This issue of No News News calls for a timeout. Or rather, we’re making the best of the biggest disruption to professional sports that's ever happened. With no Olympic Games and no Euro Championship to watch this summer, join us in looking at the sidelines instead: What’s going on off-season, off-court and when the cameras are off too? From WBNA players negotiating their contracts, the melancholy of empty tennis courts, health goths going into overtime to Gritty the Marxist mascot – there’s a lot going on even when the action is on hold. No need to break a sweat then…
No News News #4 featuring Christian Werner, Elmgreen & Dragset, Jana Gerberding & Isabelle Thiry, Kristina Nagel, Markus Völker, Orit Gat and Satou Sabally
Die-hard sports fans have had a gruesome few months: Tokyo 2020? Canceled. The Euro Championship? Canceled too. Plus, the US track and field championships have been called off. Now what? Even if you don’t tune in every week, you might miss this deficit. After all, the archetypal international sports viewing experience is watching players you’ve never seen before and becoming suddenly invested in their success, tutting at poor scores like an armchair coach.
But not all professional sports have been deleted from TV schedules: A lot of leagues are trying to conduct their tournaments adhering to the rules and regulations of the new normal. Hoop fans might want to tune in to the “wubble” – the WBNA’s season held at Disney World in Florida. Here, this issue’s hero, basketball sensation Satou Sabally has not only been leading her team – the Dallas Wings – to two victories in a row, she’s also been finding the time to shame her sport’s naysayers. It’s just like 3LW sang anyway: “And haters, they gonna hate / Ballers, they gonna ball.”
Elsewhere, we’ve been looking at how an unsuspecting hockey team ended up with an “acid trip of a mascot”, the googly-eyed Gritty, who has also become a socialist icon along the way. Photographer Christian Werner’s shots of deserted tennis courts call for a more contemplative approach, and tennis fans like artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset offer their thoughts on a game that, when played at a high level, is as much a psychological exercise as it is physical. And please, rewind back to the early 2000s with writer Orat Gat’s essay on the “safe, middle-class femininity” of women’s soccer as it is portrayed in Bend It Like Beckham. A few observations on things you might want to purchase – from Dennis Rodman’s “Bong.” hat to very utilitarian mineral powders – round off this issue.
On another note: We’re still figuring things out, so please bear with us when No News News reaches your inbox clipped or is hard to forward. Most email clients favor shorter, less content-heavy emails – but where’s the competition in that? Plus, there’s always our archive to access past and current issues.
Thanks for reading!
QUOTE UNQUOTEMARKUS VÖLKER
At just 22, Satou Sabally is one of the most anticipated drafts of the WNBA, the women’s equivalent to the NBA. Driving to the basket before scoring a “floater”, sinking eight three-point shots in one game or wooing the crowd with behind-the-back layups: she’s a rising star. Off the court, she’s also a pro on the ’gram and TikTok too. Clips show her downing the ball from half court while making cheerful funny faces in practice, unboxing a king-sized bed full of Air Jordan gear and rating unoriginal comments by women’s basketball haters (“Can they dunk?” received a 5/10 and a response: “can you?”.) It’s earned her over 55,000 followers on Instagram with 5000 added in the last two weeks alone – but she wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her skills on court.
Sabally was just about to enter March Madness, the heated end-of-the-season tournament, with her college team, the Oregon Ducks, before the coronavirus halted all competition. In a bold move, she then forewent her fourth and final year at college and decided to go pro. As pick number two she got drafted by the Wings from Dallas, the city where fellow German b-ball export Dirk Nowitzky became a legend of the game. Sabally’s team is currently in the “wubble” as the players of the WBNA have dubbed this season, played in its entirety at Disney World in Florida, for its COVID-19 safety measures. But it’s not all a magic carpet ride for the players of the WNBA, where there have been complaints of dirty rooms and bad food – while the men, as usual, seem be treated a lot better.
