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For the love of (someone else playing) the game
April 29, 2014 6:22 AM   Subscribe

"Draft Day," "Moneyball," and the rise of the sports management movie. There’s a new breed of sports movie in town, one that does away with all that pesky team building and ersatz democracy. These films celebrate the real heroes of sports, the real heroes of any workplace: the bosses.
posted by Cash4Lead (40 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
Call me when they start making movies about desk bound administrative type cops that happen to have a WolfCop reporting to them - that you don't get to see.
posted by ill3 at 6:33 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Odd that the explosion in fantasy leagues gets only a cursory mention.
posted by jpe at 6:33 AM on April 29 [8 favorites]


From the last paragraph:
What happens when fans start to think like owners, to dream of firing baseball players rather than joining them on the field?
I think this is a result of the "talented amateur gets a shot" days being long over. With a few exceptions (and those mostly immigrants who were never exposed to a particular sport but are clearly genetically gifted), a kid knows he's not going to be a star by the time he's old enough to have discretionary income. But he can still dream of being an executive or a statistician or a coach, because you don't get started on that career path when you're 15.

And yeah, that Jon Hamm Saves The Indian Kids From Cricket movie... aiyee.
posted by Etrigan at 6:38 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


I was thinking along the lines that the boom in fantasy sports would have weighed more heavily in the report than the apparent racial motivation to make white people the heroes of sports movies.
posted by Badgermann at 6:39 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


What happens when fans start to think like owners, to dream of firing baseball players rather than joining them on the field?

I think this has already essentially happened. What do fans of a team talk about? Trades the team should make, who they should draft, whose contract is too big, who should get an extension, etc. Even in baseball, where there's no salary cap to drive the discussion, people still love to complain about how somebody's getting overpaid. I agree with the effects the article is describing, but I think the fan culture (and ESPN culture as well) might be the horse here, not the cart.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:47 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


Also surprising the author didn't at least mention the argument that could also be made that pretty much every possible plotline for a sports movie has already been done. That, I think, has to contribute at least a bit to this trend in looking "behind the scenes" at management. I mean go look at that list of great baseball movies that got sidebarred recently... if you want to make a baseball movie, are you really going to be able to top that? And in the age of on-demand video it's just as easy for someone to watch that movie as yours.
posted by Wretch729 at 6:49 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


Don't we need a few more data points before we can conclude that this is a "rise"?

Never mind that this is confusing poor little ESL me. People telling other people where to run and what to kick/throw/punch were called "trainers". Then you learn that while that may be an English word, it isn't used that much (and more often applies to shoes) and you should call them a "coach" (which also is a kind of bus). But apparently some guys in American sports that have rules that would make you run begging for the simplicity of "offside" are now the "managers".

And of course, you also have "managers" who do actual business managing, like, y'know, with suits and ties. I guess we're talking about those?

But yeah, AD&D is complicated.
posted by pseudocode at 6:52 AM on April 29 [5 favorites]


" — we watch one of these Indian professional athletes wave his hand in wonder at the automatic sensors in an elevator door — "

Seriously? wow.
posted by marienbad at 7:11 AM on April 29


"The sports management movie performs another important ideological function: the transfer of popular sympathies from workers to management. Americans are loath to think of athletes as exploited — after all, they get paid so well! — but the fact is that big league athletes not at the very top of the heap get five, maybe 10 years of pay, after which they often find themselves unskilled, jobless and saddled with the debts and expenses that can come from having had an incredibly high income and then suddenly losing it. To say nothing of potentially suffering lifelong physical or mental injuries. Within two years of retirement, 78 percent of NFL players are broke, while more than 60 percent of NBA players are broke within five."

It really is all just fucking propaganda.

Similar figures for football in the UK. Absolutely shocking that billion £/$ sports industries can just chew kids up and spit them out and there is nothing there to help them transition and survive after football.
posted by marienbad at 7:15 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


One glaring omission in the article is that the trend of celebrating behind the scenes executives over talent is far from limited to sports. I couldn't tell you who the showrunner was on any TV show I watched growing up or who produced many of the movies I saw at the theater; today people like Dan Harmon and Judd Apatow are bigger stars than many of the people who act in their projects. As much as I feel uncomfortable sidestepping the racial elements the author tries to pin this on in the article, I think much of this trend has to do with the Internet removing a lot of preexisting veils and making everyone feel like an expert.
posted by The Gooch at 7:15 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


What happens when fans start to think like owners, to dream of firing baseball players rather than joining them on the field?


