so many times as a kid. In the yard, in front of the mirror, during whiffle ball games in the summer. Crazy how that stuff sticks with you.

As football season gets underway, baseball will inevitably retreat into the shadows. We’ll keep tabs on the pennant races and tune-in for the postseason, sure, but the majority of our attention will […]

2018-08-05T22:53:52+00:00
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