Because that's the thing: The NBA is one of the most profitable sport franchises in the world, reporting a revenue of almost nine billion US dollars per season, but the WNBA only turns around an estimated 60 million. This means it’s relatively hard to make a decent living on the league’s base salary – considering that these are professional athletes. So it’s not unusual for young WNBA players to take up the jersey of a European team during the US off-season to make some extra cash. Here, Sabally, who grew up with a Ghanaian father and a German mother in Berlin, speaks openly about negotiating contracts and facing racism.
You recently signed a new, more lucrative player contract as the result of a labor dispute. What’s gotten better?
The players are finally getting a higher salary and, therefore, are being held in higher regard – even the newcomers. We’re enjoying more benefits when traveling, with tall players no longer having to squeeze into airplane seats that are far too tight, and with faster security at the airport. Traveling has gotten more comfortable and easier. The salary was the decisive factor: I didn’t want to earn just $50,000 in my first year.
The new contract also states that players with children are entitled to $750 per month for childcare and even $20,000 after eight years in the league if a player wants to freeze her eggs. It was a comprehensive package put together by the head of the players' union, Nneka Ogwumike of the Los Angeles Sparks. In 2018, she wrote a highly regarded essay in which one sentence reads: “And I want young female athletes to dream about playing in a vibrant and thriving WNBA. I want them to dream of having it all.” Do you feel like you’ve gotten it all?
It’s close. I am a positive person and I tend to see the positive in things. But I don’t think we should settle with that. A lot of players still have to go to Europe or Asia for eight months over the winter to earn extra income. And you can’t forget: I’m going to make more in Europe than I do in the WNBA. But then it’s also really hard to play two seasons in one year. When we don’t have to go to Europe anymore to have financial security, only then can we can talk about a thriving WNBA.
While you’re still adding a second season in Europe after the WNBA season, will you maybe be seen playing for a German team?
I think it’s cool to play in Europe, but not for a German team. The league isn’t that strong and the salaries aren’t that high. The German league will need some time before it reaches a certain level. Turkey, Russia, China: These are the more interesting countries.
“Implicitly, it sounds to me like: ‘You can’t be from Germany because you look different.’ But I want to feel like I belong – in sports and in life.”
There is movement in the WNBA, but what do you think needs to happen to push women’s basketball?
We need to court players more. I think it is important that female athletes are seen, that they are the focus. There’s a lack of respect – but also a lack of interest – in the media. I only ever see men's sports when I look at the sports page in the newspaper. There’s never any talk about women. That also means that you don’t know who the defining figures are. Social media is changing that. My Oregon Ducks teammate Sabrina (editor’s note: Sabrina Ionescu, drafted by New York Liberty) has used all channels and, social media-wise, I would say has crushed it. That kind of thing generates attention, and that way more fans come to games and then higher salaries are possible.
In other interviews you’ve hinted that it was not always easy for you growing up as a Black person in Germany. Did you experience racism?
I had a good childhood, but sure, racism exists. Prejudice is the worst. I also don’t like it when someone wants to touch my hair. Black people are never seen as true Germans, that’s just the way it is. People always ask, “Where are you really from?” Hey, I grew up in Berlin. Racism is and will always be an issue. Even how the refugee crisis was handled in Europe was, in my opinion, racist. Another example is how Trump deals with the Mexicans. The fact that the AfD has experienced an upswing in Germany shows that right-wing thinking is still present in the DNA of Germans. People who vote AfD should ask themselves what they really think about human dignity.
If, as you just mentioned, someone asks you “Where do you really come from?”, do you find yourself only feeling annoyed, or do you also recognize the question as legitimate interest, from the person asking, to learn more about you?
Both. I always try to be understanding. But a better question would be: “Where are your parents from?” The other question makes me feel excluded from being a German. Implicitly, it sounds to me like: “You can't be from Germany because you look different.” But I want to feel like I belong – in sports and in life.