As said upthread, I think this has already happened. I constantly hear people whining and huffing and puffing about how Player should be grateful he even has a job and shouldn't complain about anything and is CLEARLY overpaid while at the same time having no interest whatsoever in challenging the billionaire owners.

The guy who has maybe 3 years to make all the money he will need in his entire life? OVERPAID AND SPOILED. The owners who, at least in the NBA's case, constantly complain that they just can't help themselves from giving out ridiculous contracts? Saints, the lot of them.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:17 AM on April 29 [8 favorites]


a kid knows he's not going to be a star by the time he's old enough to have discretionary income. But he can still dream of being an executive or a statistician or a coach

I don't think that the target audience for Moneyball is the same audience as for Field of Dreams. The Final Season, Air Bud - Seventh Inning Stretch, Sandlot 3 and their ilk are still being churned out so that kids can wax glossy about endless summers.

Moneyball is about the increased legibility of sport (not that sport is unique to this). As everything becomes more clearly susceptible to optimization you get the lionization of the optimizers.

Fantasy leagues allow people to enter into this particular role in a way that their local biases can be played out on small bets. It is the geekification of "fuck'n nomah".
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 7:21 AM on April 29


The guy who has maybe 3 years to make all the money he will need in his entire life? OVERPAID AND SPOILED. The owners who, at least in the NBA's case, constantly complain that they just can't help themselves from giving out ridiculous contracts? Saints, the lot of them.

It might just be my local (Detroit) sports talk, but during the last labor dispute, the callers and the hosts were uniformly lined up in favor of the players. I'll agree that you still get "overpaid and spoiled" in reference to players, but it's way more as regards salary caps and competitiveness than it is "they're taking money out of the poor saintly owners' pockets."
posted by Etrigan at 7:23 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


It might just be my local (Detroit) sports talk, but during the last labor dispute, the callers and the hosts were uniformly lined up in favor of the players.

This was particularly shocking to me since (I assume you're talking about 97.1 here) usually the callers and hosts seem quite conservative.
posted by wikipedia brown boy detective at 7:26 AM on April 29


Yeah, that's the Ticket. The new one isn't any better, though. People who like sports tend to swing right (or maybe it's vice versa). I am willing to consider that Detroit's pro-players-unions stance may not be indicative of everywhere else, though. We did used to have some surprisingly pro-union Republicans until the Kochs started throwing money around up here.
posted by Etrigan at 7:38 AM on April 29


I think the union perspective is getting some increasing traction. I don't know whether that's indicative of problems in the broader economy, or just the fact that the owners/leagues have picked some really stupid battles of late. Certainly, during the NFL referee lockout, public sentiment seemed to be, "Just freaking pay them, already."
posted by Chrysostom at 7:48 AM on April 29


ill3:
Call me when they start making movies about desk bound administrative type cops that happen to have a WolfCop reporting to them - that you don't get to see.
Wasn't that Barney Miller?
posted by charred husk at 8:13 AM on April 29 [4 favorites]


On the one hand, I absolutely cannot stand the worst excesses of things like fan salary cap analysis. I'm glad the NBA was never my favorite league, because watching people hungrily imagine trades for players they would immediately cut for cap space to put toward players who will assuredly never sign with their team is confusing at best and depressing at worst. On the other hand, I've always been left cold by a lot of the traditional sports narratives about teamwork and perseverance. It seems silly to me to think of sports solely as trials of each individual's will to win. In that way, I can get an awful lot of pleasure out of the narratives that have become increasingly popular about team construction and organizations out-thinking their opponents before the players even take the field. I also find comfort in knowing when my favorite team loses a game that it's not a reflection of their personal character (character which is probably actually pretty bad for most of the players I like with regard to off-field issues that I care about) but largely a matter of luck. I like rooting for teams whose management is smart about getting the very sort of weird, undervalued underdog players you might find in a 70s sports movie and then putting them to their best use. I don't necessarily think there's anything morally wrong about taking the perspective of a team's management any more than there is in playing SimCity.

Most importantly, I think there's plenty of room in the world of sports for both these new narratives (which aren't all that new) and the old ones (which aren't going away any time soon). Different people enjoy different aspects of the same pursuits and that's completely OK. I don't think there's a single right way to appreciate anything, and if everyone liked sports, music, politics, or whatever for the same reasons and in the same ways, the world would be much duller than it is.
posted by Copronymus at 9:02 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


My gut feeling is that if more Americans actually spent their recreational time moving their bodies and engaging in athletics, we'd see movies about athletes.

