The Rules of 100 Sports Clearly Explained in Short Videos: Baseball, Football, Jai Alai, Sumo Wrestling, Cricket, Pétanque & Much More

When you get down to it, every sport is its rules. This leaves aside great historical weight and cultural associations, granted, but if you don’t know a sport’s rules, not only can you not play it, you can’t appreciate it (the many childhood afternoons I thrilled to televised 49ers games without having any idea what was happening on the field notwithstanding). What’s worse, you can’t discuss it. “There is a shared knowledge of sports in America that is unlike our shared knowledge of anything else,” as Chuck Klosterman once put it. “Whenever I have to hang out with someone I’ve never met before, I always find myself secretly thinking, ‘I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports. I hope this dude knows about sports.'”

Klosterman is a cultural critic, a position not at odds with his sports fanaticism, and he surely knows that his observation holds well beyond the U.S.: just consider how deeply so much of the world is invested in football. Despite its relative simplicity, many Americans never quite grasped the workings of what we call soccer. But thanks to a Youtuber called Ninh Ly, we can learn in just over four minutes.




Ly’s explanation of association football/soccer is just one of nearly 100 such videos on his channel, each of which clearly and concisely lays out the rules of a different sport. An American who watches it immediately becomes not just able to understand a game, but prepared to engage with the cultures of football-enthusiast countries from Mexico to Malaysia, Turkey to Thailand.

Though British, Ly just as cogently explains sports from the United States, even the relatively complicated ones: basketball, for instance, or what most of the world calls American football (as well as its arena, Canadian, and twice-failed XFL variants), a game whose devoted fans include no less acclaimed-in-Europe an American novelist than than Paul Auster. Previously on Open Culture, we featured Auster’s correspondence with J.M. Coetzee on the subject of sports, wherein the former probes his own enthusiasm for football, and the latter his own enthusiasm for cricket. “If I look into my own heart and ask why, in the twilight of my days, I am still — sometimes — prepared to spend hours watching cricket on television,” writes Coetzee, “I must report that, however absurdly, however wistfully, I continue to look out for moments of heroism, moments of nobility.”

Anyone can enjoy such moments when and where they come, but only if they know the rules of cricket in the first place. Ly has, of course, made a cricket explainer, which in four minutes fully elucidates a sport as obscure to some as it is beloved of others. He’s also covered much more specialized sports, including fencing, curling, pickleball, jai alai, axe throwing, and sumo wrestling. (Unable to “ignore the overwhelming demand,” he’s even explained the rules of quidditch, a game adapted from the Harry Potter books.) After a couple of hours with his playlist (embedded below), you’ll come away ready to ascend to a new plane of appreciation for sportsmanship in all its various manifestations. If you’re anything like me, you’ll then revisit your earliest education in these subjects: Sports Cartoons.

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Albert Camus’ Lessons Learned from Playing Goalie: “What I Know Most Surely about Morality and Obligations, I Owe to Football”

Monty Python’s Philosopher’s Football Match: The Epic Showdown Between the Greeks & Germans (1972)

Read and Hear Famous Writers (and Armchair Sportsmen) J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster’s Correspondence

Jorge Luis Borges: “Soccer is Popular Because Stupidity is Popular”

The Weird World of Vintage Sports

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

When Jack Johnson, the First Black Heavyweight Champion, Defeated Jim Jeffries & the Footage Was Banned Around the World (1910)

“Being born Black in America… we all know how that goes….” 

                        —Miles Davis, liner notes for A Tribute to Jack Johnson

When Muhammad Ali saw James Earl Jones play a fictionalized Jack Johnson on Broadway in Howard Sackler’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Great White Hope in 1968, he reportedly exclaimed, “You just change the time, date and the details and it’s about me!” In Johnson’s time, however, most white heavyweight fighters flat-out refused to fight Black boxers. Heavyweight champion Jim Jeffries swore he would retire “when there were no white men left to fight.” He left the sport in 1905, refusing to fight Johnson even after Johnson had knocked his younger brother out in 1902 and taunted him from the ring, saying, “I can whip you, too.”

