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The Spelling Bee is the most brutal sports event of the week

June 05, 2017
Students Compete In The Finals Of The Scripps National Spelling Bee

Mark Wilson

This has been a truly glorious week in sports, featuring DUIs, bad breath, the rekindling of abusive coaching relationships, and weird clothing. But I'd like to start in our nation's capital, with an event that is equal parts incredible, unmissable, and absolutely torturous to watch.

The Most Brutal Sports Event of the Week: The Spelling Bee

I have been a spelling bee fanboy for quite some time, and I even got to cover it in person one year. My love for the spelling bee may stem from my own experience as a kid, when I was a very good speller who won a couple local bees. The one time I had a chance to go to regionals in sixth grade, I had a basketball game and couldn't go—which is fantastic, because I would have been absolutely waxed by the big guns who make it to D.C. But I also think the spelling bee offers universal drama that everyone can enjoy, even if you're useless without spellcheck.

But MY GOD, this is a brutal competition, and it gets worse every year. We all know about the emotional trauma—the kids who inevitably break down in tears when they lose, and then have to suffer the humiliation of the "comfort couch," where the camera captures them looking dazed as their parents hug them in the most awkward way possible. Just like the Little League World Series, it's highly questionable whether this kind of wide exposure is good for these kids, and there's a certain amount of guilt that comes from being entertained by the spectacle. Which, of course, doesn't stop me from watching it every single year.

But even though I'm complicit, I want to point out two specific moments from this year's bee that struck me as extra cruel.

Ummm, what? You mean, these kids spend their entire childhoods studying old words and forgotten languages and memorizing esoteric roots, and then, when the big moment arrives, you give them...a word that some company made up? That's outrageous. Corporate trademarks are nonsense words dreamed up by ad reps! How can you knock somebody out on that? THIS IS THE WORST THING CAPITALISM HAS EVER DONE!

As I said, this happens a lot. The year I went, this is how Arvind Mahankali, that year's winner, reacted. Basically, the spelling bee is awful and needs to be canceled. (Note: Please, please never cancel the spelling bee.)

Best Job Wearing an Item of Clothing That Would Look Ridiculous on Literally Anyone Else: LeBron James

Best Attempt to Make Me Follow Soccer Outside of the World Cup: Mario Mandzukic

When Twitter blows up, and the hype is even coming from non-soccer people, you know something insane just happened. This is wild, and awesome:

Most Interesting Interpretation of a Police Officer's Instruction: Tiger Woods

The whole Tiger Woods saga is sad, and the reaction to his ongoing downfall says lots of terrible things about our relationship to celebrity—especially our ugly, voyeuristic fascination with watching famous people crumble before our eyes. And now that I've issued my high-horse disclaimer, let me zoom in on one particular moment in the dashcam video of his arrest. The police officer had just instructed him to say the alphabet in a slow, non-rhythmic manner (note: he didn't even ask him to say it backward), and then asked Woods to confirm he understood the instructions. Here's how that exchange went:

Police Officer: What were the instructions?

Tiger Woods: Not to sing the national anthem backwards.

There's a lot to digest there. First off, how would you even sing the anthem backwards? Even sober, that would require a very intimate knowledge of that song, such that you knew the reverse order of both the musical notes and the phonetic phrases of the lyrics. Second—and I realize Tiger wasn't at his best here—in what world would a cop ask you not to do this strange activity?

Maybe it was a smart tactic! Maybe by re-imagining the cop's instructions as a direct order to refrain from doing something impossible, Tiger guaranteed his own success. It's like when you tell a dog that's terrible at doing tricks to "just sit there."

"Don't sing the anthem backwards? Well, officer, I am only too happy to oblige."

Most Bizarrely Thorough Job of Proving that Someone is Impaired: The Jupiter Police Department

This is the last one about Tiger, but come on—did we really need 30 minutes of sobriety tests to prove that something was wrong with him? Seriously, from the time this video starts to the time they handcuff him and put him in the police cruiser, a full half hour has elapsed. That seems, to put it mildly, unnecessary. When they got him out of the car, and he fell asleep on his feet before mumbling some garbled nonsense words and stumbling around, wasn't that fairly definitive? There were a ton of police there, too, so it's not like it was one person's words against Tiger's. Did they really need that extra jumping-jack test at minute 23, or whatever?

Smartest Timing of a DUI Charge: Derek Fisher

(Disclaimer: DUIs are not funny. Nor is sexting, for that matter.)

Best Childish Insult in a Stanley Cup Finals: Sidney Crosby

P.K. Subban got in Crosby's face in game three of the Predators-Penguins series, and rather than get aggressive or skate away, Crosby found an interesting middle ground: He told him his breath was bad.

Best Defense of Alleged Halitosis: P.K. Subban

Ahhh, the classic Listerine Defense:

Saddest Plea to Renew an Abusive Relationship: Eric Mangini

Eric Mangini, aka "The Man Genius," left the New England Patriots and his mentor Bill Belichick (aka "The Darkness That Shadows the World") in 2006. The very next season, he pointed the finger at the Patriots, who are perpetual cheaters, for videotaping signals on the sideline. Thus began the saga known as Spygate, which ended with a heavy fine and a lost draft pick for the Patriots.

In a just world, the Patriots and their fans would have reacted with shame. But in our world, which was not sane then and is even less sane now, they doubled down and blamed Mangini. Belichick disowned him, the entire fan base labeled him a rat, and his name was dirt in greater New England.

But whatever, right? Mangini made his choice, and he can't control how other people react. He should have been just fine living with his actions. But THIS? This...this is very sad. It seems that Mangini is somehow still longing for Belichick's friendship, the way an adult son might long for his father's approval, even if that father is completely indifferent and a demonstrably bad person. Don't do this, Mangini! I know you never really lived up to the hype, and your monster of a football father has kept the satanic fires burning to win a bunch more Super Bowls, but at least you could have the self-respect not to crawl back to him!

The whole story is painful—Mangini keeps saying he "regrets" the outcome, as if the fact of cheaters getting caught was some kind of injustice that he wishes he could have prevented. He then goes on to praise Belichick's kids, and wish for a reunion with Football Lucifer himself. Eric Mangini is a dog that has been hit in the nose with a newspaper so often that he now understands no other kind of life.

Worst Sports Tarp of the Week

Don't look at this tweet, and especially don't watch the video. I warned you.