“30 For 30” and the Role of Money In Modern Sports

“30 For 30” and the Role of Money In Modern Sports (photo)

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By the time its final episode premieres on December 11, “30 for 30” will have aired thirty films on the last thirty years of sports. Nine were about football, six about baseball, five about basketball, two about boxing, two about running, and one each about BMX, hockey, NASCAR, rugby, soccer, and tennis. The series, designed to celebrate ESPN’s thirtieth anniversary, featured the work of thirty different directors, but through its entire range of filmmakers and topics, one theme dominated the year of “30 for 30”: money’s insidious effect on the purity of sports.

Consider its very first episode, “King’s Ransom,” about the trade of Wayne Gretzky from the Edmonton Oilers to the Los Angeles Kings. The Oilers’ motivation? Money. Or “The Two Escobars,” about the destructive impact of drug money on the Columbian national soccer. The pursuit of money was the obvious subject of some of the films, like “Small Potatoes: Who Killed the USFL?” about the life and death of an upstart spring football league laid low by Donald Trump and his quixotic need to compete directly with the NFL. But the topic even bubbled below the surface of episodes not explicitly about financial matters, like “No Crossover: The Trial of Allen Iverson,” about the race and class issues that swirled around Iverson’s legal battle after a bowling alley brawl in 1993.

“30 for 30” was initially conceived by ESPN’s “Sports Guy” columnist Bill Simmons. Simmons is a lifelong Red Sox fan, and if there’s one thing Red Sox fans knew well, at least until a few years ago, it was the pernicious role money plays in sports. Sox fans didn’t attribute 86 years of heartache to bad teams. They blamed it on the “Curse of the Bambino,” after the owner of the Sox sold their best player, Babe Ruth, to the New York Yankees for $125,000. So many of the “30 for 30” — and nearly all of the best ones — speak to the core values in the story of the Curse: greed, loyalty, and community. For instance:

Muhammad and Larry (Albert Maysles and Bradley Kaplan) – The story of Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes’ fight in Las Vegas on October 2, 1980. The 38-year-old Ali was retired for a year, out of shape, and already visibly slowing down when he was offered a title shot against Holmes. So why’d he take the fight? “Money. That’s all it was, money. Greed.” says Wali Muhammad, Ali’s assistant trainer for the fight. The epic tragedy that follows plays like the sad epilogue to the classic Ali documentary “When We Were Kings.” An $8 million dollar purse got Ali into the fight. Poor advice, stubborn pride and Ali’s refusal to go down turned it into a beating that, according to some talking heads in the film, had permanent consequences on his health. One of those talking heads is Dr. Ferdie Pacheco, the fight doctor who finally quit Ali’s camp before the Holmes bout after years of urging him to retire. By contrasting the indignant, defiant Pacheco with the remorseful Muhammad, Mayles and Kaplan explore two differing definitions of the word loyalty.

Straight Outta L.A. (Ice Cube) – The Oakland Raiders move to Los Angeles and help inspire the style and swagger of the gangster rap movement. Another study of loyalty, this one loaded with dramatic irony: Los Angeles delights in the arrival of the Raiders from Oakland, never realizing that if the team cared so little about one community that they would leave it for “greener” pastures, they might do it again. Though Cube himself remains loyal to the Raiders and insists they’ll always be L.A.’s team, owner Al Davis demonstrates no loyalty to either city, only to himself and his dream of making lots of money selling luxury suites in his own stadium. Designed as a nostalgic celebration of Los Angeles history, the film works more effectively as a melancholic look at what it means to be a fan of a team that is more interested in itself than its hometown.

The Best That Never Was (Jonathan Hock) – One of the best high school athletes of all time, Philadephia, Mississippi’s Marcus Dupree, fails to live up to his potential. Like Ali, Dupree surrounded himself with bad advisers, and as a result, his story plays like the Bizarro universe version of “The Blind Side.” Instead of a man who discovers a talent for football he never knew he had under the care of protective, nurturing guardians, Dupree, drunk with his own gifts, gets exploited by greedy or ignorant agents, and blows his chance in part by listening to his own hype and looking for the quick buck. Hock depicts the world of big-time college football as a minefield of temptation, where recruiters and coaches ply teenagers with sacks of cash or free cars. A cautionary tale of talent unfulfilled and personal redemption (unfulfilled talent with our without the redemption was another common theme on “30 for 30,” appearing in “Without Bias” and “Guru of Go” about the deaths of college basketball superstars Len Bias and Hank Gathers, and “Into the Wind” about amputee Terry Fox’s inspirational run across Canada to raise money for cancer research).

“30 for 30” has petered out a bit down the stretch. A few scheduled films weren’t done in time, most notably Alex Gibney’s portrait of infamous Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman, and their replacements were mostly puff pieces produced by self-serving corporate entities. Some movies, like John Singleton’s lightweight portrait of disgraced track and field star Marion Jones, missed the mark. And one could argue it’s a bit hypocritical for a network that regularly features segments like “Coors Light Cold Hard Facts” and the “Budweiser Hot Seat” to decry the role of money in sports. But despite all that, the series maintained a consistently high level of quality, and you don’t have to be a sports fan to appreciate the risk ESPN took when it gave so much airtime and creative freedom to so many filmmakers at a time when “reality” has replaced “documentary” as the dominant nonfiction mode on TV. I suspect that in the future we’ll talk about this series the way grad school professors talk about the old “CBS Reports:” as a landmark in the history of the documentary on television.

“30 For 30: Volume 1,” containing the first fifteen films in the series including “Muhammad and Larry” and “Straight Outta L.A.,” will be available on DVD on December 7.

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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.


IFC: How would you describe Janice and Jeffrey to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines


The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.


Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.


A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.


Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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