After Jeffries retired undefeated, the next heavyweight world champion, Tommy Burns, agreed to fight Johnson in 1908 and lost when police stopped the fight. Two years later, lured out of retirement by the press and a $40,000 purse, Jeffries finally agreed to fight Johnson, who was then the heavyweight champion of the world. By that time, the bout had been framed as an existential racial crisis. Johnson was “the white man’s despair” and his challenger “The Great White Hope.” Jeffries played the part, saying, “I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro.”




Novelist Jack London dreamed of a magical scenario in which the full force of European history would inhabit Jeffries’ body. He “would surely win” because he had “30 centuries of tradition behind him — all the supreme efforts, the inventions and the conquests, and, whether he knows it or not, Bunker Hill and Thermopylae and Hastings and Agincourt.” Bluster and mythmaking do not win boxing matches. Out of shape and outclassed in the ring, Jeffries lost in 15 rounds in front of 22,000 fans on July 4, 1910, in what was known as the “Fight of the Century.” Johnson walked away with $117,000 and held the title for another five years.

Johnson’s victory was a triumph for African Americans, who staged parades and celebrations, and a profound defeat for “white boxing fans who hated seeing a black man sit atop the sport,” notes a Johnson biography. They took out their rage in “race riots” that evening, attacking Black people in cities around the country as collective punishment for a perceived collective humiliation. Hundreds of people were injured and around 20 killed. The videos above from Vox and Black History in Two Minutes (featuring Henry Louis Gates Jr.) tell the story.

White boxing fans’ rage had been building since the Burns fight, Vox explains, stoked by the newest form of mass media, commercial motion pictures, which came of age at the same time as professional boxing. Film reels of prizefights circulated the country at the turn of the century, and paying audiences cheered their heroes on the screen: “Boxing, going back centuries, has been wrapped up in themes of identity and pride.” Boxers represented their community, their nationality, their race. Spectators “imagined,” says American University historian Theresa Runstedtler, “that boxers in the ring, particularly for interracial fights, were almost engaged in this kind of ‘Darwinian struggle’” for dominance.

As a result of the violence on July 4, authorities attempted to ban film of the Johnson vs. Jeffries fight, and “police were instructed to break up screening events.” The ostensible reason was that the film caused “rioting,” as though the perpetrators could not themselves be held responsible, and as if the film were itself incendiary. But what it showed, the Black press of the time pointed out, was nothing more or less than a fair fight, something Jeffries and boxing legend John L. Sullivan immediately conceded in the press afterward. (“I could never have whipped Johnson at my best,” said Jeffries.)

In truth, “white authorities were worried,” says Runstedtler, “about the symbolic implications…. They worried that any demonstration of Black victory and any demonstration of white weakness or defeat would undercut the narratives of white supremacy, not just in the United States,” but also in colonies abroad. The film had to be banned worldwide, but the fight to suppress it only pushed it underground where it proliferated. Finally, in 1912, Congress banned the distribution of all prize-fight films, with Southern members of Congress “especially interested in the proposed law,” it was reported, “because of the race feeling stirred up by the exhibition of the Jeffries-Johnson moving pictures.”

Aside from the extremely fragile reaction to a boxing film, what might strike us now about the violence and the controversy surrounding the screenings is the vehemence of racist invective among many commentators, who mostly followed London’s lead in openly extolling white supremacy. This was not at all unusual for the time. The narrative was woven into the fight before it began. And when the “Great White Hope” went down, he did not do so as an individual contender, standing or falling on his own merit. The fight’s announcer, in audio paired with the fight reel above, pronounced him “humiliated, beaten, a betrayer of his race.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Werner Herzog Discovers the Ecstasy of Skateboarding: “That’s Kind of My People”

If Werner Herzog has ever stood atop a skateboard, cinema seems not to have recorded it. But when asked by online skateboarding magazine Jenkem to discuss the sport and/or lifestyle, he did so with characteristically little reservation. “I’m not familiar with the scene of skateboarding,” he admits in the video interview above. “At the same time, I had the feeling, yes, that’s kind of my people.” Fans will make the connection between skateboarding videos and the Bavarian filmmaker’s early documentary The Great Ecstasy of Woodcarver Steiner, on champion ski jumper Walter Steiner, even before a clip of it appears.

In fact Herzog himself, as revealed in the autobiographical short Portrait Werner Herzog, only turned filmmaker after shelving his own dreams of ski-jumping. The experience must have taught him viscerally, through those parts of the body that don’t forget, what it means to make countless attempts resulting in countless failures — with a better failure here and there, and at some distant, ecstatic moment, perhaps a success.




