Archive for the football Category

Our Football Hypocrisy

Posted in college football, football, sports with tags , , , , , , , on August 28, 2013 by cueball

I’m a hypocrite.  Most of us are, I just admit it.  Most football fans just try not to think about what we are asking for our personal entertainment.

I’ve read or seen all the major news reports.  I’ve even read a couple of the scientific papers that describe the effects of concussions.  I have a good handle on what scientists suspect are the long-term effects of using your body as a projectile against other human beings.  I know we are probably asking individuals to shorten their life-spans so that we have something to watch on Saturday and Sunday.  That truly gives me pause, at least through the end of August.

Then football season starts up again and I am swept back into the familiar routine of games all Saturday afternoon and night and again on Sunday afternoon.

We are like addicts.  We know what we are doing is bad.  We know that it is dangerous.  We know we should not do this, but every August football pulls us back.  The thing is we know deep down that we are quickly heading towards rock bottom, that point of reckoning where we will have to truly face what we are doing and what we are asking of these athletes.  At least I hope so.  I hope we face what we are doing and truly try to change before someone literally dies on the field.

Then again, maybe the NFL is becoming rollerball even against its own wishes.  I think the nightmare scenario for everyone in the league is a death on the field and think they are doing everything possible under the structure of football to make it safer.  They are adjusting rules and emphasizing correct technique at younger levels.   The problem is, of course, it is still football.

It is still a game of collision.  The object is to tackle the guy with the ball.  So, unless you completely change the game to the point where it is no longer about arresting the physical movements of other players, it will inherently be a collision sport that veers into physical violence.

Football is different from other sports in that it is probably the closest sport to physical chess (and by extension warfare).  Every move right down to basic blocking has a counter-move.  There are only two ways to move the ball:  running and passing (we’ll leave kicking out for the moment).  Within those two possibilities you have hundreds of different plays which can be disguised with hundreds of different formations.  Defense is basically zone or man, but within that you can change the type of personnel on the field and or play zone principles on one side of the field and man principles on the other.  It is endlessly complicated and fascinating.

All of that being said, the sport appeals to us precisely because it is so physical a game.  After we get done with all the talk about zone blitzes and the read-option it comes down to the Oklahoma Drill.  It is the sport’s essence and its beauty.  Yet, what it represents may also be its undoing.

The Oklahoma Drill is simple.  In a space about three yards long and one yard wide two players line up against each other as if at the line of scrimmage.  The coach blows the whistle and the player who can push the other player out of the space or onto the ground wins.  It is simple. It is brutal and it is the essence of football.  The game at its core level is about one person taking the challenge to physically dominate another person.  Watching that challenge on each play keeps us coming back despite what should be our better judgment.

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Random thoughts on sports, goals, outputs, and outcomes

Posted in football with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2013 by cueball

Part of my life has been spent writing grants, reading grants, and awarding grants.  One of the things you learn about in this world is the concepts of goals, outputs, and outcomes.  Every grant application has its way of getting you to tell the funder what is the affect you are trying to get (goals); what you are going to do to get that affect (outputs); and what you specifically expect to achieve (outcomes).  Of those, the one you have the least amount of control over is the one that in many ways matters most, the outcomes.

In sports the outcome is the most important thing.  It is what gets coaches hired and fired, yet as in fundraising, it is the thing the players and coaches have least control over.  Very few coaches at a high level understand this.  The ones who do are usually the most successful.  Take Nick Saban for example.

In everything I have read about his now fabled “Process” he never emphasizes winning games (outcomes). The Process centers on making everyone in the program better (goal) by doing the right thing the right way every time (outputs).  The choices are always simple.  X is the right way, Y is the wrong way, always do X.  It is just that sometimes X is harder and there appears to be no benefit to doing it that way.  That is why there must be accountability to make people do the right thing.

The Process teaches the players (and coaches) to control the things you can control.  You can control what you eat, going to class, how hard you work in the weight room and on the field.  You can control lining up correctly, doing your homework, and getting to bed at a descent hour.  You cannot control what the referees will call during a game, the weather, or how the other team will line up across from you.

Sports writers and talking heads speak of Saban’s Process as if it is some kind of magic formula.  It isn’t.  It is quite like something you learn from many philosophies and theologies, particularly Eastern philosophies.  No matter what your goal, the actual outcome is out of your hands.  You can only work towards that goal and its outcomes to the best of your abilities.  There are too many factors out of your hands as to whether you achieve your desired outcome to concentrate on that outcome.  In sports it particularly hard to win even one game because of all the things outside of your control: the other team, the officials, the weather, the field conditions, etc.

It seems counter-intuitive that in a sport that is all about winning the best way to approach it is to stop caring about winning.  It does make sense that the sport where this type of thinking is becoming a bigger trend is football.  It is the one sport where the coach does control everything making it easier for him to force his players to concentrate on all the things surrounding winning and not on winning.

I’ve realized this sounds like I am saying these coaches don’t care about winning.  They do care about winning, but they are trying to make winning seem like the logical outcome of all the work they are doing.  The goal is to make the team and individual players better, the outputs are to do the right thing the right way all the time, the outcome is winning.