Console-gamers, ESPN addicts, and football fantasists get movies about the leather-assed desk-jockey crunching numbers.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:15 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


I *knew* there was a reason the trailers for "Draft Day" bothered me more than just how incalculably uninteresting it looked.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 9:17 AM on April 29


the real heroes of any workplace: the bosses.

*Fingers crossed for the Donald Sterling biopic!*
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 9:17 AM on April 29 [3 favorites]


Agreeing, this has been a trend for a while. And it’s boorish.

I’ve been saying for years that everything has become "behind the scenes". If you watch baseball news most of it is trades and salaries, which makes me wish they’d start talking about their kids or show some vacation photos. It’s probably just the lack of content problem (I’ve got 24 hours of TV/internet to fill) along with the fact that there’s a sizable audience that likes to gossip and second guess things.

Also, money is important, people aren’t.

But this applies to everything. When I see the announcement for a new movie it’s probably going to tell me how much it cost to make, who financed it, and where it was filmed before the hearing the plot. You don’t really need to know anything or have an opinion to rattle off figures about something. And many movies these days seem to be marketed to "like" not to enjoy.
posted by bongo_x at 9:20 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


I remember when I saw the first ad for Draft Day, thinking that something about it really bothered me. Beyond hoping that it bombs at the box office, it's a movie about football with (at least in the ads) nobody of color that I noticed and nobody young enough to actually play football professionally.

Also, drafts, while expensive and time consuming have a, at best, 60% effectiveness in choosing truly star players. While football is not as stats heavy as baseball, this movie still feels like it should have a tense moment of some guy writing a macro for a spreadsheet and looking at the clock, hoping to get home to see his kids for dinner one night this week while Kevin Costner's character screams at him from the background as to why his report is not ready.
posted by Hactar at 9:28 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Also surprising the author didn't at least mention the argument that could also be made that pretty much every possible plotline for a sports movie has already been done. That, I think, has to contribute at least a bit to this trend in looking "behind the scenes" at management.

this is my immediate take. I quite enjoyed Moneyball, not because it was glorifying some boss-type, but because it was telling me a story I hadn't seen before, and it did it very well.

If you watch baseball news most of it is trades and salaries [...] It’s probably just the lack of content problem (I’ve got 24 hours of TV/internet to fill)

Very much agree. In the old days (I'm in my fifties now, so spent the first half of my life without any 24 hour sports options), you got live broadcast of some games, highlights on the news (of all the local team's games at least), and, if you wanted deeper insight, you pretty much had to read that: in your local newspaper if you were lucky enough to live in a town that took your fave sports as seriously as you, or failing that, you could subscribe to a magazine or two.

Which isn't to say all the armchair stuff didn't still go on, it was just way more limited. Something you'd do once a week over beers with a few friends, or talk to your barber or a taxi driver about.

Past all that, you'd just have to find something else to fill your waking hours.
posted by philip-random at 9:52 AM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Moneyball is absolutely not about the elevation of the management as heroes over the players. That's a profoundly skewed and off-base way to read that movie/book. It's about the triumph of science, data, and analysis over conventional wisdom, unquestioned tradition, and the pervasive dominance of what the good ol' boys network insists is the one pure truth.

Consider this bit from the article, discussing Moneyball:
This transition, from a star- and skill-focused appreciation of the game, its teamwork and its intangibles to the purely statistical production of victories by management...
Wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong wrong.

No one--absolutely no one--loves baseball players or appreciates their skills more than fans of sabermetric analysis (the basis of Beane's approach in Moneyball). The point isn't to use analysis to turn the players into pawns. The point is not to get hamstrung by what some 65 year-old scout tells you makes a good ballplayer or by which stats people decided were important 100 years ago or would look good on the back of a bubblegum card 60 years ago.

I can't speak to most of the movies the author is discussing, but this take on Moneyball is sooooooooooo wrong it's not even funny. Moneyball isn't about celebrating the good old boys network. It's about tearing it down and replacing it with real knowledge. It's about the victory of progressive-minded people who can recognize true value over wealthier people who try to buy it based on calcified ideas from long ago.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 10:00 AM on April 29 [16 favorites]


As much as I’ve already ranted about stats, I agree with DirtyOldTown about Moneyball. The book anyway, I enjoyed it.
posted by bongo_x at 10:15 AM on April 29


Moneyball isn't about celebrating the good old boys network. It's about tearing it down and replacing it with real knowledge.

