Archive for January, 2013

These Kinds of Stories Don’t Tell Us Who They Really Are

Posted in sports, sports and society with tags , , , , , , , on January 21, 2013 by cueball

I have learned two things about athletes in my sport watching life.  The first is we do not know these people and the second is we love the story of these people.

My least favorite time of the sporting year is the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl.  Because there is two weeks and there is only so much you can talk about with the game strategy and analysis we get a lot of flummery.  ESPN and the NFL network get bored talking about blitz pickups and try to find anything else to fill time.  The other networks are just looking for an angle to pull in more viewers.  So, every player or coach who may have some kind of impact on the game gets the NBC Olympic treatment.

If you have ever watched the Olympics you know that every athlete gets to tell their inspiring story of how they have overcome all these obstacles to get to the pinnacle of the most important moment in their lives.  Pure sports fans pretty much hate this approach.  They love sports for sports and just want to see the athletes compete.

The thing is, these stories that supposedly get us closer to knowing the athletes aren’t for the pure sports fan who makes up a fraction of the Olympic (and Super Bowl) audience.  They are designed to bring in the non-sports fan, and they work.  Like most things on television, if people don’t watch the networks stop doing it.  There is little if anything on a television network that isn’t measured by rating and how much money it will make.

We love these stories.  They seem better then movies because they are about real people.  You will often hear an announcer say something like, “Hollywood couldn’t make this up.”  The insidious problem is these stories often give us the illusion of knowing these athletes.

We don’t know them and these stories give us a fraction of that person, at best because these are human beings.  Human beings keep secrets from each other.  Hell, human beings keep secrets from themselves.

Every time a serial killer is caught, someone who lives next door to him or works in the same office with him will come out and say, “He didn’t seem like that kind of guy.”  If you work with someone 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, and have lunch with them 2 times a week, and you still don’t know they are a serial killer, how can you expect to learn anything about an athlete from a 6-minute feature with Tom Rinaldi?  You will not know who they are at the end of those 6-minutes.  You will have heard a great story about them that gives you a glimpse at a fraction of their being, but that is it.

You would think the stories about Lance Armstrong or Manti Te’o would give reporters pause in considering doing these personal stories.  However, we are entering the worse time of the year for that, the pre-Super Bowl two weeks.  So, we will be drowned in stories about Ray Lewis, the Harbaugh brothers, Colin Kaepernick, and whatever else CBS, ESPN, the NFL Network, and every other news outlet can think of over the next two weeks.  I’m glad I have Netflix, college basketball, and a Kindle to distract me.

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Like a Lemming, I offer my take on Manti Te’o

Posted in college football with tags , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2013 by cueball

As with many of the internet explosions that happen, I am more interested in our reaction to the Manti Te’o story then I am the actual story.

Why is the Manti Te’o story such a big deal?  There are actually a few reasons.  First it is a great story.  It has so many things going on in it with the rise and fall of a football hero, the perpetrating of a great hoax, and the confusion of the national media as to how didn’t they get the story way back in September.

It reminds me of two things.  The first is the Stephen Glass story that was wonderfully captured in the movie Shattered Glass (easily Haden Christianson’s best work).  That is the story of The New Republic reporter who was a great fiction writer, except he was supposed to be reporting and not making stuff up as he saw fit.

Then, of course, there is the “Tuttle” episode of MASH.   Hawkeye and Trapper create the fictional Capt. Tuttle to get more supplies for a local orphanage.  Eventually the caper begins to unravel and to cover up the lie Hawkeye, Trapper, and Radar kill Tuttle off and have all of his back pay sent to the orphanage.

Secondly, it was the latest creation from that myth-making factory that is Notre Dame football and we get to finally expose one of those myths as just that, a myth.  Notre Dame football is important to college football not just because of its historic greatness, but because of the mythic stories behind its greatness.  This one time the members of the college football loving public who aren’t Notre Dame fans get to puncture this myth at its infancy.

Another reason it has blown up, especially on Twitter, is that most of the reporters who cover college football are just glad they never did a big Manti Te’o story.  There is an almost palpable relief that comes through even on Twitter among some of the writers of college football.  They are so happy their story about the wonderful Manti Te’o were killed or never got started.  They are wondering, how did we not check out an obituary to find out the actual date she died or check Stanford to see if she was actually a student or find out when exactly this accident she was in occurred.  Too many reporters didn’t pay attention to the red flags that were there.

Every great detective story in literature has a protagonist who isn’t necessarily a genius.  They are just people who pay attention to everything people say and do and find the holes in the logic.  None of the people reporting on Te’o did this until very recently.

Finally, we the college football loving public just feel tricked, flimflammed, and bamboozled, and we want to know why.  The reason the story took off and is still a major topic on the interwebs is that no one has answered that question.  For every answer we get two new questions.  Even the Notre Dame press conference was inconclusive because Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick kept deferring the answers to Manti Te’o saying this was his story and he needed to be the one to explain it.

Hopefully, Te’o will do a sit-down interview with someone.  Maybe he can explain why he said he met this young lady after a 2009 football game at Stanford.  Or, how she managed to die on at least 5 different days depending on which reporter he talked to that day.