There have been big changes in what sports editor Markus Völker is writing about these days. He reports on the newly empty world of sports for Tageszeitung a.k.a "taz", Germany's left-leaning daily newspaper that originally published this interview.
LOVE STORYJOSIE THADDEUS-JOHNS
Rowan Ricardo Phillips’s book The Circuit describes the entirety of the 2017 year of men’s tennis from the vantage point of one man’s sofa: “follow(ing) the sun from beginning to end.” The poet zooms in on the specifics, from viral off-court moments, like Roger Federer doing the robot on the dance floor of a private New Year’s Eve ball, to the nail-biting final of the Australian Open where a soft swoop of an on-the-line ball made all the difference for the Swiss machine, against his long-time rival Rafael Nadal. The book is a kind of 2017 journal for the sport, a meticulous accounting of points. The aces, double faults and backline lobs turn into games, sets, matches, building individual career arcs that converge with one another. Most importantly for the reader, it weaves a narrative.
Tennis is a battle where contestants might be playing against each other, but is often described by players as a fight with oneself. Watching a match, therefore, often has a spiritual, psychological quality. (David Foster Wallace, in his famous essay on Federer, describes it as “religious.”) One ball after another, each stroke a chance for redemption.
The cyclical nature of the annual tennis tournaments makes it the perfect locus for the kind of deep, intricate attention that Phillips lavishes upon it. What happens today will take place again this time next year, except differently, and may be better or may be worse, again and again, until something makes it stop.
Today, in 2020, that “something” has happened. The courts are empty, floodlights cold, as these languid, fragile shots by Christian Werner show. But what next for all our favorite recurring characters? Not to mention the speedy shuffling of ballgirls and boys, the contentious line calls and the back-and-forth zingers that mark the pace of the game. While the changing fortunes that the world was invested in are all on pause, we looked to a few tennis fans to find out what the sport means to them.
“The orderly grid structure of the tennis court that set the rules of the game is a witness to how we as human beings have developed into a species that depends on being controlled. Even in our spare-time activities we seem to long for systems to function within. Like street markings that direct our behavioural patterns in public space, the lines on the tennis court guide us how to navigate.”
– Elmgreen & Dragset, artists
“I learned one important lesson playing tennis: take one ball at a time. I was young when I started, and I got very angry when I lost. I got good when I finally understood what my father meant when he said, ‘Take one ball after the other.’ That doesn’t mean that I don’t think about winning the match, but I don’t think about the ball that is coming in two years. If I look at that ball instead of looking at the one that is coming now, I will lose the match. It’s a way to keep focused and calm. It helps me to act.”
– Marine Serre, designer (via Ssense)
“The thing I’m missing the most is the story lines. Like Serena Williams trying to unseat Margaret Court for the most titles all time, right after having a baby and returning to the game. Now we sort of have this Odysseus narrative of her returning to reclaim what’s hers, but first she has to get through the Andreescus and Osakas of the game who are not ready to give it up. So we sit... we wait.... and when this all gets going, the storylines can play themselves out again. Until then... we continue munching on sour dough bread.”
– Wes Needham, Racquet
Christian Werner, who shot these poignant illustrations of empty tennis courts, is interested in the equalizing potential of photography, which he explores in his latest book, “Everything Is So Democratic and So Cool” (Blake & Vargas). French designer Marine Serre was almost selected for the Roland-Garros tennis championship in 2004, but luckily for the fashion world, just missed out. VP of Operations at Racquet magazine Wes Needham chatted to us just as their latest issue was going to print. And artist duo Elmgreen and Dragset might have previously put a Prada store in the desert and a film of gay men kissing in the middle of Tiergarten, but had just recently installed a tennis court as part of their latest work at König Galerie.
