Ryan Freel’s 2012 suicide shed light on the rarely mentioned issue of mental health in baseball. Dirk Hayhurst’s new book goes even further, chronicling his own struggles in the majors, and the culture that tries to keep those kinds of discussions quiet.

The Drive. The Play. The Goal. The Golden Goal. The Shot. The Shot Heard Round the World. The Shot that Saved Cleveland :/ The Hand of God, The Holy Roller, The Immaculate Reception. Too Many Men on the Ice, The 13th Man. El Perfecto … No Mas.

We remember sports in short phrases like these—cues that call to mind a still frame or a highlight. Even a sport like ice dancing—often dismissed as fodder for something like a Christopher Guest mockumentary—is remembered every four years with its own mantra, its own call-and-response that conjures its most famous moment. Bolero. It begins with the famous pose, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, left cheek to right cheek. Sarajevo ’84. The opening snare drum cadence of Maurice Ravel’s most famous composition.

We should give Russia a break. The more I think about it, the less I think their problem is actually homophobia.

Sure, what’s happening in Russia right now is certainly an expression of homophobia—those roving bands of thugs hurting and humiliating (mostly) boys they think might be too interested in members of their own sex. But that’s the pus, not the infection. I realized in a flash of skin and beard this past week the problem there might be something quite different. I suggest that what we’re seeing is not so much homophobia but, rather, czarphilia, a Highlander-esque imperative that there can be only one, which Vladimir “The Torso” Putin has taken beyond the realm of politics and extended to masculinity itself, and that his serf-like subjects have taken patriotically to heart.

After years of buildup and excitement, the 2014 Sochi Games finally kick off this Friday. To help you make the most of the upcoming 17 days of winter sports fun, we’ve compiled a list of fun facts about the XXII Olympic Winter Games. Nostrovia, everybody!

Unlike certain colleagues, I never hated football. The only sport I spent time resenting as a kid was hockey, with its cultural omnipresence that obliged me to strap twenty pounds of plastic and metal onto my body and slide around a rink best known for frequent coyote sightings. The NFL was an American curio, so tactical and protracted that it still seems more fun as a video-game simulation of itself. It didn’t even have a goalkeeper equivalent—so existential, the natural position for us bookish types, since it only requires intermittent effort.

But it doesn’t take much inducement to make me watch a game anyway, whether chicken wings or pop stars. After the embarrassing and career-derailing controversy over Janet Jackson’s infinitesimally visible breast ten years ago, the NFL developed a Grammys-like devotion to middle-aged white rockers. Recently, though, Super Bowl halftime shows have gotten more adventurous again, booking the likes of Beyoncé and Madonna (out-trolled, despite the mass gay panic, by her guest M.I.A.). Bruno Mars was a risky choice for last night’s gig in the sense of simple recognition—he’s only released two albums—but this particular pompadour makes pop hits like an exacting technician.

Philip Seymour Hoffman was probably the greatest actor of his generation, and now he’s dead. From a pained nobody laughing and faking his way through a conversation about sports with a coworker, to one of history’s more iconic rock critics, to one of history’s more iconic writers, to a nurse who might be the only virtuous person in a city of supremely damaged souls, to a murderous arms dealer, to a spiritually bereft cult leader, “it’s not clear that there were roles [he] could not do.” It’s a tragic death, and, perhaps, “the complete price of his nearly superhuman ability has yet to be reckoned.” But after the life he led, and the family he left behind, never mind the body of work, if the best you can do is breathlessly and ghoulishly splash the horrific details of his demise all over Twitter and at the top of your content farm, maybe your best course of action is to sit the next few plays out and watch a goddamn movie.

More on Hoffman soon. Until then, some of his finest moments. God, this sucks.

The two month-old civil uprising in Ukraine crossed a dangerous threshold yesterday when two protestors were killed in clashes with police. Critics have accused the goverment of provoking more radical factions within the opposition to justify a tightening of the crackdown. According to the New York Times, authorities have geolocated people near the fighting and sent them SMS messages warning, “Dear subscriber, you are registered as a participant in a mass disturbance.”

Stephen Harper is resigning in 2014, Canadian Business confirms in a legally binding no-backsies blog post.

“‘Every time I see a transgender person in the media, their stories are always centered around their appearance/physical transition. Being transgender is more than a physical appearance. Being transgender is being all of who I am, and that includes keeping certain things from my life private. Please remove the personal information before it airs.’ Like Dr. V, my request was denied.”

Author Douglas Coupland|Photo of author Douglas Coupland|photographed by Matthew Braga.

Douglas Coupland on his new novel, Worst. Person. Ever. Hari Kunzru on the sublime terror of the desert. And Hazlitt’s Scaachi Koul spars with UFC historian Nick “The Tooth” Gullo.

Early on in Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, the boxer pointedly reminds us exactly what he is: “I’m that guy who used to knock motherfuckers out in 30 seconds,” he tells the crowd. The crowd, dutifully, erupts in raucous cheers.

It’s not like anyone coming to the 90-minute HBO movie based on a Broadway show doesn’t know who Mike Tyson is, but the fact that he needs to remind us at the outset feels pretty indicative of the strange path he’s found himself on since those more consistently violent days. Despite putting on a performance about his own life and times, those of a notoriously unhinged boxer, the Tyson we see on stage is an altogether different beast. After that knockout comment, he calls himself “domesticated now”; a better word might be stage-managed, in ways that resonate far beyond his actual stripped-down show.