That knowledge comes in the form of Ivy League-educated statisticians who as the book reminds us frequently have strong ties to finance. Not to mention that Beane was given the greenlight for his experiment by a statistic-minded owner who came from the finance world. It may be tearing down the good ol' boys network of baseball men but it isn't replacing it with anything better, just more of the same people that are running more aspects of our society anyways.

Professional athletes are the people I feel least bad about being statistically optimized, they always have and always will be, but by then end of Moneyball I was left wondering how far that optimization will be able to expand outside of baseball. It's one thing to draft the best players and build the best team, it's another to release Mike Magnante four days before he would be eligible for a pension just because the statistics say that's the right thing to do.
posted by edeezy at 10:46 AM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Any Given Sunday dwelled here a bit; but I think it still had enough Sport to qualify as a Sports Movie; and not a "Management Fantasy"
posted by NiteMayr at 10:58 AM on April 29


It makes perfect sense to lionize the nerds who are turning raw data into tangible gains by rejecting the good old boy mysticism. If your care about a sports ball team, these guys have a huge impact on your firm's success and having something to hang your ambitions on outside of grit, passion, character and PILES of money is refreshing.

Also, stats don't see skin colour, waist size or sexual orientation; if a player is good, they're good and they can get noticed and be given a chance to succeed. The old boy network was all about heart and passion and guts, it's also full of bigotry and bias.

It may be tearing down the good ol' boys network of baseball men but it isn't replacing it with anything better, just more of the same people that are running more aspects of our society anyways.

It's meant to increase wins while decreasing costs, which it does. The fact that the Ivy League-educated statisticians which accomplish this are predominantly white is a problem, but it's a different problem.
posted by Reyturner at 12:41 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the good old boy network mismanaged careers and mistreated players going back to the 19th century. Proper use of data analysis doesn't eliminate all of that, but it at least values players according to their production.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:46 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


In terms of TFA, the change is trading a fantasy about the US being "a nation of underdogs" for a more realistic narrative of it being created and run by a handful of oligarchs for whom labor is, at best, seen as a resource and employees as expendable parts.
posted by signal at 12:56 PM on April 29 [3 favorites]


It's the dad-ification of video games, but for sports movies!
posted by Eideteker at 12:57 PM on April 29


Funnily enough, I bet there are more college students now saddling themselves with debt while majoring in sports management than there are careers in sports management.
posted by surplus at 3:52 PM on April 29


Agree with those saying this is not what Moneyball is about. I really liked the movie because it was about trading conventional wisdom for things we can actually measure. And it was an underdog story, not a good ol' boys know best story. And it's really well-written and well-acted. Who knew you could make a great movie about sports statistics??

I don't know about Draft Day - I read reviews saying it was awful.

And this writer does not know how to count - 3 is a trend, not 2.
posted by kat518 at 4:01 PM on April 29


And this writer does not know how to count - 3 is a trend, not 2.

How about four?
From “Jerry Maguire” to “Moneyball,” from “Coach Carter” to “Two for the Money,” the central narrative of the sports movie is being displaced from the feats of the actual athletes to the “struggles” of the manager, the coach, the publicist, the agent.
Or eight?
Even today’s more traditional ragtag sports movies — “The Miracle,” “Remember the Titans,” “Any Given Sunday” or “Friday Night Lights” — feature the coach, not a player, as the protagonist.
posted by Etrigan at 4:35 PM on April 29


Jerry Maguire came out 18 years ago. I'm not sure I would draw a trend line from it.
posted by Chrysostom at 5:14 PM on April 29


While I realize this article is specifically about Hollywood films, I feel like the thread is incomplete without mention of The Damned United, a truly outstanding film about sports management that I reckon folks might enjoy regardless of their take on association football.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 5:28 PM on April 29 [1 favorite]


Jerry Maguire (1996), Any Given Sunday (1999), Friday Night Lights (2004), Miracle (2004), Remember the Titans (2005), Coach Carter (2005), Two for the Money (2005) - this is a trend. It just happened nine years ago.
posted by kat518 at 6:21 PM on April 29


People pay attention to stories they can relate to. Sports stopped being play for a lot of people a long time ago, if ever (remember kids don't get to play outside anymore). But everyone's either managing or being managed. Usually both.
posted by effugas at 7:49 PM on April 29


If Moneyball is the rise, Draft Day is most certainly the fall.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:20 PM on April 29


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