Archive for January, 2013

This Is My Toy Box, Keep Your Hate Out Of It

Posted in sports, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 27, 2013 by cueball

Why is fandom so important to some and why do they let their favorite team be the most important thing in defining who they are?

There is a difference, however slight, between being a fan of a team who cheers for all the wins and mourns their losses and being a fan whose whole emotional wellbeing is tied to whether the team wins or loses.

I don’t understand how an adult can create the type of emotional investment usually reserved for close friends and family for players on their favorite team.  I can understand it a little better for college fans.  Universities and colleges usually represent something a little more emotionally resonant for people then do professional teams.  However, even there people lose the perspective of why the university exists.  It isn’t so you can have a football or basketball team to cheer for on the weekends.  It is to educate the children of the state in which it resides.  Sometimes the fandom for a university is more akin to be a fan of the tail rather than a fan of the dog.

The older I get the more I cringe when rivalries particularly college rivalries are described with the word hate.  Really.  Hate.  Back here in the real world, there are truly very few reasons to actually hate someone.  None of those reasons include attending a different university then you are playing for a rival team.  (I also want to crawl through my television and strangle any announcer who calls the athletes on the field or court warriors or soldiers especially at a time when our military is actively fighting wars.  Yet, I digress.)

These emotional ties are particularly stupid in professional sports.  If you are a Yankee fan you may hate a certain Red Sox player today, but you are then forced to turn around and love the same player when he signs a free agent contract with the Yankees tomorrow.  In that sense, you are truly only cheering for laundry.

Maybe that is why college sports rivalries have the resonance they do.  Once you wear Carolina blue, State red, Alabama crimson, or Auburn orange you are tied to the lore of those places forever.  The history of college sports is what makes it special.  Those ties of the past to the present are what set it apart from the corporate slickness of professional athletics.  Each game in a collegiate rivalry is another link in a never ending chain of history.

These games engender passion.  These games engender emotion.  If you are seven years old you should be emotionally devastated that your team lost to its most hated rival.  It should eat at you as the most important thing to happen to you ever, because you are seven.  At that age, you should not have the emotional traumas that put sports in a different, less emotionally important perspective.

As an adult it should be different.  I understand being emotionally spent and devastated in the moment of the game ending, if your team loses. I understand wanting to avoid certain friends and or websites to not relive the loss.  However, as an adult, you should be able to put that to one side and remember that it is just a game and move on with your day.  We may have pumped these games up past their actually true importance with the approximately 100 television channels dedicated to sports, but they are just games.

The central question of this post has been a reoccurring theme on this blog for me.  “Am I as big a fan of sports as I was when I was younger?”  I think I follow sports just as much as I did when I was younger, and maybe even a touch more.  I do think I am a less emotional fan than I was.

Life has layered emotional experiences on me both good and bad.  These things and moments have placed sports in a different place in my life.  Not a less important place, but a different one.  It is the toy box.  It is where I try to go to get away from all the big important pains of the day.  I don’t want to spoil my refuge with hate and anger.

This is why the hypocrisy of the NCAA (and their network partners and the NFL/NBA) annoys me so much.  This is why I keep looking at all the information gathering from concussion and brain trauma research and feel a growing nausea at what we are doing to our athletes.  These are real world things spoiling my sanctuary.

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Freedom and Responsibilty

Posted in society with tags , , , , , on January 25, 2013 by cueball

Kris Kristofferson once wrote that, “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”  That is a certain existential freedom that we have all felt, especially if you have been fired from a job.  However, freedom is a little more than that.  Freedom is also the ability to do what you want when you want.  That is a more literal definition, but again freedom is a little more than that.

Freedom is being able to do what you want when you want, but it is also the understanding that there is a responsibility that comes with that.  Freedom is the responsibility to not always do what you want when you want for the good of everyone else.

This is not about whether this drug or that drug should be legal or whether an individual can buy any gun they want.  Let’s say every drug and every gun is legal.  Does everyone understand that they then have a responsibility to use those rights in a manner that doesn’t harm their fellow citizen?  Somewhere along the way with all this talk about freedom in this country, we have lost the memory that freedom comes with the accountability to use it wisely.  Everyone remembers the basic definition of freedom, but forgets the part about not crushing your neighbor with your freedom.

