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In My Tribe
TERRY MCDONELL
November 28, 2011
Our sports have become more and more about money and marketing. But to most of us they're still about the stories we tell one another, the transcendent moments that lift us—the very way we define ourselves
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November 28, 2011

In My Tribe

Our sports have become more and more about money and marketing. But to most of us they're still about the stories we tell one another, the transcendent moments that lift us—the very way we define ourselves

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Farber's seat in the press box could not hold him, and he made his way trackside, to the 85-meter mark, where he could see Johnson turn his head slightly to look for Lewis. Farber noticed the smugness and satisfaction that creased Johnson's face when his rival was not in sight. A second later Johnson was past the line. The scoreboard clock read 9.79. No one had ever run that fast.

We all know what happened in the coming days, but on that sunny Saturday it wouldn't have mattered to Farber if Johnson had been gulping rocket fuel: "It was a signal moment not merely for sports," he remembers thinking, "but of evolution." But then Johnson tested positive for the banned steroid stanozolol and made the cover with one of the rare gotcha headlines in the history of SI: BUSTED. The essence of sport for Farber had always been man's exceeding himself, testing the limits of the body and, sometimes, the imagination. "We lost our sporting innocence that day," he says now, after covering 16 Olympics. "But shining a light is never a bad thing, no matter what is illuminated. In fact, that's our job, especially when everything about sports keeps evolving."

The record now stands at 9.58, set by Usain Bolt of Jamaica in 2009.

A RECORD IS BROKEN; it becomes a moment. Patrick Ewing's finger roll doesn't drop at the end of Game 7 of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference semifinals at the Garden; another moment. Sports milestones become personal epiphanies. The moments come and go. Something else remains.

Senior editor Kostya Kennedy was in the house on Sept. 5, 1995, when Orioles shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games. Kennedy was there the next night as well, when Ripken broke Gehrig's record, but it is the tying night that resonates with him. Although he was covering the game for SI, he left the press box to stand among the jam-packed crowd at Camden Yards. A few moments after the top of the fifth inning ended, making the game official, everyone turned to look out beyond the right centerfield fence. Throughout that season the Orioles had displayed Ripken's consecutive-game total on spotlighted long banners hung from the face of the old brick B&O warehouse. When the fifth inning began, the banners read 2,129. When the new sheets were unfurled, the last two numbers changed: 2,130.

It was a ridiculous number, one that had stuck in record books and fans' imaginations for nearly 60 years. And it wasn't just that Ripken, in the lineup every day for more than 13 years, had achieved something outlandish from a statistical standpoint. (Before Ripken, no player had gotten within 800 games of Gehrig's total.) Ripken's feat harked back to an old, true hero. Images of Gehrig, whose streak ended only when he was debilitated by the ravages of ALS, the motor neuron disease that would kill him, appeared on the screens at Camden Yards. The record number, like few others, drew a line to a distant but distinct time in the continuum of baseball.

That is what Kennedy suddenly understood he was responding to: "The recollection and power of another era was a reminder that our sports, as a part of and a companion to history, are a way to give context to our lives and to our collective past, present and future."

Something else remains.

SENIOR WRITER GRANT WAHL was at the sold-out Rose Bowl in 1999 for the Women's World Cup final, when the U.S. national team beat China in a penalty-kick shootout and made the covers of SI, TIME and Newsweek in the same week: Here was a team of pioneering women who personified the goals of Title IX. A national audience of 18 million actually watched a women's soccer game. Men started wearing Mia Hamm jerseys. "Watching that winning moment, you had the sense that something transcendent had happened," says Wahl. "Not only would women's sports never be the same, but that '99 team was about changing the American culture at large."

To staff writer Melissa Segura, soccer in the U.S. had always been the sport of the suburban upper crust, with its pricey youth travel teams, shiny Umbros and halftime orange slices cut by mothers who didn't have to work to make ends meet (or by their help). But a month before the 2010 World Cup, Segura toured the predominantly Hispanic trailer parks of Nacogdoches, Texas, where Clint Dempsey, the most inventive playmaker in U.S. soccer history, grew up learning his moves from Latin American players who lived in those double-wides. It is not lost on Segura that in the same week she reported Dempsey's story, she also wrote about professional sports leagues' response to Arizona's controversial immigration bill, which targeted the same people Dempsey credited as his soccer influences.

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