What Does The Battle of Bosworth Field Have To Do With The Super Bowl

Posted in football with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2013 by cueball

Don’t worry.  I’ll get to the Super Bowl in a second.

I have had Richard III on my mind a lot lately.  First, I powered through all 13 episodes of House of Cards on Friday which is based in part on Shakespeare’s Richard III and then there was the news that they found the actual body of Richard III under a parking lot in Leicester, England.  In Shakespeare’s play Richard III is thrown from his horse at the Battle of Bosworth Field making him incapable if leading his troops and ending his bloody 2-year reign as king of England and the last ruler from the House of York.  His loss and death and the course of all changed because of a bad horseshoe nail.  Remember, this is a short rudimentary history of the death of Richard III only to give the reasoning about everything else that is about to follow.  If you want a more complete history of the life and death of Richard III go read a book on English history, Shakespeare, or at the very least Wikipedia.

The horseshoe nail theory is a way of studying history looking for all the small moments that lead to the headline grabbing moment.  Our journalists are the chroniclers of history in real time, but sometimes they grow too infatuated with the grand moment.  They become enamored with the moment when Richard actually dies and not the moment that created the circumstances of his death.  They fail to notice that if his horse does not lose his shoe, he could have saved the battle and his throne.

All morning I have been reading how the final play of the San Francisco 49ers last drive decided the game through a non-call on an “obvious” pass interference/defensive holding call.  I would say that play was the simple culmination of a series of bad plays and bad play calling on the part of the 49ers.  To state that the lack of a call on that play kept San Francisco from winning the game absolves the San Francisco coaching staff of any responsibility of putting them in that situation and is the worst sort of transcriber journalism.

Allowing your team to be down 21-6 at half-time, giving up a touchdown on the opening kickoff of the second half, and not giving your best player the opportunity to make a play on the final drive are all things the 49ers did to themselves before that final offensive play.  Or how about when given the opportunity to have a 35 minute time out before a 3rd and 13 play you come up with something a little better than a rushed check down to a running back for 6 yards and a punt.

Honestly, no one of these plays caused the San Francisco loss.  Also focusing on any of them ignores the fact that the Baltimore Ravens had a lot to do with final outcome of the proceedings.  Plus, the officiating was bad all night.  However, the narrative is being written on the last thing journalists saw and the spoutings of Jim Harbaugh at the press conference which reporters have dutifully transcribed as fact.  He comes in the press conference bitter and angry that his team lost the biggest game of the year and the final image was of a penalty that could have been called.  Of course, that is where he is going to place his anger, not on his players or coaches.

That is why journalists are allowed to ask questions in press conferences.  Why did you not call a different set of plays for Colin Kaepernick during that final sequence?  Why did you not have your punt coverage team prepared for Sam Koch running around to rag time off the clock before a safety?  If he answers your questions, you have story.  If he goes nuts and storms out after dropping a bunch of f-bombs, you have a story.  Simply regurgitating what he said isn’t a story.

I figured some reporters would blame the loss all on that final play, but I didn’t expect it to be Greek chorus lamenting how poor Jim Harbaugh got screwed.  I’ll go back to attacking the NCAA tomorrow and let the journalists rest.

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.

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?”

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.

Are We Entertained

Posted in college football, football with tags , , , , , on January 10, 2013 by cueball

Are we entertained?

At some point in the near future, we as football fans and a society have to ask ourselves are we truly comfortable with what we ask of football players to entertain us.

In news that shocked no one, Junior Seau suffered from CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) before his death.  CTE most commonly occurs in individuals who have had repeated head traumas over a period of years.  It is a degenerative brain disease that finally presents as a type of dementia.

That is just the brain injuries.  There is a whole history of football players who can barely walk, pick up their kids, or have a normal life because of all the hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, wrist, etc. injuries.

They do this all to entertain us on Sunday afternoons.  Yes, they choose to do this and get paid large amounts of money to play this game, but without us watching there would be no money.  In a sense, that makes us as responsible for these injuries as the players and coaches.  Some of us get angry when a player decides, that he is too injured to play and then, those same people, seem to want to deny the effects of playing injured over the course of years.

Is deriving our entertainment at least in part from human beings damaging their bodies irreparably healthy for anyone?

I keep asking these questions because I don’t know the answers.  During the season, I try not to think about all the effects of the injuries.  The more I think about it, the less fun the whole football enterprise becomes.

That is the danger for all of football.  The more information out there about the cumulative effects of football injuries in general and brain injuries in particular, the fewer parents who will allow their children to play and the fewer people who will watch.

Not everywhere, but in certain parts of the country football will disappear.  Like boxing, the participants will all be from only a few parts of the country and they will almost all be from the poorer side of the ledger.  Then it will become more gladiatorial/boxing.

Maybe that is the point of all sports, it offers the poor an opportunity out of their station in the economic hierarchy.  It is their ladder up, but at what cost for the participants?

This post has no narrative, no point.  It is merely asking questions, which I can’t yet answer.  I will watch the NFL playoffs and I will be all in come July and August when college and professional practices start.  I will put my fears and questions to the back of my mind and sit back and enjoy.

I do have the inkling suspicion that for football to survive in the long term it is going to have to look more like the 7-on-7 tournaments that are growing in popularity (as college recruiting tools) then the mechanized precision of today’s game.