AD Swarbrick was right last night when he said that this was a sad story.  It is a sad story, but he was talking about how sad it was Te’o would never be able to trust people again.  It is a sad story, but it is more about how our societal trust in each other continues to erode through stories like this.  One of the bedrocks of a free and open society is that at some fundamental level we have to be able to trust one another.  Because of these kind of stories that is quickly disappearing.

I would love this

Posted in football with tags , , , , , on January 16, 2013 by cueball

I would love if a coach at an introductory press conference started out with this, “Thank you, Athletic Director Wilson.  Its a pleasure to be here today to accept this job.  Look, this isn’t my ‘dream job’ and I’m not your first choice as coach, Nick Saban wasn’t available for the amount you can pay.  If I do as well as I think I will, this 6 year contract will last maybe 4 years and I’ll be on to whatever desperate school offers me a bigger check.  So, any questions?”

Darius Rucker Has Recorded a Cover of “Wagon Wheel”

Posted in music with tags on January 16, 2013 by cueball

Darius Rucker has released a version of “Wagon Wheel” for his latest single.  I’ve listened to it.  It is a nice song.  It gets all the chord changes, notes, and words right from The Old Crow Medicine Show’s original.  Rucker obviously loves the song (as most of us do) since he has performed it often in concert.

Here is my problem.  Cover songs often miss the passion and the urgency that makes up great music.  When you like a song too much sometimes you concentrate so much on getting all the notes right you don’t always let that passion come through.

One of my favorite covers of all time is “Ooh Las Vegas” originally done by Gram Parsons and covered by The Cowboy Junkies on the Return of the Grievous Angel tribute album.  The reason it is a great cover is The Cowboy Junkies took a great song that they loved, kept the basic structure, but reinterpreted it through their slower darker sound bringing a whole different feeling and perspective to the lyrics.

They imbued the song with a new passion and urgency by making a part of it their own.  Passion and an urgency sometimes bordering on anarchy is the reason I love music.  It is the feeling that this song could fall apart at any minute.  It is the reason I love The Band.

At their best, The Band always sounded like the music was going fly completely off the rails.  As if they were all just a little wasted and playing with complete freedom and abandon, but just enough on this side of sober to still master their instruments and the music.  Blues and its children, rock and roll, country, rhythm and blues, and hip hop, has its core a sense of that anarchy and of possibility.

I have no problem with Rucker covering the song.  I have no doubt that Rucker loves this song.  I have no doubt that he wants to do a good version to show respect to The Old Crow Medicine Show.  I also think it is a nice sounding version of the song, and when it sells like we all know it will it will make The Old Crow Medicine Show a lot of money.  It is a well written song sung by a good singer who is also one of the hottest country acts going today.  Yeah, it is going to make a lot of money.

You do not always have to respect the end product or the marketing of that product, but you almost always have to respect the craftsman.  Art and beer are very much the same in that respect.  It is as hard to make bad beer/art as it is good beer or art.  That is why I always respect the craftsman who is trying to make something out of nothing.  I respect the hell out of the brewers at the big beer companies.  They have to not only brew many batches of beer at one brewery that have to taste the same (which is hard enough), they have to make sure all those batches taste the same as the batches brewed throughout the world.  That is a skill that I respect.  I may not drink their boring beer, but I respect the ability to make it consistently.

It is the same with art, music (television and movies also) especially.  It is hard to write a song millions of people want to hear a lot.  Writing pure pop music is a special skill that not many people have.  Like with the beer, I may not enjoy it, but I see the skill behind it and respect it.

I have listened to Darius Rucker’s version of “Wagon Wheel” and I think it is a good song.  I won’t go out of my way to listen to it again, but if it is on television show I’m watching I won’t turn the channel.  I respect his voice and his attempt at making this song; I just much prefer the original.

Something I’m Working On

Posted in football with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2013 by cueball

I’m researching NFL injuries for a long post I’m working on.  I’m currently reading Greg Garber’s 5-part report on Mike Webster’s life, career, and death.  This quote stands out:

When he was finished, Webster had broken most of his fingers, suffered permanent damage to five vertebrae, and effectively ruined his knees, right shoulder and right heel. More troubling were the constant headaches that began to dog him in his last few seasons with the Steelers. The record books dutifully note his 245 regular-season games, but there were nearly 100 more, taking his 19 playoff games and more than 75 preseason games into account. Factor in the grueling training camps in Latrobe, Pa., and practices throughout the season, and it’s probable that Webster endured more than 25,000 violent collisions.

Then there is this quote from Webster’s son Garrett, “There was an unwritten rule in the NFL — if you can play, under any circumstances, you play.”

The more I read and the more I think about the NFL, the league’s problem is not brain injuries unto themselves, but the culture that pushes players to play when it is honestly dangerous to their long-term health.

I’m starting to have a problem separating my love of watching the NFL with the damage we are complicity allowing so that we are entertained.

Why I Write

Posted in life with tags , , , on January 15, 2013 by cueball

What scares me?  The blank Word document.

