Why you should care
When you’re the GOAT, sometimes the struggle is real.
This is the latest edition of OZY’s Huddle newsletter, which brings you a smart, flavorful conversation-starter for your next game watch party. No stale takes allowed. Add The Huddle to your OZY email subscriptions here.
Facts: If Serena Williams walked away from the game today, she’d be the GOAT — rackets down. The 23-time Grand Slam winner who once held the No. 1 ranking for 186 consecutive weeks should feel secure. But truth be told, Williams, 37, is not coping well with being an aging legend whose skills are declining. Exhibit A was last year’s U.S. Open final, when Williams had that much-publicized shouting match with chair umpire Carlos Ramos — she accused the chair umpire of sexism — that led to a stunning game penalty that helped 20-year-old Naomi Osaka pull out a massive upset, sending Serena to her second straight loss in a Grand Slam final. Sure, Williams stood up for herself, but the behavior was unbecoming of a legend; she stole the headlines away from Osaka, who dominated Williams in her first career Grand Slam. It was Osaka who showed grace and reverence toward the player she idolized.
Exhibit B happened last weekend when Williams was forced to retire four games into the final of the Rogers Cup against Bianca Andreescu (the veteran was trailing 3-1 at the time). Williams, who had to retire due to back pain, again became the story, telling the crowd: “I’m sorry I couldn’t do it today; I tried. It’s been a tough year, but we’ll keep going.” Andreescu, 19, became the first Canadian to claim the cup in 50 years. Playing in front of a hometown crowd, she should have been the headline, and the tearful Williams might’ve peeped that. But Andreescu rightfully gave Williams her props: “I’ve watched you your whole career. You’re a f–king beast.”
Yes, Ms. Williams, you are.
What to Watch & Pick ’Em
NFL: Chicago Bears at New York Giants (Friday at 7:30 pm ET on NFL Network)
After a brief show of perfection from rookie QB Daniel Jones (5-5, 67 yards, 1 TD) in Preseason Week 1, Giants fans are eager to see how Eli Manning’s heir apparent fares against the league’s top defense.
EPL: Tottenham Hotspur at Manchester City (Saturday at 12:30 pm ET on NBC Sports)
After a 5-0 Opening Day dismantling of West Ham, defending champion City hosts a Tottenham club that added French midfielder Tanguy Ndombele in hopes of capturing its first Premier League trophy.
Manchester City (-290)
Ones to Watch
Aristides Aquino. No rookie has ever hit home runs like Aquino. Simple, perhaps a bit misleading, but true. Called up to Cincinnati from the Triple-A Louisville Bats on Aug. 1, Aquino, 25, has taken pitchers deep at will, becoming the first MLB player in history to hit eight homers in his first 12 career games. Aquino launched three solo shots in a 10-1 win over the NL Central-leading Chicago Cubs on Saturday. Nicknamed “The Punisher” by his brother when he was growing up in the Dominican Republic, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound slugger — who appeared in one game last season — is batting .385 with eight home runs and 16 RBIs as of Wednesday. Seven of his eight home runs have come in Cincinnati’s last nine games, a hot streak that earned him National League Player of the Week honors last week. Prior to being called up, Aquino was hitting .299 with 28 homers and 53 RBIs in 78 games with Triple-A Louisville. Solid production, for sure, but Aquino was not a highly regarded prospect. Now he looks like the future in the Queen City.
Kate Markgraf. For the first time in the program’s history, the U.S. Women’s National Team has a general manager. Weeks after the wildly successful USWNT head coach Jill Ellis announced that she was stepping down, U.S. Soccer has appointed this 1999 World Cup team member and two-time Olympic gold medal winner as GM. Markgraf, 42, graduated from the University of Notre Dame with a BA in business administration while helping the Fighting Irish win an NCAA title, then began a 12-year pro career that saw her earn 201 international caps as a standout defender for America. Markgraf was a volunteer assistant coach with four NCAA Division I programs (Notre Dame, Harvard, Marquette and Texas) and coached club soccer in Wisconsin. On her first day as head of USWNT, Markgraf emphasized a need for the U.S. to continue to set the global standard in player development. The search for Ellis’ successor is priority No. 1. Some of the candidates include Reign FC coach Vlatko Andonovski, Utah Royals coach Laura Harvey and Portland Thorns coach Mark Parsons.