FULL DISCLOTHESUREJANA GERBERDING & ISABELLE THIRY
Imagine: You’ve been training a lifetime for this and with no small suffering, both physical and existential. You’ve massaged sore muscles for days and missed out on things your peers enjoy all the time. You’ve got as far as googling the amenities to expect in Tokyo’s 2020 Olympic Village. But suddenly, the games that were supposed to be yours, where you could excel at the height of your physical abilities, have been called off. Maybe delayed, or maybe even canceled completely. All those training hours, all those sessions envisioning your victory cheered on by your motivational coach – they were just a warm-up with no place to run. Now what? Where to turn, where to use that finely-calibrated body and carefully focused, for-the-win mind of yours? After days holed up watching re-runs of your early career successes, you finally decide to try out this thing they call stand up paddling. And guess what? You really like it. So now, every day of this cursed summer, you find yourself paddling up and down your city’s canals. Best of all, you get to wear whatever you want...
Photographer: Jana Gerberding; Fashion: Isabelle Thiry; Model: Laust Frederiksen; Special thanks: Moritz Schmid & Tammo Prinz
ARCHIVES OF THE INTERNETMARXIST MASCOT
Unlike others who have taken this pose, Gritty did not break the Internet. But that is one of the few delinquencies this furry fella hasn’t committed just yet. His other follies aren’t any less egregious: So far this mascot to the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, who first appeared in September 2018, has threatened a rival team’s mascot (warning them to “sleep with one eye open tonight”), allegedly punched a 13 year old during a photo shoot and named himself Time Person of the Year. While he’s been cleared of the physical attack of a minor, the video footage of Gritty shooting a colleague in the back with a t-shirt cannon, before taking a tumble a few minutes into his first on-ice appearance, speaks for itself. And somehow, along the way, this inimitable figure also became a socialist icon.
But let’s rewind: How does an unsuspecting hockey team end up with a thuggish furry creature with googly eyes as its representative? A “deranged orange lunatic” (The Verge), or an "acid trip of a mascot” (The Guardian)? Perhaps it wasn’t so unintentional: The idea came from designer Brian Allen of Flyland Designs, whose other clients include Christian-run fast food chain Chick-fil-A, the bands Lethal Threat and Metallica as well as, confusingly, the Boy Scouts of America. He recalls the Flyers’ management asking for an intimidating appearance: “someone you’d high-five but not hug”. Allen certainly got the brief.
Gritty’s appeal to left-wing democratic forces is easily explained, say some. “He has no gods, no masters. Only his giant orange bouncing belly full of indiscriminate rage,” as Dolores, of labor union IWW’s Philadelphia chapter told The Verge. Twitter accounts like @FellowGritty have turned him into a socialist meme, claiming Gritty as an “Ⓐnti-capitalist,” advocating for #blacklivesmatter. It’s enough to bring the Wall Street Journal out in horror, crying “appropriation”, as if the mascot were the product of a long-established and traditionally silenced culture.
In conservative circles in the US, the brutishness that Gritty exemplifies is only tolerated when it comes from their side of the aisle, whereas in fact, his proactive and forthright responses fit right in with the proponents of today’s left. Seemingly, America’s right, while busy placating their own orange monster, has been neglecting the idea that chaos and misdemeanor – when carried out in a charming manner – are natural qualities of true humanists, however uncaring and brash they first appear to be.
TREND WATCHKRISTINA NAGEL
Ah, health goth – remember the mid-2010s trend that was all about black sportswear but never much about athletics? Unless you consider the often-strenuous activity of clubbing to be a sport, that is: The look was an early favorite of the more artsy crowd in Berlin’s techno scene. Fast-forward a couple years and the trend dripped into mainstream culture – minus a lot of the edge – seen on everyone from Kim K to Kate Middleton.