Every morning I open up my laptop and scan Twitter, read through Google Reader, check out sports websites (ESPN, SI, Yahoo!, CBSSports, SB Nation, The Classical), and read a couple of news sites hoping I will find something that will spark a thread in my mind.  If I find something, I’ll start pulling at that thread and start writing about in a Word document.

The problem begins when nothing jumps out at me and says, “Write about me.”  That is where the interesting part of the day begins.  I open Word, crawl into my brain, find something rolling around in there, and start writing about it.

No one makes me do a blog post every morning.  I don’t get paid for it, but I do it anyway.  Not many people read it, but I do it anyway.  Why do I do it?  I’m getting my reps in first thing in the morning. You won’t get better if you don’t constantly practice.

It is always at least 500 words.  That equates to a one page Word document.  So every morning, I open a new Word document and try to fill that page with something that makes sense.  Sometimes I have been successful and written something I think was actually good.  Other times, it is 500 words of forced insight that lead to nowhere and nothing.  In other words crap.

So again, the question is why do I do it?  The only thing that has ever made me happy is sitting and putting words on paper.  I may not be good at it, but that doesn’t matter.  Writing words, constructing sentences, finishing a thought, and building a complete argument is fun.  Even if something I write in the morning doesn’t quite come off as I may have thought it would when I started writing doesn’t mean I didn’t learn something from it.  I reread everything I’ve written and see where the holes in the argument are and where the gaps in logic reside.  I recognize how this sentence or that sentence could have been constructed better or placed in a different paragraph to give it more power.

I still haven’t answered why I do this.  Again, there is no money in it.  There is little recognition if any.  Any athlete worth a crap will tell you the only way you get better is to practice.  To get in your reps.  You want a good jump shot?  Shoot every day.  You want to be a great free kick taker?  Go out and hit free kicks around fake walls every day.  Golf swings don’t magically appear as perfection.  It takes time on the course and at the range swinging over and over again.

That is why I write on this anonymous nondescript blog everyday hoping someone may read my thoughts and get something from them.  I’m practicing.  I’m trying to be better at this.  I’m trying to learn how to string words together, to construct sentences that lead to paragraphs that tell a complete story.  I’m thinking about form and style and all the things that make good narratives whether it is nonfiction or fiction.

Some of the things I write during the day end up on the blog that day; some will in the future when they are ready; and some will hopefully appear elsewhere.  In the meantime, I’m just going to keep practicing.

This is about a letter to the editor of the DTH

Posted in college basketball with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2013 by cueball

Fans are not entitled to championships.  Fans of some sporting entities feel that they should not lose and if they do someone should be fired new players should be found.

Fans should be disappointed with losing.  They should be borderline angry when their team does not execute the basics.  That is perfectly reasonable.  Sometimes I forget that fan is a shortened version of fanatic meaning fans are by definition a little irrational.

However, there is a difference between irrational and delusional.  Fans of historically successful teams sometimes forget how hard it is to win and that everyone else is trying to win.  That mental blindness makes them prone to overreaction and panic, and often makes them forget what bad really looks like.

A team with the talent to win if and when if figures itself out and a team that has no hope of winning because of lack talent and coaching are two different things.  The first team usually plays good for a half and bad for a half and loses games like that until they start putting together consistent effort for the whole game.  Those teams are frustrating, but that happens with inexperience.  The second team is just bad.  Think 8-20.  Fans with common sense and a bit of perspective know the difference.

Another thing that happens for fans of ultra-successful teams who forget what bad truly looks like or what losing feels like, is that they forget to enjoy the wins.  Winning is the result of hard work and timing.  It is very hard.  Winning isn’t something that is a given or a birth right.  Therefore it should be enjoyed, but it often spoils the wrong people.  It doesn’t usually spoil the ones actively creating the success (coaches and players) they are too busy working towards it.  It spoils the fans.  They forget winning is a precious thing that must be tended to and respected or it will go away completely.

For coaches to achieve the type of consistent success fans clamor for, requires a borderline insane focus on the task of winning and being successful that most fans can’t begin to imagine. Urban Meyer risked his health for that type of success.  People laugh when Nick Saban wins a national championship and starts worrying about off-season training and recruiting 10 minutes later.  That is how you build something that successful for a long period of time.  The fact that more coaches, particularly in college, don’t go completely off the rails mentally or physically surprises me.

There is some ephemeral line that separates fans demanding success and fans petulantly lashing out at everyone and everything when they don’t win.  I think it is somewhere between the difference of fans being disappointed with loses and angry at bad play and fans impatiently screaming for their next hit of winning and the accompanying superiority.  Winning allows fans to talk crap on Facebook because their team beat their friend’s team.  Of course both contributed to the game by watching on television and drinking beer.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve dropped a lot of things from my fandom.  Chief among them is the moral superiority of my team to yours.  I haven’t lost my love my teams, but I’m not playing so winning or losing really says very little about me.  Therefore, why would I talk smack about a game to an opposing fan?  Somewhere along the line, I have managed to untie my self-worth from my team’s success or failures.  I learned during a very cold February that no matter what befalls you personally, the world will keep spinning.  I think that is even truer when it comes to how good or bad your favorite team is.  My team’s losing may make life a little more annoying, but it will go on regardless.