Viewed at great enough length, the kind of skateboarder who attempts a trick on video dozens, even hundreds of times, before landing it could well be a character from one of Herzog’s own films, especially his documentaries about men unable to stop putting themselves in harm’s way in the name of their fixations.

“So many failures,” marvels Herzog as he watches one such video. “That’s astonishing.” It certainly “doesn’t do good to his pelvis, nor to his elbows,” Herzog adds, but such is the price of ecstasy. For him, the obscurity of the vast majority of skateboarders only compounds the sacredness of their practice. This as opposed to the David Blaines of the world, whose physical feats “are meant only for his own publicity, and for shining out in the media. Skateboard kids are not out for the media. They do it for the joy of it, and for the fun of it.” If Herzog were to pay cinematic tribute to these kids, surely he would make similar observations though voiceover narration. As for his instinct of how to fill out the rest of the soundtrack, “What comes to mind first and foremost would be Russian Orthodox church choirs.”

Related Content:

Werner Herzog Offers 24 Pieces of Filmmaking and Life Advice

Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

“Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better”: How Samuel Beckett Created the Unlikely Mantra That Inspires Entrepreneurs Today

Portrait Werner Herzog: The Director’s Autobiographical Short Film from 1986

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Charlie Chaplin & Buster Keaton Go Toe to Toe (Almost) in a Hilarious Boxing Scene Mash Up from Their Classic Silent Films

Coke or Pepsi?

Boxers or briefs?

Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton?

A difficult choice that usually boils down to personal taste…

In the case of the two silent screen greats, they evinced different personalities, but both were possessed of physical grace, a tremendous work ethic, and the ability to make audiences root for the little guy.




Their enduring influence on physical comedy is evident in the boxing scene mash up above, which pulls from Keaton’s star turn in 1926’s Battling Butler and Chaplin’s widely celebrated City Lights from 1931.

Even cut up and spliced back together in alternating shots, it’s a master class on building anticipation, defying expectations, and the humor of repetition.

Both films’ plots hinge on a mild fellow going to extraordinary lengths to prove himself worthy of the girl he loves.

Chaplin, besotted with a blind flower-seller, is drawn into the ring by the prospect of prize money, which he would use to cover her unpaid rent.

His opponent is played by Hank Mann, the brains behind the Keystone Cops period who went on to work with Jerry Lewis.

The pas de trois between the ref and the two boxers represents the pinnacle of Chaplin’s long affinity for the sport, following 1914’s Keystone short, The Knockout and 1915’s The Champion.

Battling Butler is built on a case of deliberately mistaken identity, after Keaton’s milquetoast rich boy impresses his working class sweetheart’s family by allowing them to think he is a famous boxer whose name he incidentally shares.

The fight scenes were filmed in LA’s brand new Olympic Auditorium, aka the Punch Palace, which went on to serve as a location for the more recent boxing classics Rocky (1976) and Million Dollar Baby (2004).

The editor who thought to score this mashup to Mariachi Internacional’s cover of Zorba El Griego is certainly a contender in their own right, but readers, what we really want to know is in this championship round between Chaplin and Keaton, who would you declare the winner?

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Tony Hawk & Architectural Historian Iain Borden Tell the Story of How Skateboarding Found a New Use for Cities & Architecture

Wouldn’t we enjoy seeing our cities like an architectural historian, in command of deep knowledge about the technology, ideology, and aesthetics of the buildings we pass by every day? For most of us, this would hugely enrich our experience of the urban environment. But then so, less obviously, would seeing our cities like a skateboarder, in command of deep knowledge about how to glide, jump, and bounce along the streets, the buildings, and all the myriad pieces of infrastructure as a surfer rides the waves. The architectural historian learns the city with his mind; the skater learns the city, no less painstakingly, with his body.

The Vox video above brings mind and body come together in the persons of Iain Borden, author of Skateboarding and the City: A Complete History, and Tony Hawk, to whom even those wholly ignorant of skateboarding need no introduction. Their complementary interviews reveal the history of modern skateboarding through the sport’s “legendary spots”: public-school campuses, abandoned swimming pools, dry drainage ditches, forgotten sections of concrete pipe. In the main this selection reflects the highly suburbanized 1970s in which skateboards first came to popularity in the United States. But at its outer limits, such as the Mt. Baldy pipeline in northern California, it also shows how far skaters will go in search of the ideal place to ride.