Advanced Citizenship

This is one of my favorite quotes in all of the movies I have ever seen:

America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You gotta want it bad, ’cause it’s gonna put up a fight.

That is just a part of a great passage written by Aaron Sorkin for President Andrew Shepherd in The American President.  I love this quote because it is the essence of what it should mean to be a citizen in this country and what governance should be in this country.

Yes, it is hard.  You will disagree with others about certain policies.  You will disagree with something the majority of the country and/or the majority of Congress has decided to do.  You should point out where you see the failings of the government’s policies and deeds.  We have the freedom and the responsibility to question the actions and policy of our government.  To think and say that our government may have made a mistake is not anti-American it is one of the most American things you can do.

If we have substantive issues of disagreement on policy, we should debate them.  However, we cannot allow those debates to degenerate into demagoguery or using the concept of freedom as an all-purpose cudgel to attack anyone who disagrees with you about anything.

It Is A Guarantee

The basis of all our rights is the First Amendment and the Right to Free Speech.  All the other rights flow from this ability to offend others and question the government without worry that you will be summarily put in jail.  However, even that right first among all others has restrictions. It is guaranteed not absolute.  You cannot intentionally and maliciously tell lies about another person in a public forum, nor can you scream, “Fire!” in a public place when there is no fire in order to insight panic or a riot.  Basically, you have the freedom to say what you want as long as there is no intent to do harm to others.  The right to free speech, like all the others, comes with the responsibility to use it wisely and do no harm to others.

This isn’t about guns or drugs or free speech.  This is about us.  This is about we as a country having real debates about issues and not sideshow screaming matches about ephemera to score political points.  This is about thinking through ideas and not holding fast to some talking point some lobbyist cooked up for a client.

This is about each of us taking the responsibility of advanced citizenship and freedom seriously.  Sorkin through Shepherd was right at the end of the rest the quoted speech, this is a time for serious people and serious debates.  We should demand our elected officials remember this and actually govern.  All of our futures depend upon it.

What Is To Become of the NCAA and NFL

Posted in sports with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 24, 2013 by cueball

Is it possible that in 15-20 years the NCAA didn’t exist as currently constituted and the NFL was financially decimated by the many lawsuits it is now fighting off over health and safety?  They are seen as these endurable monoliths of American sports culture, but their diminution or outright destruction is entirely possible over the next couple of decades.

Let’s start with the NCAA.  The NCAA has many problems, chief among them a complete loss of faith in it by a large number of its members, athletes, the media that cover its sports, and the fans who watch.  Once you lose trust of enough people, the end can come quick, fast, and in a hurry.  So what would happen if a group of schools decided to leave the NCAA?

What if it isn’t the schools you think would break away?  Everyone assumes the current BCS conference schools would be the leaders in splintering college athletics.  Remember, the NCAA isn’t just the Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament or just the Bowl Championship Series.  It administers 87 championships across three divisions throughout the year.  As someone (John Infante, @John_Infante, I think) said yesterday, the big conferences don’t want to have to run another softball tournament.

Now, these conferences may try an internal coup that changes some of the structure and enforcement, but they would never tear down the whole thing themselves.  First, they don’t want to have to deal with the mess of running a similar organization.  Second, they don’t want to be seen as the ones destroying collegiate athletics.  For something like a splintering of the NCAA to happen, it would have to be a small school insurrection.

The leaders of this would have to be schools small enough in the NCAA world to feel put upon by the bigger schools, but powerful enough outside of the NCAA to attract more schools to join them.  That would of course be the Ivy League.

What if the Ivy League schools got together and decided that not only is the current collegiate athletic culture against everything they stand for as academic institutions it is also a financial and reputationally expensive proposition that isn’t worth the bother.  So, they go off and spearhead the creation of another organization that meets their needs.  Now, how many NCAA schools could they siphon off: The whole of Division III and significant portions of Division II and many FBS Division I schools?  That would leave the NCAA with all the large football playing universities and this new association with all the smaller more “academically centered” schools.

The NCAA imploding and morphing into two or three entities is more of a fantasy.  It requires a lot of leaps of faith and logic.  It is easier to speculate on the end of the NFL.

