Here’s a couple of pieces over at Grantland to check out.
First, Louisa Thomas on Venus Williams:
She has always seemed to have an ambivalent relationship to tennis. She is the most recognizable exponent of the game (even more than Serena, perhaps, because she came first) and also a vanishing act, an ambassador and outsider at once. She wanted to be the best, but it wasn’t always clear that she wanted to play at all. Richard Williams said he wanted his daughters to be extraordinary, to stand apart. They do. But that doesn’t quite capture Venus. Nothing does. She is elusive.
The challenge, Venus made clear early on, was to change the game without letting it change her. She has always held something back. Her story isn’t one about a rise and fall, glory and fade. She has become a kind of ghost.
This isn’t because she has other interests outside of tennis, which is often the knock. The spookiest thing about her is that she is one of the greatest competitors in the women’s game, but also one of the most indifferent. She’s a winner who somehow doesn’t need to win. So — and this is the question that has always bugged me, and the question I’ll be thinking about as I watch her in this tournament, and write about it here — why does she continue to play?
Unlike my colleagues who have written in recent days of having covered him over the past 30 years as a pitcher, pitching coach, general manager, and broadcaster for the Orioles, Flanagan was in and out of my life as quickly as I tried to get in and out of the locker room. But he stayed with me in ways I didn’t realize until I heard about his death. What struck me about the conversation that day in the locker room was his interest in me. Most athlete-cum-celebs are too busy bemoaning the obligations of public personhood, too consumed by the ego-distorting attentions of doting reporters hanging breathlessly on every not-so-well-chosen word, to think about anyone other than themselves. But Flanagan really wanted to know about me, and because his interest was palpably authentic I told him things I never expected to reveal in a major league clubhouse, where revelation was supposed to be the other way around. I told him the naked truth.
…Flanagan’s suicide and that of former Yankee pitcher Hideki Irabu after the spotlight passed them by, that of Denver Bronco’s receiver Kenny McKinley and LPGA golfer Erica Blasberg after suffering debilitating injuries, and that of former Pro Bowl safety Dave Duerson, who shot himself in the chest so his brain could be studied for evidence of trauma-induced disease — which was found to be ample — cry out for the availability of on-going psychological services for professional athletes and for a reexamination of the fallacious assumptions we make as a result of their sturdy professional lives.
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