Many would argue that health goth as an aspirational style is over at last and Covid is the final nail in its locker/coffin: with clubs replaced by Zoom meetings, and Starbucks drive-thrus now the (only) places to be. Does this mean the advent of a more suburban athleisure? Cozyjocks, as you might call them, in Uggs, carefully scruffy hair with Under Armour compression shorts? It’s what the kids on TikTok are wearing, anyway. Now that a new day has dawned for sportswear, artist Kristina Nagel channels the halcyon days of health goth one more time in its true essence: body-tight lycra, big sneakers and a prevalence of black and white – plus the odd tribal motif. If the trend appears to be dead now, maybe part of it always was – which is what made it so goth in the first place, right? But we’re hesitant to write an obituary just yet: something tells us that health goth is simply gearing up for a comeback. Where? In an underground gym, of course…
When regular contributor Kristina Nagel isn’t digging through her archive for No News News, the artist is in the middle of a book project: Aesthetik 01, a gallery space in Berlin Moabit in its first phase, will then find a new life in print.
FUTURE READINGORIT GAT
MIDDLE-CLASS FEMININITY OF WOMEN’S SOCCER
Earlier this year, Netflix bought the rights to journalist Jere Longman’s book The Girls of Summer: The U.S. Women’s Soccer Team and How It Changed the World, hoping to make a movie about the 1999 team. The book begins in the middle of the penalty shootout that decided the final: “On this seething afternoon of July 10, women’s sport has reached its apotheosis after a century of forbidden participation, neglect, dismissal, grudging acceptance.”
That tournament has been immortalized in American culture: 90,000 people attended the final at the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena, California, witnessing one of the most iconic moments in the history of women’s sport; Brandi Chastain, in her sports bra after she took off her shirt in celebration, having scored the decisive penalty and given the US the title.
When The Girls of Summer was published in 2000, no one realized that it was the end of an era of peace and prosperity.
Longman, a New York Times sports reporter, is optimistic in his title, foreseeing a long-lasting shift. But then, it was an era for optimists: a pre-9/11 America. The Cold War had ended, Bill Clinton was president, the US economy was booming before the first dot-com bubble burst. Indeed, the US team successfully used their multiplying titles (they won the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, finished second in 1995, then won again in 1999) to leverage US Soccer for equal pay. Change, if it happens at all, is often brief. When The Girls of Summer was published in 2000, no one realized that it was the end of an era of peace and prosperity.
The stories of hardship and success that make up novels and movies are always structural in women’s sport, often marginalized financially and in its distribution; there are more reruns of mundane men’s games than there are live showings of women’s sports, which is partly why women athletes are paid significantly less than their male counterparts (the rest can be explained by bodies such as US Soccer sidelining them out of casual misogyny). Even so, three years later, Bend it Like Beckham became an international hit. The movie, directed by Gurinder Chadha, is the story of Jess (short for Jesminder), an 18-year-old daughter of British-Indian Sikhs living in the London suburbs, who is obsessed with football even though her parents have forbidden it. She’s playing a pick-up game in the park when she meets Jules (or, Juliette), a white girl who plays for the local girls’ football team and tells Jess that she should try out. It’s an oft-told story: Jess is a natural, and she is going to have to maneuver social and familial expectations in order to have it all. She will prove her skills to coach Joe; she will fight with her parents, who just want her to get married and possibly get a law degree; she will then – along with Jules – save the team in the final game of the season. It’s rom-com, so there’s also a love plot involving Jess and Joe (another cultural barrier Jess and her parents have to negotiate). The other side of the story is Jules: with her supportive father and disapproving mother, who eventually comes around. And then, at the end, there’s a sighting of David Beckham at the airport, as the two girls get on a plane to California after an American scout offers them scholarships to play college-level soccer.
The film is a cultural product of Tony Blair’s Britain and it glosses over real problems of class, ethnicity and gender.
The spoiler is intentional: of course the film ends in success for both girls. But it is telling that the hardship they endure in the story is told as personal, not structural. The desire to play football against their families’ expectations is a desire for independence, on both Jules’ and Jess’ sides. It’s a legible, easy, familiar struggle on an individual scale, not one ever expanded in the film to discuss women’s rights, their dearth of opportunities or the failure of melting-pot monoculture. Bend It... is not a political project, and barely a gendered one: The film is a cultural product of Tony Blair’s Britain and it glosses over real problems of class, ethnicity and gender in favor of individualism, independence and a modern-versus-traditional conflict.