The NFL being bankrupted by lawsuits is not as much fantasy as the nightmare outcome of the current player safety crisis for Roger Goodell.  The thing is, there are so many lawsuits concerning health and safety and wrongful death against the NFL, not all of these lawsuits have to be successful to do damage.  Just enough of the right ones going against the NFL would damage the league’s reputation and push people to keep their children from playing football.  That is where the real danger lies for the NFL.  If enough fans see football as a death sport and enough parents see the dangers of playing football as too great, the league will lose enough of its fan base and future participants that it will need to change its business model or shut down.

So if the NFL was diminished in its size and popularity, what would fill the void?  I have no idea.  If at the beginning of the 20th century if you had asked a sports writer what would fill the void once horse racing and boxing stopped being the dominant sports in the United States, he wouldn’t be able to answer that.  He would have been hard pressed to imagine a sports world without horseracing or boxing being dominant.  Football was growing as a sport, baseball was already professionalized, but not hugely popular, and basketball was barely a blip on the screen.

So my guess right now is some combination of soccer, lacrosse, MMA, and some wild card like team handball or a modified version of football that is more akin to the 7v7 tournaments taking hold as part of recruiting to fill the void left by the NFL.

I don’t know what will happen in 20 years.  Maybe all of this will happen.  Maybe known of this will happen.  Maybe something entirely different will happen.  Either way, neither of these organizations will be the same in 20 years.  That I do believe.

Hope Is Why We Watch Sports

Posted in sports with tags , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by cueball

For all my cynical babbling, one of the main reasons we are fans of teams and watch sports is hope.  The idea that things will better this year keeps us coming back no matter what happened last year.

Each new season brings hopes in many forms.  Just a new season in general brings fans hope.  Things can’t be as bad as last year.

A new crop of players brings hope.  Maybe these guys can find the thing that last year’s guys could not.

A new coach/manager brings hope.  Maybe this is the leader this team needs to get to the next level and win championships.

Hope brings us back each year because we need it.  We need to believe that the team will get better, that life will get better if we change this thing over here or that thing over there.  A couple of tweaks was all the team needed.  It needed a new voice at the front of the room or a new young quarterback so we can run that new offense everyone is going to.

Unfortunately, what usually happens is after the hope of the first game or two wears off, fans start to see the team isn’t that much better.  The young players show potential, but they are still too young to save the team.  The new coach/manager who talked about the new era of this, his dream job, in the press conference and how things would be different has shown he may be great at one part of his job, but he is less than great at other parts of his job.

There is very little in the sports world sadder than a fan base who thought this would be the year coming to the realization that this season looks a lot like the last one.  It’s even worse when fan base looks at a roster and says, “There is a lot of talent there.”  Yet, the same familiar outcomes and failures keep occurring.

That is when they start pointing fingers.  First, the players are not playing hard enough.  Then, the coach isn’t putting them in the right position.  Then, the coach doesn’t have the right players.  Then, the coach needs to adapt to the players he has.  From there the arguments become combinations of one or more of the original arguments and then more circular in their illogic.

If you are an opposing fan, it can be quite entertaining to watch as this happens.  You watch as your opponent tries to simultaneously justify and figure out where their hope disappeared to.  Of course, too much jocularity at your rival’s expense can come back at you if this mess of a team screws around and beats yours.  Of course, then you will go into next season hoping to avenge that loss.

Hope brings us back, but what makes us stay?  It is watching your hope come to fruition or watching to see how bad things can truly get.  If you are a true fan you are going to ride it out no matter what.  You will take in all the ups and downs and search for small signs to keep you sane and hope that next season will be just a little better.

Again, why do we follow sports?

Posted in football, society, sports, sports and society with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 23, 2013 by cueball

What do sports mean to us?  What do we get out of sports at a personal level?

If we break sports down to their essential basics, they are rather absurd.  Put this small ball into a hole, 400 yards away using nothing but sticks in as few swings as possible.  Put this large round ball into an 8 foot tall by 8 foot wide space on the other end of the field using nothing but your feet.  Move this oblong ball down the field past this line while holding onto it.  These are patently ridiculous things to attempt to accomplish when viewed in a vacuum. Yet, we watch them religiously.

