There has to be something to the fact that almost every even mildly successful made-up athletic-ish game-show-y spectacle that shows up on American television contains more than a whiff of the playground. Maybe it’s just a matter of implicit permission—that it’s somehow okay to plunk in a system of arbitrary rules and simplistic goals if we can relate back to the last time any of us invented our fun out of a few willing participants and whatever landmarks were within giddy sprinting distance.

So you’ve got American Gladiators, the early ’90s staple that was King of the Hill quite literally on steroids, mixed in with the sick thrill that comes with wailing on someone with an object from the Nerf family (or, in warmer climates, the pool noodle). I can’t be the only short, poorly coordinated, pudgy kid who still has the occasional dream about SlamBall, the trampoline/basketball hybrid that was invented by literally everyone with access to a trampoline and a portable basketball hoop, and which actually had a few official seasons worth of televised competition in the early 2000s. Or there’s Wipeout, the still-running humiliation-a-thon that combines aspects of bouncy castles, The Ground is Lava, and laughing at people eating shit from the top of a slide.

Why does Luis Suarez bite? It is a bottomless mystery, a puzzle that inspires sportswriters to take on quests to find the Uruguayan’s childhood foes and tempts pundits into misguided bouts of psychoanalysis. “Perhaps his biting started in childhood and was triggered by something, perhaps he was bitten in turn,” The Telegraph mused. “Human bites were the third most-treated kind of mammal bites in the emergency room,” Motherboard helpfully reported. Is Suarez football’s answer to the fable of the scorpion and the frog? Does he lash out, destroying himself in the process, because it is simply in his nature?

Yesterday, FIFA provided an answer to a more pragmatic question: what do you do with a biter like Luis Suarez? It announced that the striker has been suspended for nine matches and will be banned from participating in “soccer-related activity” for the next four months.

One of the more predictable pleasures of the World Cup—as comforting in its inevitability as the sight of the first Portuguese flop or the final Englishman in tears, pink face crumpled in bitter disappointment—is watching as a certain segment of the American pundit class works itself into a fit over all of this so-called “football.”

The anti-soccer diatribe is a venerable American tradition, a roomy enough genre to include the casually homophobic comments of sportscaster Jim Rome (“My son is not playing soccer. I will hand him ice skates and a shimmering sequined blouse before I hand him a soccer ball”) as well as the unhinged xenophobia of G. Gordon Liddy: “This game, I think, originated with the South American Indians, and instead of a ball they used to use the head, the decapitated head, of an enemy warrior.”

I was not a big sports kid. The only game that ever made me sentimental enough to wear any corresponding gear was football—sometimes a uniform used by the English team I inherited from my dad, but more often a shirt with no claim on me beyond the aesthetic one, like Valencia and their bat-winged badge. Maybe it wasn’t just sentimental, then. Although discussion before each World Cup tends to focus on the minute changes to every corporate-sponsored ball, a team’s outfits seem more important to me, if only because of the stylish beauty that football promises and even intermittently fulfills. I’d rather buy a $90 shirt elsewhere these days, but being perversely fond of writing about sports while ignoring the game itself, I decided to look at all 32 of this year’s uniforms.

The 1970 World Cup marked the beginning of several traditions, among them English athletic self-pity. The national team was thought to be even better than the one that won the previous tournament, and the British media’s attitude towards their Mexican hosts was accordingly imperious, or just imperial. Then the great goalkeeper Gordon Banks got food poisoning, his replacement Peter Bonetti made several desperate mistakes, and England fumbled away a two-goal lead to West Germany. The agonized response was perhaps naïve considering how much an opposite result in the 1966 final had depended on Geoff Hurst’s goal-line-stranded strike. (If you want to start an argument with middle-aged English people, like some of my relatives, bring up Tofik Bakhramov, the Azerbaijani referee who allowed it.)

In retrospect, it seems as if everyone else was only competing to lose against the otherworldly Brazilian team, who finally dismembered Italy 4-1. The Italian defender Tarcisio Burgnich marveled: “We jumped together, but when I landed, I could see Pele was still floating,” which is one of the more evocative ways to describe losing at sports.

They left Mexico without the Jules Rimet trophy, but the England squad did manage to record a #1 single.

How to teach James Baldwin.

Some Thoughts on Kindness by George Saunders, animated.

Longreads helpfully collects some assorted online essays by (and interviews with) Leslie Jamison, author of the new book The Empathy Exams.

“Waterboarding is how we baptize terrorists,” someone named Sarah Palin (?) told a National Rifle Association convention.

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.

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