Weekly Thoughts 2

An NFL-centric look at the week

Part 1: A Crack Appears

The NFL has gone through a controversial couple of weeks – with some its biggest stars being accused of domestic and child abuse, a potential cover up scandal regarding a video of domestic abuse, and the always looming discussion about concussions.

In terms of popularity, football is essentially only consumed by one nation – the United States. But what football lacks in breadth it makes up for by being the most consumed sport in television (also television in general).

Those who love it likely enjoy its hard hits and spectacular plays, their Sundays spent consuming 10+ hours of men colliding at high velocities while others avoid tackles with stiff arms and spin moves. As the sport has made the move toward safety, many football fans complained at these newly instated rules meant to protect players. Most football fans are advocates for the violent sport – that’s what these athletes are getting paid for right?

Yet the conversation surrounding football is headed toward further safety measurements. With science always improving and more player health awareness, the effects of football will be studied, more lawsuits will occur, and the NFL will be forced to act further. This, along with the aforementioned abuses and cover up could be the first cracks appearing that will knock the NFL from its American sports throne.

Years ago if you would have told me that there was a chance football could disappear or be relegated to a minor sport, I would have called you crazy. This is no longer out of the question. If the NFL continues to be seen as a cesspool of immorality not only because of its players actions, but also by those who actually run the league, people will no longer be willing to ignore its concussion problem or other iniquities. And people have begun to question. Peter King, NFL insider, and Sports Illustrated writer asked his readers the question “Do you still like football?” after last week’s horrendous showing. If King is growing weary, others could easily catch on.

Another reason football could collapse is due to its lack of an international presence. Football has not caught on with the rest of the world, no matter how many London games get scheduled a year. Baseball has Korea, Japan, and plenty of other countries across the Americas. Basketball has leagues all over Europe and Asia. Hockey and soccer are already global sports, more renown abroad than in the US. Soccer may never catch on completely in the US, but as it grows, it surely steals viewers away from the NFL. The NFL remains stationary and in a globalized world a global presence is necessary.

This begs the question – can football be fixed? Well, maybe. First, it must escape this year, doling out punishments to abusers and likely getting rid of Goodell in order to bring reform 1919 Black Sox style. Precautions to head injuries should continue to take place until the culture of the sport changes from a place where collisions are cheered on as if it were a video game and appreciation should turn to the other wonderful parts of the sport that do make it worthwhile.

Lastly, Mike Pesca of Slate’s The Gist podcast suggested on a recent episode of the show that perhaps violence to women occurs so rampantly in the NFL because it is a place largely devoid of women (go to 20:50 for his take on the womenless culture of the NFL). The NFL certainly is a male-centric culture and is one that is naturally violent, so his points do make sense. I am a believer that the more we interact with people who are different than us, particularly on a equal level, the harder it is to intentionally cause damage to them or discriminate against them. Violence is usually accompanied by some sort of dehumanization. What would a more womanized NFL look like? It’s hard to say, but to break through the NFL’s tough guy culture certainly seems like a step in the right direction.


Part II: The NFL Sparks Discussions of Corporal Punishment

Adrian Peterson was accused of abusing his child in what he would later claim to be something fairly normal in the way that he was raised. This opened up a larger discussion surrounding religion and discipline, namely through William Saletan at Slate (apparently I need to widen my news sources…) and Matthew Paul Turner’s op-ed at CNN. Saletan decries spanking as something that prevents understanding and increases violence, while Turner goes after a sect of people that believe the Bible encourages corporal punishment. Both are an interesting read and inspired me to reflect on my own experiences.

I grew up getting spanked. We had a paddle that was specifically used for spankings – I can still picture it in my head. Despite – or because – of these spankings, I turned out fine. For better or worse, I don’t remember how much I got spanked, but it seemed to work appropriately (or perhaps my fear of transgressing in any manner was built into me via wooden paddle). My parents didn’t abuse it, my dad never pulled out his belt to whip me with, I don’t remember any aggression or Biblical references accompanying the spankings. It was always a punishment for wrongdoing and once it was done, it was done.

