Exactly ten years ago, I edited a wonderful piece by Kelefa Sanneh about a boxer named Shane Mosely. It was a story about a doomed fighter facing off against Floyd Mayweather, and also about the whole point of sports. It was the kind of essay that made me care about a sport I didn’t care about in part by chewing over why it wasn’t worth caring about to begin with. K wrote: “Boxing has largely been liberated from the tyranny of sanctioning bodies, but the price has been a loss of coherence: corruption has given way to confusion; the champion is whoever seems to be the champion. There are no playoff games—or, rather, there is an endless procession of dubious playoff games, each one promoted as if it were the Super Bowl. In other sports, the structure camouflages the underlying crisis of meaning; the point of a football season is to win the Super Bowl. (Although, every February, contemplative fans must confront the question: What’s the point of winning the Super Bowl?) Because it is structureless, boxing forces its fans to face this crisis continually—the boxing season is one long attempt to make sense of a bunch of senseless fights.”
I’m reminded of this piece both because all sports seem to be returning simultaneously. (Go Bruins! Celtics! Patriots! Red Sox! At least until everything is canceled by further outbreaks.) And because one of the remarkable side characters in K’s story, the legendary trainer Naazim Richardson, just passed away. Here’s another scene from the story about how Richardson schooled his fighters. “The sparring was over, and Richardson was explaining his theory of boxing, which is mystical but not at all sentimental. ‘Shane’s power is more confidence than actual power,’ he said. ‘This motherfucker believe in that shot so much, to where that shot is like that.’ Mosley was briefly a weight lifter in high school, but Richardson wanted to deëmphasize physical strength—he thought it was overrated. ‘The gorilla is the strongest motherfucker in the zoo,’ he said, by way of explanation. ‘But you ain’t never seen that bitch walk by with the keys.’ The laughter faded for a second, as a room full of fighters considered the power and the limitations of analogy.”
Moving back to the present moment, we at Wired have of course been obsessed about another kind of boxing match, in which the coronavirus wins round after round in this country, even as others knock it to the canvas. One story I particularly liked comes from my Atavist co-founder, Evan Ratliff, who examined the work of Nathan Wolfe a virologist who figured out the need for pandemic insurance. In 2018, Wolfe and German insurance giant Munich Re devised a plan for the world’s first pandemic business insurance. It was well-modelled, the culmination of many years’ work by a team of insurance specialists and scientists. But nobody would buy it. That was a mistake.
Elsewhere in Wired, Louise Matsakis dove deep into the world of prison TikTok, where incarcerated people can make their voices heard outside the walls of confinement. Noelle Mateer sought answers to a question that’s bothered her for years: why do so many people in China wear t-shirts for Linkin Park? And in our latest print issue, Brian Barrett wrote a moving tribute to a school friend who is battling ALS by building a movement.
Over across the Web, Gideon Lewis-Kraus told the story of how the revelation of the man behind Slate Star Codex, a home to self-proclaimed rationalists on the Internet, led to a skirmish between my two worlds of media and Silicon Valley. And Ismail Muhammad wrote about listening to John Coltrane’s “Alabama”—recorded in 1963, just two months after the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham—in 2020. “Coltrane asks us to bear witness to this hole in the ground, which is also a hole in America’s story, which is also a hole in the heart of black Americans,” he writes. “He wants us to grieve alongside him at this absence.”
Speaking of music, I loved this episode of the 1619 Project on the proliferation and appropriation of Black music. And for a moment of levity, check out this Reply All episode, which tracks down a pop song that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere online but has haunted one man for years.
I also enjoyed Patricia Lockwood’s account of her experience with coronavirus—complete with mysterious numbness, arthritic nodules, and a slow descent into madness. I was captivated by this wild feature from Tom Junod, which begins with a man who was killed on a baseball field in Maine in 2018, and unfolds into a sweeping tale that’s equal parts true crime and family saga. And I loved revisiting this Nick Paumgarten investigation of elevators, especially since I haven’t ridden in one since March.
Ideally, though, we’ll start to figure out this virus, we’ll win a few rounds, and, in not too many more months, I’ll be back at One World Trade Center, wearing a mask and waiting to press a button that will take me to the 27th floor.
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