Attention: Your next must-read sports piece

Stop whatever you are doing. If you read one story this week, make it this one from Grantland.

But brace yourself. The piece is more than 7,000 words. Add it to Instapaper, Pocket, bookmark or whatever you use to read stories later, because you’ll be in it for the long haul, at least in Internet time.

Why do I like this somewhat random story so much? I’m not even drawn to reading many sports stories because I assume my sports journalist husband will filter the interesting ones out for me or tell me about them over dinner. There are so many hours in a day, you know?

But this story stops me in my tracks and makes me want to email it to everyone I know. It’s that good.

Here’s the premise: former LSU goalie Mo Isom tried to become a kicker for the Tigers football team. I’ll be honest: I don’t care about LSU, I don’t care about college soccer, I probably wouldn’t naturally care about a story about a football kicker, even as a woman. But her path to tryouts is what makes her story interesting.

I’m torn by how much to reveal without giving away the beautiful writing you read to understand Isom’s story. There are bits and pieces along the way that if I were to summarize and offer a nugget here and there, it would be like spoiling plot points. But here’s a small section that gives you a tiny sense of what she’s been through.

There is a website called Tiger Droppings, where a few thousand LSU fans gather each day to post emoticons and anonymous opinions. Back in March, a poster started a thread titled, “Mo Isom is a buck-90????” Apparently, TigerTaterTots couldn’t believe Isom weighed 190 pounds.

It took one minute for the first reply: “Don’t care. Would hit it.” Eight posts later, someone rekindled a longstanding message board debate: Who’s hotter? Isom or Erin Andrews? Two pages passed before the first picture of Isom in a bikini, five pages before someone casually suggested date rape. “Mo is a great girl with an amazing life story,” wrote one poster. “She is gorgeous and way too respectable to have people shallowly critique her looks.” Two posts later: “Does anyone know her bra size?”

Reducing athletes to something less than human has been a favored pastime among SEC fans for at least a decade, but it’s safe to assume there are no date-rape jokes about Russell Shepard or Barkevious Mingo. No matter how well she blends, how much she is accepted, how perfectly she navigates the obstacles that arise when a woman enters a man’s game, there will still be someone, somewhere, for whom Isom is nothing more than a thing to be picked apart and appraised — a subject for the enduring online debate, Would you hit it?

The quote above doesn’t even capture the storyline in the rest of the piece, but it’s an example of the serious issues addressed. From a GetReligion point of view, the reporter not only gets a good story about a woman’s physical, athletic and family struggle, but guess what: Grantland writer Jordan Conn captures the faith element. “She’d been raised Methodist, and her faith had always been important, if not all-consuming,” he writes, not just generically explaining that she was vaguely spiritual or religious.

The writer takes the time to go into pretty significant detail over not only just her faith, but her intense struggle with her faith, doubt, frustration and other feelings as she faced hurdles.

So I remember driving home and literally crying out to God — “You’re full of crap. This is all fake. God, if you’re so real, if you love me, if you love me the way that you say that you love me, then show me. Do something.” Because everyone’s sitting there the whole time telling you, “God’s gonna, he’s gonna act in your life, and move in you, and you’ll feel it and know that he’s real.” And you’re just like, what a load of B.S. I never felt like that. So I said, “If you’re so real, show me in a way that I will know.” 

Again, without giving away the story, you’ll have to read it to find out how the reporter deals with this tension with everything else she had going on in her life. So, with the precious Internet time you have left, stop scrolling through Reddit or Pinterest or watching that kitten falling asleep clip; this story is that good, one you’ll find worthy of your time and attention.

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  • Jerry

    WOW! Thanks for pointing me at this story, Sarah. It was everything you said.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Glad to get affirmation!

  • Pingback: Mo Isom: First Female LSU Football Player? | Denny Burk

  • Cvg

    Totally captivating.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Agreed…worth everyone’s time.

  • sari

    Beautifully written. The subject speaks in her own voice; the journalist acts as a facilitator rather than the more usual (unfortunately) commentator.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Good call. That’s a difficult task.

  • http://www.andyrowell.net/ Andy Rowell
    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Good call…I wasn’t sure whether or not to say whether she made it or not. Once you find that out, do you care as much? :)

  • Laura

    Wow! I’m not usually a sports story reader, but wow! Thanks Sara for pointing this one out, it was amazing.

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      Exactly – it transcends sports and athleticism into human experience.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Grantland is a great site, and this is the best piece that I’ve read on Grantland.

  • Karl

    It’s a good story, but I get annoyed whenever someone mentions the name of a mainline Protestant denomination without spending more time explaining someone’s beliefs. If she is in the UMC, is it a liberal or evangelical congregation? There is a mainline Presbyterian (PCUSA) church in my area that happens to have a strong evangelical presence in the congregation (there are even praise band services…). There is also an Orthodox Presbyterian (OPC) church in the area that holds to the Westminster Standards and Calvinism strictly. Calling someone “Presbyterian” as opposed to “Reformed Presbyterian” or “evangelical” doesn’t tell you a whole lot.

  • Heidi Isom

    Many thanks for sharing my daughter’s story by Jordan Conn with your readers. I can tell you he put in the time and effort to write an insightful piece like this and was a joy by whom to be interviewed. Your article was intelligently written and on-point. As to Morlan’s spiritual upbringing, we mainly went to two wonderful, Bible-based, intellectual, and heart-filled United Methodist churches. But, having grown up in the military and attending many churches during my life prior to marrying, I made sure both my daughters learned about different faiths, attended other churches, and allowed others to share as much about their faith with them as I encouraged them to share with others. At this time, both my daughters consider themselves non denominational and are comfortable worshiping in a variety of ways alone and with others. They try very hard to base their beliefs on the Bible and consider the text to be a living document that is timeless and timely in terms of our relationship to the Trinity, to one’s self, and ultimately, as evidenced by the life of Jesus Christ, to others. I hope this is helpful to your commenter Karl and others. Life is a journey, and there is – in fact – a destination too!

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