Sports are Weird and Pointless and They Matter So Much


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Jeff Francoeur playing for the Atlanta Braves

Thomas Rice, Editor

The first Jon Bois video I ever watched was called “Chart Party: My favorite worst baseball player.” The name of the video had caught my eye as I scrolled through the YouTube recommended page. This was years ago now, but that YouTube video has stuck with me ever since. It was about Jeff Francoeur, a now-retired MLB outfielder who played most of his career for the Atlanta Braves, New York Mets, and Kansas City Royals. To this day, when I see Francoeur on Bally Sports Southeast as a commentator for Braves games, I don’t think of him as an analyst, I think of him as the guy who climbed through the ceiling to get out of a bathroom his teammates had locked him into. I don’t really even watch baseball, so, looking back, it’s incredibly lucky that I managed to click on that one video that one day, because it opened my eyes to some of the most unique and entertaining content the internet has to offer.

“My favorite worst baseball player” is a quintessential Jon Bois video. It follows Francoeur’s turbulent career, from his sensational first month of MLB baseball, in which he was hitting on par with legends like Joe DiMaggio and Willie McCovey, to his later descent into just another baseball player who just isn’t that great. Along the way we get to learn about the colorful cast of characters and bizarre experiences that surrounded Francoeur through his playing days (some stories are only barely related to Francoeur at all), like Tim Foli, who once slept in his sleeping bag on a baseball field while he was in the MLB and later, as a coach, bit a fellow coach of his team on the leg, and how one of Francoeur’s hits led to a walkoff unassisted triple play (one defensive player got three outs in one play without any other player on his team touching the baseball), something that has happened only one other time in MLB history. The entire 13-minute opus is tied together using the aforementioned story about being stuck in a clubhouse bathroom, a metaphor for Francoeur’s career. Every time it seemed like he should be out of options, out of the league, he managed to keep on playing MLB baseball, but not that well.

That conclusion is what sets Bois’ videos apart from anything else sports-related on YouTube or anywhere else. They focus on the weirdness of athletics, how someone can suddenly be great or how someone can suddenly not be. It’s easy to snidely point out that sports are ultimately pointless and how they don’t really matter, but Bois celebrates the former point and disregards the latter. He manages to find the wildest, most unbelievable true stories about athletes and teams, some of which are only viewed as artifacts of interest, but many of which connect back to some vague yet affecting conclusion on human spirit.

There are other fundamental elements of Bois’ videos, found on his own or Secret Base’s YouTube channel. You won’t just hear about something absurd that happened, you’ll be shown how absurd it is on a graph or chart (hence the title of one of his video series, “Chart Party”). You will hear some smooth jazz and/or atmospheric techno. You’ll probably see some newspaper clippings and headlines from decades past to illustrate a point. You might see some panning on Google Earth and across a landscape on which the entire video’s graphics lie, almost like the charts and slides you see are a gallery that exist on their own and through which you are only being guided. Some videos are more conceptual than others. “Every NFL Score Ever” is an introduction to the concept of “Scorigami,” something Bois made up and has no underlying message about the human condition; it exists merely to show how weird football scoring is and how difficult it is to make a unique NFL score at this point in history. “Randall Cunningham Seizes the Means of Production,” however, shows how sports can be a prism for symbolic victories through what athletes and teams represent to different people, even when the real cause is lost.

Perhaps my favorite Bois epic is “RAT POISON AND BRANDY: THE 1904 ST. LOUIS OLYMPIC MARATHON.” It contains some of the craziest stories you will ever hear, like how a runner was given, as the title suggests, rat poison and brandy during the race instead instead of water and nearly died afterwards or how the first two African competitors in any Olympic event ran this race without shoes and only participated because, essentially, they were in town as war reenactors and could run. One of those two reenactors was chased off of the course by wild dogs, but finished ninth. Felix Carvajal, a Cuban mailman who was not invited to the event, had never ran professionally before, was not dressed in athletic clothes (although he was wearing a beret), and essentially hitchhiked and ran his way from New Orleans to St. Louis finished fourth. There is also a story that Carvajal took a nap during the race itself, although Bois notes that he cannot believe that, even given the other absurd details of the story. All of these stories paint an intimate picture of the marathon and its insanity. In the conclusion, however, Bois brings to light a sobering fact: all of this, all these stories of failure and triumph, are being lost to the sands of time. If not for watching this video, I certainly wouldn’t have known about the marathon. All of these people who gave so much for this race could’ve been, and in many ways have been, forgotten, or else not recognized at all. There is no rousing message, this isn’t anything to do about it, it’s just depressing. The video is an utter masterpiece for this, and it hit me as hard as few other media I’ve seen or read.

I’m writing this in large part because Bois has been releasing a new series, “The History of the Atlanta Falcons,” which has fascinated me since its first episode came out. I also think that Bois’ videos encapsulate what can make sports so great; it’s not always about winning, it’s not always about greatness. Sometimes it’s about seeing yourself reflected in the athletes you admire, and all the insane, fun, exciting, inspiring, and unique stories that ensue.