In simpler more innocent time, sports provided fans a sense of community and family.  As a fan of a sport and a team you were not alone.  There were others out there like you.  You felt as if you were part of something larger, something important.  Also, like a family, no matter how dysfunctional it may have been, you were still part of it.

Then the internet age began.  Now, maybe the most important thing sports provide is the same voyeuristic outlet as soap operas and movies.  With today’s 24/7 coverage of sports we get constant information that turns sports into a constant reality show.

We are bombarded with news about a player and what is happening in his life.  Athletes give feature interviews that run on the 8 ESPN channels every 5 minutes and people watch every time.  Athletes are on Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, etc. giving us the illusion of speaking directly to fans.  So we think we know these people.

What we don’t notice or care about is that the more access we have to them, the more they control what we see of them.  Unless, of course, they truly fuck up.  Then and only then does a usually compliant national press corps dig deep into a person.  Because at the moment athlete screws up publicly, his screw up drives ratings much better than his athletic exploits ever did.

Most non-football fans would not have known Manti Te’o if he came into their house and sat on their lap before last week.  Up until then he was just a football player at Notre Dame who might have an OK career in the NFL and some tragic stuff happened to him in September.  Now he is a national punch line or a grifter extraordinaire that everyone knows.

We go from thinking we know them and how great they are to making them a laughing stock and holding them up for ridicule in the time it takes to post a story on the internet.

I don’t want to go back to the mid-20th century of sports reporting where no one talked about Mickey Mantle being a drunk and getting into bar fights.  Neither do I want sports reporters to act like TMZ correspondents.

Yes, a lot of the stuff is entertaining (“honey nut cheerios” is funny), but does it in anyway enhance your viewing enjoyment of the sport?

Maybe I’m thinking about this stuff because first, the last year has seen many of the heartwarming sports narratives ground into dust by reality.  Or maybe it is that this is my least favorite two weeks of the sporting calendar.

During the two weeks before the Super Bowl, reporters get bored with talking about the game and stuff devolves into silly debates and made up angles and ridiculous stories.  Media Day at the Super Bowl is possibly the most odious thing we do in sports.  It has nothing to do with the actual game.  There will be no real news.  There will be nothing but gadflies trying to get a mention by the national media for something stupid they asked or wore.

Just once I want an athlete to get asked an idiotic question by someone wearing a costume and answer like this, “Seriously.  I am playing the biggest game of my life on Sunday.  I should be somewhere looking at tape or going over the game plan.  Instead, I’m sitting here with this dumb-ass in a Superman costume asking dumb-ass questions.  He is wasting my time and you guys time.  How the hell long do I have to sit here and do this crap?  I got things to do.  Some of them rather fucking important.  But hey, I’ll sit here and listen to this idiocy because if I don’t the commissioner will fine me for having common sense.  Next question.”

That would be one of the happiest days of my sporting life.

Big City/Small Town, The Debate Rages

Posted in life with tags , , , , on January 22, 2013 by cueball

There is a lot more in this world then the small sphere of influence we build up around ourselves.  Our domain is comfortable.  It is safe.  We know where most of the landmines are and are expert at avoiding them.

The problem is sometimes that sphere is too comfortable.  You can stay in that world so long that you sometimes don’t notice that it is a small unlit place.  That is why it is good (I would almost say necessary) to go away from where you are from when you are young.  Go to college far enough away from your hometown to make it uncomfortable, join the military, or just move across the country.  At the very least a young person should read “dangerous” books.

If you are from a small town, why would you ever want to leave? Your family is there.  Your friends are there.  Everyone you have ever known is a 5 minute car drive away.  Unless you actively try to break out of that mindset, but why would you.  It is comfortable and it is safe.

This isn’t just an attack on small towns, because the dirty little secret of big cities is that if you are poor, you have the same mindset.  If you are poor in a big city, you virtually live in a small town because you don’t have the money or the time to spend taking advantage of all the flummery the city has to offer.  Unless you actively try to break out of that mindset, but why would you.  It is comfortable and it is safe.