With that being said, I don’t think I will spank my own children. Nor do I generally believe corporal punishment to be a positive (though I will certainly conduct research). My wife is Swedish – a place where spanking is illegal and there is no precedence for it. To a Swede corporal punishment is synonymous with child abuse. And really it can be hard to tell the difference.

When you look at one parent spanking versus another where is the line drawn? When is it discipline and when is it abuse? There is no way that you can define it. Spanking is a violent act. In order to define it, the conversation would have to turn to how hard you can hit your kid or how often. To me this is not productive. Good people with good intentions can make mistakes; good people can succumb to bad intentions.

Should spanking be a thing? I say no. I am sure good can come from it, I really am, but the amount of bad that can come out of it, plus the fact that it is nearly impossible to decipher the good from the bad, pushes me over the edge.

I’ve been there, I’ve grown up around spanking that was probably done as healthy as could be done, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather parents hitting their children not be seen as acceptable.


Part III: A Timeline of a Football Match (The Breaking of a Heart)

5:20 – All right! Football baby! 1-0 49ers taking on the Bears. First game at Levi Stadium, Marshall and Jeffery are hobbling, and the Bears lost to the Bills last week. Easy 2-0.

5:40 – Blocked punt! Whaaaaat!?!?!? #SLAPHANDS

5:45 – Crabtree baby, FOOTBALL FOOTBALL FOOTBALL

6:50 – TOUCHDOWN!!!! Oh wait… Penalty? Anquan Boldin touched a guy? Awww man. Referees are such bummers.

7:00 – Hey that might have been a touchdown, let me wait to see if there were any penalties…………………………………………………………………… Oh good, we scored!!!!!!

7:10 – Penalty on Justin Smith for 6 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

7:15 – Penalty on Cox for 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aww shucks.

7:19 – Penalty on Dial for 15 yards, 1st down Bears. Awww shucks.

7:22 – Touchdown Bears. 17-7, oh well we’re probably still the best team in the league.

8:00 – Field goal by Dawson on the opening drive, yeah we’re definitely going undefeated this season.

8:10 – Penalty on Lemonier, 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

8:14 – Penalty on Johnson, 5 yards, 1st down Bears. Aw shucks.

8:20 – Touchdown Bears, 20-14. Well you know our offense is unstoppable right now! No problem man, no problem.

8:30 – Oh Kaepernick that was a bad pass!

8:35 – 21-20 Bears lead. Oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy, oh boy.

8:37 – Why must man toil the way he does? The sun rises and the sun sets but the days are meaningless. Life. is. meaningless. Where are you God in my misery?!?

8:40 – Ohh Kaepernick that was a bad pass!!

8:44 – You know Rust Cohle was absolutely right, he absolutely was, he was the truest detective, yes he was.

8:55 – 28-20 the Bears are now ahead. Ohhhh boy.

8:56 – THESE WOUNDS WON’T SEEM TO HEAL, THIS PAIN IS JUST TOO REAL. THERE’S JUST TOO MUCH THAT TIME CANNOT ERASE! *Sob*

9:05 – Oh come on Kaepernick throw it to hi—- awww $*&!

9:06 – Why would I ever choose to watch football. Or sports. No one should do this, no one should EVER DO THIS. Football is the worst thing that humankind ever came up with. Worse than Maroon 5. Worse than water chestnuts. Worse than lukewarm water. Worse than a skipping DVD….

9:07 – HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME, I MADE MY MISTAKES. GOT NOWHERE TO RUN, THE NIGHT GOES ON AS I’M FADING AWAY. I’M SICK OF THIS LIFE. I JUST WANNA SCREAM, HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO ME?

