Recent profiles of Jon Stewart, by Tom Junod in Esquire and Pele, by Brian Phillips in Grantland, revel in taking down the greatness of the two men.
Was Jon Stewart being a dick when he was subjecting Jim Cramer to enhanced interrogation? Sure he was. He was also being a dick when he called Tucker Carlson a dick, and when he was preaching to Chris Wallace. But here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter. What matters is that even when Stewart’s a dick, he is never the dick. It is Stewart’s unique talent for coming across as decent and well-meaning when he’s bullying and hectoring and self-righteous. And this is because his talent is not just for comedy and not just for media criticism or truth-telling; it’s for being — for remaining — likable.
It’s a long read, but worth it for another perspective on Jon Stewart.
During his playing days he stood, more than anyone else, for the beauty of the beautiful game and for the vague love sounds of the ’60s and ’70s. By the time I started getting into soccer, he seemed more like a discredited childhood memory, one of those stray communal wisps that once felt genuine but turned out to be propaganda, like hair metal or the first Thanksgiving.
The thing about Pele is that being the world’s greatest soccer player in the 1960s didn’t pay all that well. Athletes from that era — especially the greatest ones — have a vested interest in protecting their legacies because it’s those legacies where they make all their money from endorsements, sponsors and appearance fees. Pele’s life depends upon everyone thinking that he’s the greatest footballer to have ever lived.