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Episode 21: Sports Writer Ethan Strauss: "You Don't Have To Be A Contrarian To Be A Heretic"


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Hi everyone,

Today’s podcast guest is Ethan Strauss from The House of Strauss Substack. Ethan and I met at a dinner in San Francisco in August and I was fascinated by his experiences in the sports industry world, having closely covered the Golden State Warriors NBA team during their winning streak. We had a great conversation on the podcast discussing the NBA, Ethan’s time following the GSW, leaving The Athletic due to various pressures and constraints, joining Substack, creating an independent model, and building a relationship with his readers.

I hope you enjoy this more left-field, alternative conversation deviating from our focal topics. Stay tuned for Dr. Jay’s upcoming conversation with Mattias Desmet and our joint podcast with Vivek Ramaswamy on public health, FDA reform, and the pharmaceutical industry.

— Rav Arora

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Ethan’s Substack:

Podcast Transcript Highlights

Ethan gives his honest, refreshing take on Lebron James:

LeBron is doing things at his age and maintaining a standard of quality that is not just unprecedented, but it's beyond unprecedented. At the same time, he doesn't feel like a particularly resonant athlete. And I think there are a few different reasons for that. I think when you move around from team to team to team and LeBron has gone from the Cleveland Cavs to the Miami Heat, back to the Cavs and out to LA. You do become as I've said with Durant something of a man without a country where it's not like Kobe. Kobe's got that incredible resonance in Los Angeles from having been there since he was a teenager and having built up that equity with the fans and you don't really have that.

And then with LeBron, there's almost this overdetermined nature to it where he desperately wants to be considered the best and isn't altogether subtle about it. And as human beings, I think there's something to our psychology where we can see you want something, we're more inclined to withhold it. I saw a bit of that with Kevin Durant wanting something from people and people then withholding it. I remember LeBron won the 2020 championship. in the bubble they'd constructed for COVID, people can debate whether or not that's real as a championship. And the first thing he said when they interviewed him was, I want my damn respect. And I don't know if that's really appealing to people.

What’s new and exciting on Ethan’s NBA radar:

I find the Oklahoma City Thunder interesting. It seems like they have built, they've built a team in this sort of money-ball-esque way. They've got a ton of talent. They're very young and nobody knows quite how they're going to hold it together. And they've done it again. They did it once before, and this is just a new generation that they've done it with. So I find them to be quite intriguing. They're called a League Pass team. It's the service you pay for so you can get all the games of a team. It's on the national TV a lot.

I think as a League Pass team, they're quite interesting. And then the aforementioned Victor Wembanyama — a lot is riding on his shoulders. There's just this freakish aspect to watching him. I saw him in Vegas and you've just never seen a human being shaped like this who moves like that. So I think that from the next generation is interesting. I've always been more into that and seeing what people can grow into versus who's going to win the championship for whatever reason.

How and part of why Ethan eventually left The Athletic:

There was the aforementioned terrible warrior season and then the pandemic hits and we hit, we were supposed to produce sports content, but there was no sports happening. And you start to look at what really matters to you and what you're interested in and what you want your life to be about. And it was hard to unsee sports kind of only mattering so much and how they got ripped away. I just didn't want the rest of my life to be about that. I was already getting a bit burnt out. I felt like we were just trying to get blood from a stone for month after month after month.

Ethan on breaking ground in Substackistan after his legacy media departure:

Well, I think there was a built-in audience — there is an aspect of controversy that I was leaving the mainstream for this. And I don't, again, think that I said anything that controversial. But it's a very narrow band of acceptability within the mainstream. So it's quite easy to seem like a heretic, you know — you don't even have to be a contrarian to be a heretic.

So I think there's an aspect of that. And then I think the essay, you know, especially the Nike's End of Men.

House of Strauss
Nike's End of Men
“Hey bro! Check out this Nike ad!” This was my entry point into a new world. I transferred dorms because a clerical quirk sent me to the “Substance Free” building, not that there’s anything wrong with being substance free. It’s just that the choice is its own selection bias of people who opted out of college as we commonly know it. The people in my hall…
Read more

I mean, that one did really well. Then I had some others that did really well and I was just chasing that. But then you need to sort of, you can't just run around with your hair on fire the whole time, you need to kind of reach an equilibrium, figure out who you are, figure out what you are at a certain point.

I added the podcast and that became a big part of what I do. But I'm still looking for ways to grow. I'm still I mean, right now, I think it's become a challenge with the way Elon Musk took over Twitter and has accelerated their de-emphasis on links. That's made discoverability very difficult for articles.

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The Illusion of Consensus
The Illusion of Consensus
An independent podcast by Dr. Jay Bhattacharya and Rav Arora devoted to dismantling weaponized "consensus" in science. Weekly topics include Covid policy, online censorship, holistic medicine, mental health, and well-being.