This was my grandma’s house. The last of the old people, like the 70 year olds next door, Gino remembers me when I was a little boy. They’re hanging on. My wife was telling me how when we first moved in here, the neighbours weren’t really sure what I do. Because I don’t “go to work.” I think some of the neighbours thought I was on disability or something, and then Gino saw me on TV. He was like, “Oh, okay!” And then his son, who is kind of urbane, explained my work to him. Later, we were having a problem in the front garden, digging up some roots. Gino—he’s a strong old Italian guy—comes over with a pickaxe, and he’s digging the roots out, hacking at them with this pickaxe. And he’s sweating through his undershirt. And he says to me, he says “When you write a book, you kill me. When I do this, I kill you.” We’re killing each other. It’s hilarious.

How does an average-sized white guy from a country not known for its basketball prowess become one of the game’s biggest stars and most valuable leaders? A new book charts the unlikely course, but Jack McCallum has some theories of his own.

Pro wrestlers wreck their bodies, ruin their careers, die far ahead of schedule, and David Shoemaker draws from a rich well of their stories in his new book, The Squared Circle. Here are some, however, who improbably, defiantly made it out alive.

Basically, see this pull-out over here? That’s my bookshelf. This is our home away from—you know what I mean? It’s all we have. Most guys use it for storing other stuff, odds and ends, or extra gauze, or whatever.

These on the bottom shelf are the ones that I’ve read or am reading, and these up here are the ones that are gifts that I’m getting to. I’ve got to have ‘em separated. Every year I try to re-read a classic. This year it’s Anna Karenina. I read it first in college, so I’m getting reacquainted with it. I saw the movie recently—did you see the movie when it came out? You’ll love the book. It’s a love story. But anyway.

If you’re a woman and you don’t want to wait in line for a public washroom, just go to a live UFC fight.

Saturday night, Toronto hosted its third UFC pay-per-view. Mixed martial arts fighting had been illegal in Ontario up until three years ago, but those three fight-nights have been enough to prove its staying power, and at UFC 165, there were just a handful of unfilled seats in the Air Canada Centre (approximate capacity: 19,000). The light-heavyweight title fight of champion Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson was the main event, but anyone can watch that at any bar with a few televisions. Half the fun of seeing a live UFC event is watching everyone in the stands, people suffering meltdowns over punches not landed and failed choke-holds.

Against Saul “Canelo” Alvarez on Saturday night, as happens in most every Floyd Mayweather Jr. fight, the fans started berating the challenger. It usually occurs during the middle rounds, after the initial nervous energy from the boxers has burned off and the fight has settled into a slow and predictable rhythm. Mayweather stands in front of his frustrated opponent, his hands poised to strike, while the man across from him seems frozen, his gloves fastened to the side of his head, unwilling to throw a punch at Floyd and unable to avoid the punches coming at him. It’s as if the matter has been settled despite half the contest remaining, as though there is an understanding between the fighters that Floyd won’t hurt them too badly and they won’t do anything crazy like actually try to beat the unbeatable champion.

“Do something!” is the most common advice frustrated fans give when watching someone they’ve invested in fight Floyd. Either that, or the slightly more refined, “I’d just throw a bunch of punches. He doesn’t hit that hard and you’re going to lose anyway.”

On the list of opinions that are actually basement furniture—old, tired bits you don’t have the heart to eliminate but to which you only resort when you’ve run out of other options—the most prominent sports-related one is that baseball is boring. To sate the 14,000 blazer-wearers whose sphincters just instinctually opened their Twitter apps: I think that’s untrue, not to mention worn out. The sport that really is boring, of course, is football.

For two years, I’ve been looking for a Toronto Blue Jays shirt. I don’t need anything fancy: Just a tank top with the logo on it, something in breathable fabric because I sweat like an elderly rugby player when I’m in the sun, and preferably something that fits me.

And yet, for two years and over the 25 or 30 games I’ve seen, I can’t find it. I can find shirts in sheer fabric, shirts with bedazzled logos or cutesy sayings, and a plethora of things in pink which, by the by, is not the team’s colour.

Wayne Gretzky wasn’t the first athlete to agree to play in a warmer climate in front of less demanding fans, and he won’t be the last. That doesn’t mean his trade from Edmonton to L.A. wasn’t an affront to the gods.

The issues around the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports can be hopelessly complex, so it’s best to start with basic facts we can agree on: Ryan Braun is an asshole.

That much should not be in dispute. This week the Milwaukee Brewer and former National League MVP was suspended for the remainder of the 2013 season, becoming the first casualty of a wide-ranging investigation into the Biogenesis clinic that will likely claim many more.

“As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect,” Braun’s apology began—a sneering, provocatively half-hearted opening under any circumstances, but especially when your last words on the subject were brazen lies aimed at destroying the reputation of the employee in charge of testing you.

When things stick around long enough, you stop seeing them. They fade into the background, staying unnoticed, until one day you walk into your house, do a double-take, and realize you’ve had the same crappy Montreal concert poster on your wall since 2007 and don’t remember the band or even the year all that well and, plus, how come you never noticed there’s tiny a piece of egg (or is that cheese?) stuck there near the bottom? These moments of clarity are inevitably a bit embarrassing, but they are necessary.

This same process explains how, every few years, people idly flipping through the sports section become newly startled by the fact that, in 2013, the National Football League has a team called the Redskins. Wait a minute, they think, the Redskins? With a weird drawing of a Native American in feathers as the logo? And this team plays on television in a professional football league and not, I don’t know, in some dusty Southern prison yard for the amusement of the cruel, John-Wayne-obsessed Warden? Seriously, the Red Skins?

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