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Venkataraman: A summer of sports memories

To all my lovely readers out there, a warm hello is in order. This column marks my (hopefully) triumphant return to sportswriting after a much-needed hiatus that spanned the summer months and gave me a chance to recharge, recuperate, rest, relax and ponder the meaning of life (the answer, I have conclusively determined, is 42).

Lest you think I frittered away my months of freedom aimlessly, I will also have you know that I watched sports. A lot of sports. A metric [expletive]-ton of sports, in fact. And, since I am far too lazy and far too tired from these exhausting first few days of classes to plan a column that actually has a theme or a big idea, I present to you, the reader, the four sports-related things that stood out to me this summer, as I laid back on my new (electronically reclining) couch at home, remote in one hand, junk food in the other, sports blaring on my TV…

1. Soccer (sorry, “football” to the purists) is amazing. My first dose of “real” soccer came, as it does for many in this day and age, via FIFA 13 (the video game) during my freshman year of college. Fast forward four years and I am a true soccer junkie, with ESPNFC having replaced ESPN as the default autocomplete option on my phone and computer when I enter the letter “e.” This summer hopefully made converts of many more people, as the World Cup captured the attention of the enraptured masses.

Whether it was the heavyweights tumbling out early (hello, England, Italy and most surprisingly, Spain); the rise of the minnows (hello, Chile and Costa Rica); the exceeding brilliance of several individuals (hello, James Rodriguez, Neymar and Thomas Muller); the rise of the U.S. Men’s National Team in the national consciousness and the team’s steely, cagey march into the knockout stages (hello, Tim Howard, and each of the 9 bajillion saves you made to keep us within striking distance of Belgium); the utter massacre of the host nation by a German team firing on all cylinders (goodbye, Brazil); a dramatic final punctuated by an at-the-death peach of a goal by a 19 year old substitute getting his first meaningful action of the World Cup (hello, Mario Gotze), or the sheer scope, drama, and magnitude of the beautiful game played out on the biggest stage of all, the World Cup never failed to disappoint. ‘Twas truly a wondrously sporty beginning to my summer R&R.

2. LeBron James (and Cleveland) won the summer. I don’t think public opinion has ever swung so sharply for a player who was vilified, crucified and raked over the coals for his big Decision (see what I did there?) back in 2010. All it took was another big Decision (this time in 2014), a phone call to Sports Illustrated and some (admittedly inspiring) prose in an open message to the state of Ohio as a whole. Suddenly, LeBron goes from the coward, the poster child of the “too much too soon” era, the kid who jumped ship, to the returning hero, to the savior, the one who will bring balance to the Force and championships to Cleveland.

The story was so unbelievable, Hollywood had to be involved somehow. And as if that wasn’t enough, Cleveland somehow manages to (with the help/insistence/”do it or else I’m leaving again” aid of LeBron) convince Minnesota to part with Kevin Love, resign Kyrie Irving and also draft Johnny Manziel to rescue the Browns from the stinky swamp of putrid mediocrity. It was almost enough to make one believe that God does not in fact hate Cleveland.

3. The NFL (and its reputation) lost the summer. Whether it was the truly abhorrent behavior of a number of its players, whom I will refrain from mentioning by name, to the feeble, ineffectual and frankly insulting disciplinary approach taken by the league office and commissioner Roger Goodell, to the conduct of a number of its owners, who were, in no particular order, arrested for numerous drug and alcohol related offenses, fined millions of dollars for widespread fraud, cautioned for using their influence to tamper with federal justice systems and, refusing to accept the weight of public opinion, continued to maintain and use a racially derogatory team name, the NFL’s summer could not possibly have gone worse.

The worst part to me was the callousness with which the biggest sport in America reacted to the whole situation; in ten years, if the NFL ceases to exist, we will look back at this summer and the concussion and traumatic head injury saga that persists to this day and think of them as the days that the NFL started to decline.

4. Sports are an amazing experience, a fun distraction and a great thing to be passionate about, but not the most important thing in life. There are so very many things in life that mean so much more than glorified games and should be valued as such. Spending this summer with my happy, healthy and loving family was a blessing, and one that I am infinitely thankful for. That being said, it feels great to be back on campus at the start of what I hope becomes a wonderful school year, filled with academic triumphs, sporting successes and wholesome fun all around. Stick around, folks. I’ll be right here every week, rain or shine.

Vignesh Venkataraman forgot to mention in his column that, at the end of his summer, he started his reign as a color commentator extraordinaire for KZSU Stanford’s coverage of Stanford football. To congratulate him on winning the NCAA call-of-the-week twice in the first three weeks of the season, contact him at viggy ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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