I have lived in both and both have their advantages.  A big city has an immediacy and a vibe that screams, “I am alive.”  There are things to do always.  You can sit out on the balcony of your apartment and listen to the city breath.  The sound of car engines, tires, and horns moving back and forth underneath you is accompanied by the sound of a concert in a distant club with the murmur of pedestrians toping it all off like a beautiful sound collage.

However, you can’t sit on your porch in a big city on a summer’s night and just listen to the crickets, whippoorwills, and owls sing their songs as the wind softly blows through the trees.  The moon sits high above casting a beautiful weak pale shadow on everything.  The pace of life is different in a small town.  Where everything is immediate in a big town, you can take your time in a small town to enjoy watching cars pass by.

I prefer big cities.  They allow me to get lost and to be lost there.  Part of my nature is to blend in and not be noticed.  Big cities provide the anonymity that I want and the feeling of isolation I sometimes need.  Cities provide the constant stimulation of something going on somewhere you don’t get in a smaller place.  Small towns do provide that human warmth that we all sometimes crave in our lives.  That warm embrace is good as long as we don’t allow it to smother us.

Zero Dark Thirty

Posted in movies with tags , on January 21, 2013 by cueball

I finally saw Zero Dark Thirty today.  It is a brilliant work of art.  Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal told the story they wanted to tell and they told it vividly.  There were moments of pure surprise throughout the movie even if you knew what happened on the days spotlighted by the on screen description.  The final sequence, which is the raid on Usama Bin Laden’s house in Abbottabad, was one of the best action sequences you will ever see on film.  Oh yeah, every actor brought it.  From Jessica Chastain through the wonderful cameo by Mark Valley as the C-130 pilot taking Maya home each actor was at the top of their game.

The final scene with Maya on the plane is the “what’s next” moment.  If Ahab had killed Moby Dick and survived the encounter this is what it would have looked like.  Your whole life is wrapped up into this moment of triumph, but you don’t know what to do once you have won.

The movie became controversial mostly because that is what we do today.  Everything is political for a certain class of people in this country.  Every utterance by anyone in the public eye is parsed and dissected to find out the political meaning by both sides of the spectrum.  The reason this movie is controversial is torture.

Do I think this movie supports torture?  No.  Do I think this movie suggest that torture led to the capture of bin Laden? No.  The main argument against the people who think the movie is pro torture is when the torture scene occurs and how unflinching it is.

I remember September 11, 2001.  I remember how beautiful that day was.  I walked to work and remember thinking this is a perfect day, no clouds and no humidity and not a cloud in the sky.  I got in early and sat at my desk checking email and relaxing.  A coworker walked by and just asked as she headed to her office, “Did you hear about the plane crashing into the World Trade Center?”  I called up the washingtonpost.com and saw the image on the front page.  By the end of the day, I was in my apartment at 3 am watching the news when I finally broke down crying.

In that light, it makes since that the second scene of the movie, the scene that occurs after the haunting 911 calls from the World Trade Center played against a black screen, is of torture.  We were angry.  We were hurt.  We needed to strike back against anything and anyone we thought was responsible.  We were wounded animal striking wildly and violently at whatever we could touch.  We had to look into the abyss.  We had to walk through that valley.  If for no other reason than the psychic need for vengeance and to see that that blood lust would not be fruitful in the end.

To say torture got no useful evidence is probably wrong.  It probably did lead to some scraps of information, but nothing truly actionable.  In the movie, most of the information gained from torture led nowhere or worse led to people being killed.  The real work of the CIA analysts and operatives did not begin until after the torture stopped.

One of my favorite scenes is when George, Maya’s boss at the CIA, is in a meeting with the National Security Advisor.  George complains that he can’t get the proof he needs without the detainee and torture program.  The NSA looks at him and essentially tells him to be creative and do your job.

Those who oppose the movie on torture grounds are not frustrated with the movie as much as frustrated that no one in the US government tied to the detainee program that may have broken US and international law.  They will continue to be frustrated.  No president, whether he supports the use of torture or not, will make any decision that will tie his or his successors hands in the future.

So growing tired of yelling for the President of The United States to do something he is never going to do, they have turned their ire towards this movie.  I don’t think when Bigelow and Boal started writing this movie they had any intention of supporting or attacking torture.  I think they wanted to make a good movie about this particular moment in time.  They did that and that is how this movie should be judged.