QB Battles. Get ready to Google the quarterback on Saturdays. With an increasing number of transfers and skilled young’uns showing up on campus ready to play, the college football scene is rife with unknown signal callers. After appearing in 12 games as a true freshman for Georgia last season, sophomore transfer Justin Fields – a highly recruited dual-threat athlete – looks to be the next great Ohio State QB. True freshmen look like they will run the show at Arizona State (Jayden Daniels) and Auburn (Bo Nix). Meanwhile, redshirt senior transfer Brandon Wimbush – who started for Notre Dame in 2017 and parts of 2018 – will look to resurrect his career for a UCF team that is coming off of back-to-back undefeated regular seasons. But the biggest quarterback story of this preseason comes via Miami, where redshirt freshman Jarren Williams will start over Tate Martell. The sophomore Martell transferred from Ohio State when Fields arrived and has become a polarizing character on social media. He did not attend practice on Monday, after the announcement that Williams will start, and now may look to transfer again if he wishes to actually play football. Unsurprisingly, the social media trolls and bloggers have been shameless in their relentless response to news that likely devastated an amateur athlete.
The “Rich Paul Rule.” Well, this one wasn’t much fun while it lasted. Days after issuing a memo to agents outlining new certification requirements for aspiring representatives that included a bachelor’s degree, National Basketball Player’s Association (NBPA) certification for three consecutive years, liability insurance and completion of an in-person exam, the NCAA walked back its requirements amid heavy blowback. Nicknamed the “Rich Paul Rule,” it was seen by critics as a move to block young agents from nontraditional, typically urban, backgrounds. Paul, of course, is one of the NBA’s most high-profile agents, representing the likes of LeBron James, Paul George, Anthony Davis, Ben Simmons and Draymond Green, among others. His Klutch Sports Group recently merged with United Talent Agency. And, no, he did not go to college. On Monday, Paul penned an op-ed for The Athletic saying the rule will only accomplish the “systematic exclusion of people who come from a world where college is unrealistic.” Later that day, the NCAA reversed course on the degree requirement. With his first foray into writing, Paul enacted more change than most crusty sportswriters have while shaking their fists at the NCAA for decades.
The Unlikely Trainer Behind Steph Curry’s Jump Shot, by Mark W. Wright in OZY
Brandon Payne is haunted by his past, and Stephen Curry is paying for it.
While the six-time NBA All-Star makes splashing buckets look easy, it’s Curry’s longtime trainer — and his unwavering attention to detail — who’s shaping a generation of transcendent guards.
The Unlimited Greatness of Simone Biles, by Louisa Thomas in The New Yorker
Serena Williams does not win every tournament; Michael Phelps sometimes lost a race. Biles has not lost an all-around title in six years. In that time, she has won twenty-five medals at the Olympics and at world championships. She has been competing against only herself for a long time.”
Soccer Is Getting Slower and More Fair — and That’s a Problem, by Eric Niiler in Wired
With the introduction of VAR (video assisted referee) in the Premier League, officials no longer hold the distinction of all-seeing, all-knowing gods of the pitch. Depending on whom you ask, that’s a problem.
To Break the Monotony of Rehab, This MLB Pitcher Set Out to Save the Planet, by Dave Sheinin in The Washington Post
After breakfast, after the stretching, after the throwing program and the strengthening exercises, after the cardio work and the mobility drills and the weightlifting, after the recovery period and the shower and lunch, most days it would still only be 1:30 p.m. The entire afternoon and evening, for better or worse, awaited Brent Suter.
In 2018, Scott Harrington put his dream of making the PGA Tour on hold to care for his wife, Jenn, who was battling cancer. Back after an extended leave of absence, Harrington, 38, finally realized that dream last weekend … with a cancer-free Jenn there to congratulate the newest Tour member.
The culmination of an emotional rollercoaster for @ScottyGlf and his family.
— Korn Ferry Tour (@KornFerryTour) August 12, 2019