Though purpose-build skate parks do exist (their numbers kept low by formidable insurance challenges), serious skaters prefer spaces not expressly designed for skating. This is thanks in large part to the innovations of a skater with less wider-world name recognition than Hawk, but no less influence within the sport: Natas Kaupas. Hawk remembers the thoughts triggered by footage of the young Kaupas skating masterfully through his neighborhood in the 1987 film Wheels of Fire: “Wow, you can skate curbs like that? You can skate benches? You can skate fire hydrants? The whole world is a skate park now.” Suddenly, Borden adds, “you didn’t need to be in California, or in the Arizona desert, or in Florida anymore. You could be anywhere.”

Reviewing Borden’s Skateboarding and the City, Jack Layton in Urban Studies highlights its history of “how the assemblage of materials that makes up cities has been – in countless ways – re-imagined by the skateboarder to create acceleration, rotation, friction and flow.” It’s easy to forget, Layton writes, that “along with facilitating commerce, transport and habitation, cities can be spaces that facilitate play, exhilaration and pleasure.” Despite often having been regarded as public nuisances, skateboarders are “a constant reminder that our cities are creative and rich places,” says Borden. With the exception of the skate parks secretly constructed in hidden urban spaces across the world, skaters, of course, don’t build the city — but they do show us some of its untapped potential.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Michael Jordan’s “The Last Dance” and Hero Worship: A Pretty Much Pop Culture Podcast Discussion (#50)

The 10-part ESPN documentary dissecting Michael Jordan and the Bulls’ six championships has provided some much needed sports during the pandemic, roping in even sports haters with a mix of game highlights and behind-the-scenes drama.

Your hosts Brian Hirt, Erica Spyres, and Mark Linsenmayer are joined by Seth from The Partially Examined Life to interrogate the event: Was it actually worth 10 hours of our time? Did its “time-jumping” structure work? Its its treatment of Jordan really “hagiography” sanctifying the man, or is the picture of grudge-holding ultra-competitiveness actually pretty repulsive? Why was he like that? Why are sports amenable to creating cultural icons out of its heroes in a way that, say, physics isn’t? Are we going to see many more of these long-form treatments of sports heroes?

For more discussion, here are some articles we looked at:

If you enjoyed this, check out our episode #25 with sportscaster Dave Revsine.

Learn more at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

Stream All 18 Hours of Ken Burns’ Baseball for Free on What Would Have Been Opening Day

Baseball season won’t start today, on what would have been Open Day. So here’s your next best bet. As Sam Barsanti writes at AV Club, “PBS and the world’s preeminent director of extremely watchable and extremely long documentaries have a special treat: The entirety of Ken Burns’ Baseball—over 18 hours—is now available to stream for free on the PBS website and all of its related apps.”

It’s no coincidence that Burns’ documentary becomes free during COVID-19. On Twitter, Burns adds: “With events canceled & so much closed, I asked @PBS to stream BASEBALL for free so we can participate in the national pastime together. Watch at the link below or on any streaming device. And please look out for those with greater needs. Play ball.”

Sportscaster Dave Revsine (Big 10 Network) Joins Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast to Discuss the Role of Sports in Pop Culture

How is spectator sports different from other types of entertainment? Dave Revsine (lead studio host for the Big Ten Network and former ESPN anchor) joins your hosts Mark Linsenmayer, Erica Spyres, and Brian Hirt to discuss the various sources of appeal, team identification, existing in a sports-filled world as a non-fan, watching vs. playing, human interest stories, sports films, and more.

Some of the articles we looked at to prepare included:

The first two links above were part of a series of 2016 editorials in the Washington Post coinciding with March Madness. As the whole series is definitely worth a look, just follow the links at the bottom of those articles.

Dave wrote a book you might want to look at called The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation. Follow him on Twitter @BTNDaveRevsine.

This episode includes bonus discussion that you can only hear by supporting the podcast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This podcast is part of the Partially Examined Life podcast network.

Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast is the first podcast curated by Open Culture. Browse all Pretty Much Pop posts or start with the first episode.

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.