9:20 – My wife looks at me, she asks me if I’m okay. I don’t respond. ‘You look like you just found out a loved one died.’ You just don’t understand!!!

oh football.

A Lamentation

All my songs will be in minor for the night.

My eyes weary from 15 years of hopes dashed by a distance of 5 yards.

5 yards the difference between excitement and lament.

Between Queen and The Smiths playing through the speakers.

This is all arbitrary, I know; I can view the sports world from a large enough distance to recognize that.

It still sucks.

It’s like having to throw away your favorite childhood toy, it makes no difference in your life, but in a small way it does.

I suppose things take on the emotions that we attribute to them.

Houses, cars, clothes, and sports, they all exist in a sort of neutral form; what we think of them dependent on the experiences we go through with them.

They provide the setting to the ups and downs of life and, at times, can even invade the narrative at times.

In sports we cling to narratives, some giving us hope (the Olympics are chock-full of these), others causing us despair (Lance Armstrong).

The David vs. Goliath stories capture us, while we root against those we perceive to be “bad” people.

We really don’t have any good clue on who’s good and who’s bad, but it adds to the narrative; adding to the emotional weight of each pass or score.

In the end, it really is just the background. Part of the setting that our culture (and a lot of others) deems important.

The season is over and at this point it’s weird. It’s almost exhausting to think of having to do this again next year. As a fan, I don’t want to have to face another loss in another game like this. I can’t think of anything else to compare it to.

I’m sure come September, I’ll be all ready to go, but the finality of this game is deadening.   The narrative has run dry; stopped 5 yards too short. It’s ready to go into the metaphorical box in the attic with 15 other years of memories, only to be looked at during nostalgic binges.

I guess this is a letter goodbye to this season. The credits are rolling and Andy has just handed over Woody, never to see him again.

Ahhh sports.

 

Sports

super-bowl-2013_03

In my last post I wrote about my history with the San Francisco 49ers; the ups and downs I faced as a young sports fanatic. I concluded it, by stating that this year’s Super Bowl is personal for me. When you think about this though, it’s quite strange. I have no stock in the 49ers, I know nobody involved in the organization, if they win or lose it should not personally affect me in any way, shape, or form…

Yet, I have probably faced more heartbreak (of which I consider genuine) at the hands of sports teams than I have girls, friends, or anything of the sort. I have a personal investment in these people who have mastered a set of skills that society has for some reason deemed important.

Why is that?

These are questions that I have pondered, not extensively, but a little bit, which I think is something that is more than the average sports fan has. Why do we love sports? Why don’t people ask themselves this more often?

I guess the main reason is that it is a distraction from our lives and thinking about it takes away from people’s main purpose in enjoying it, the not thinking aspect of it. But I do think critical thinking is important, so think about it I will.

I have broken down this attraction to sports (and subsequently games as well) into 3 different categories. Each person has their reason for enjoying sports and I think that they may fall into at least 1 of 3 categories: Competition, Creativity, and Community.

Competition:

Competition is a desire to see who is the best; a desire to see the best physical specimens doing what they’re best at and seeing one conquer another. This perhaps comes out of some Darwinian nature or throwback to days when war and world domination was even more common than it is now (or at least more violently prevalent, because this certainly exists in more subtle ways today).

I don’t really ascribe to this worldview that mankind is mere beast and I’d like to think that we can choose to live above a “survival of the fittest” ethic, but sports certainly does give us a world where compassion is naught (though sometimes we’d like it to exist which I will touch on later).

I think you see this type of fan particularly in more violent sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing, or football. Football fans have recently faced a dilemma between keeping the violent nature of the sport at the risk of the health of the people who participate in it and with each new rule there is always the outcry of complaints that they are ruining the sport.

Even something like the sprints of track and field play into this, where we just want to see someone run as fast as possible out-performing each other person by pure physical power and not much else.