Today, Bend it Like Beckham is taught in high school film studies courses in the UK, its easy individualism highlighting the similarities between Jess and Jules. But while it looks like it serves up individualism, barrier-breaking and novelty, Bend It... and these other celebrations of women’s football scream safe, conforming, middle-class femininity with an individualized edge: a neoliberal product of its time.
Self-professed "football-loving feminist" Orit Gat writes about art and the internet for frieze, art-agenda and The White Review, where she is a contributing editor. She's currently working on a book, tentatively titled "If Anything Happens", about the beautiful game, which this piece is taken from.
ATHENS 2004 MERCH
Olympic Games merch: it’s a whole new world. Searching eBay for t-shirts and hats, we found the best styles come from the event’s historic 2004 iteration in Athens. There is something about their wonky iconography that had the Athens planning council’s art directors look to Greek vases for inspiration – black on orange is the recurring color scheme – and nowhere else. Plus, the official laurel wreath symbol has a warm human touch to it, that makes all other versions just seem very “Berlin 1936.”
The Last Dance introduced a new generation to basketball’s GOAT, Michael Jordan, helping to spike the sales of Air Jordan branded merchandise by as much as 50 percent. But it failed completely on another piece of apparel. Much to our surprise, the genius “BONG.” hat worn by Jordan’s teammate Dennis Rodman in episode three of the show has so far prompted very few reactions – and sadly all queries on Alibaba prove futile. Where are all the drop-shipping sellers of novelty items when you need them?
Beaded, bejeweled or otherwise bedazzling straps for sunglasses have featured heavily in the fashion influencer world for the last two years or so. If you ask us: meh. The only accepted way to secure one’s glasses should be a sports strap. Nothing screams “I’d rather be physically active” more than these rubber or neoprene bands. “Mindful” running brand District Vision’s model has all the qualities you need: made from hypoallergenic silicone, it promises to stay resilient even during “extreme performance conditions.” And what else is life these days?
There’s something satisfyingly utilitarian about chalk and talcum powders. Whether dangling from a small bag on a boulderer’s hip or flying off gymnast Simone Biles’ hands as she flips and spins her way to immortal glory, it’s a reminder of the human urge to enhance and optimize our performance using whatever tools available. Added pleasure comes from the fact that yes, advances in sneaker technology or other gear might result in new records, but it’s sometimes the most basic, down-to-earth stuff that makes those feats possible in the first place.
VF2 PROSTHETIC FOOT
The Paralympics have been held since the 1960s, but it took much longer for the rest of the world to notice the unbelievable achievements of athletes with disabilities – they only began happening consecutively with the Olympics in 1988. Naturally the competitive field has profited a lot from developments in technology: from powerfully curved running blades to slickly-angled wheelchairs. Today, apart from mechanical knee joints, it is prosthetics like BioDapt’s VF2 Foot and its ability to absorb shock and impact that has able-bodied athletes running for their money.
Every issue of No News News features a dedicated book plate. These ex libris, as they are also called, are commissioned works of art traditionally used to indicate ownership of one’s books. This one has been created by Paolo Rovegno for no one other than himself – what a sure shot:
Editor: Hans Bussert (V.i.S.d.P.)
Art Director: Enver Hadzijaj
Senior Editor: Josie Thaddeus-Johns
Proofreader: Redfern Jon Barrett
Web Development: Bruno Meilick
Image credits: Kristina Nagel, Christian Werner,
Stay in the loop by following us on
Instagram – no Twitter, TikTok or Facebook.
© 2020 EX LIBRIS Hans Bussert
Potsdamer Strasse 97, 10785 Berlin