This aspect of sports is one that is not the main attraction for me, but even I fall into the desire to see who is the best. This can be seen in relentless pursuit of perfecting playoff systems in order to truly find out which team or person is best and to label them “champion”. Even baseball has recently done this, a sport which can be argued, is the least physically dominant and leads every sport in the use of statistics (MATH!) in winning (see Moneyball). Every sport has a desired outcome which seeks to discover who is the best, the way the game or sport is designed figures into the second category.

Creativity:

Sports has no inherent meaning and adds no value to our lives. They exist in an interesting place that is between entertainment, recreation, and business. When you think about it, it is similar to the place that movies, music, and television play within popular culture. There are people who make a living off of each, those who do it because they love it, and those who pay for it because they enjoy the experience it gives them. While sports probably fits closer to the low culture aspects of everything listed above in that it is more pure entertainment and doesn’t purposefully tell us about the human condition, but the mere fact that people set about creating something in order to add (or take away) from our lives in some sense makes it a kind of art.

Each sport has its own set of rules and strategies to adapt to those rules in order to provide the best possible outcome for the person or team participating. The process of coming up with rules in order to create a satisfying game requires some sort of creative ability. Sports are not invented on a daily basis, but if you consider each sport as its own medium like painting or sculpting then it works like any other art form. Most painters and sculptors base their works on hundreds of years of people who have come before them; building upon the use of basic tools and ideas to express something of their own. Look at any elementary school recess and you will see kids adapting a set of rules provided to them by professionals to fit their own limitations (examples of this would be the creation of “Ghost Runners” in whiffle ball, the existence of kickball, or 2-hand touch football with all its street adaptations.)

Sports do not provide inherent meaning to our lives and at times they might seem to bring us back to some barbaric mindset, but they also help us to satisfy a creative itch that seems to exist in mankind. Most games are brilliantly drawn out down to the most minute detail, something that does not get talked about or really recognized at all.

Community:

It is a common notion that man wants to be a part of something larger than his or herself.   Poet John Donne famously put it “no man is an island”, connecting with others is something that seems to resonate within most people.

Sports have become more than a game played between individuals on some sort of playing field, they have become historical events filled with analysts, experts, and places dedicated to discussing each step taken. There are blogs, radio stations, podcasts, newspapers, water coolers, etc… all providing forums for talking about sports.

There is no doubt in my mind that sports have become such a giant part of our existence due to this ability to bring people together. We talk about coaching decisions, misplays, and phenomenons that we can hardly believe existed, things that are not as enjoyable when experienced alone.

Last weekend’s 49ers game that advanced them to the Super Bowl (and inspired this barrage of thoughts) I, due to circumstances, had to watch alone. While the game was one of the most important sporting events to me personally in my lifetime, it simply was not the same as watching it with people I grew up watching games with. I wanted to feel excited, but felt restrained.

On the opposite hand, complete strangers will embrace in celebration due to sporting feats. Going to a game or even a sports bar with unknown people cheering on the same team will draw people closer than many other things will. You can’t get some men to say more than 5 words to each other (I know because I am one of them), but throw sports into the mixture and you’ll get a conversation longer than this post.

This is probably the reason that people can get so violent over sports. It is like the reverse effect, causing people to antagonize and even act aggressively toward one another despite the fact that the outcome of a game shouldn’t really affect them (all betting aside, literally).

Sports is not alone in providing community for people, really being a subculture mostly consisting of middle-aged men, more manly types of men (mostly). I think it does the same thing that celebrity gossip sites and magazines do for women, science fiction does for nerds, and politics does for most of its followers (these are all sweeping generalizations), it provides a way to connect to others.

While all 3 of these aptly C-starting categories provide reasons as to why sports are such a huge part of our world, it doesn’t fully explain the heartbreak and joy experienced as a sports follower, I hope to continue this in a later post (perhaps in a post-Super Bowl lament or in jubilance depending on what happens) about the way we seem to crave positive narratives in our lives.