Sunday, September 13, 2015

American football just isn't all that.

The professional football season starts today. One marquee game on a Thursday night is not a start but only a shadow. The real thing begins today. Football is a great game. It really is. But until the game (and its fans, we must add) starts to lose some of its self importance, it really should take a breath and reconsider why it isn't all that. A reasonable sense of humility is a good thing for anyone and anything.

For starters, there are the repeated and gruesome injuries involved with playing the game. I'm sorry, but there's no game worth playing, and no sport worth being deemed sport, when thousands of players and thousands more in the future have and will suffer debilitating injuries. The libertarian argument that no one made them play simply is shallow in light of the suicides which have come about directly as the result of playing football. Perhaps no one in the strictest sense made them play. But our insistence as a society that players risk injury which all too often has led to death simply so that we can sit with friends on a weekend afternoon and rationalize it away with a blithe 'it's too bad about that awful injury but it was a good hit' rings of nothing but bread and circuses no matter how actually sorrowful we may feel at the time of the injury. We should not cheer what might result in long term injuries which cause people to take their lives as merely part of a game. Football needs to ratchet down the violence or, quite frankly, be banned.

The bravado of American football too really needs to be ratcheted down a few notches too. Oh, you stopped a guy for a two yard gain late in an already decided contest? Big whoop. You don't see players in other sports reveling in their own self glorification over similar plays in their games. Stop thinking your unimportant little play at an unimportant time is so critical to human history. An outfielder catching a deep fly ball in the eighth inning of a blowout has the right attitude. He caught it because he was supposed to give it his best no matter what. Be he knows that it ultimately means nil.

American football is not really the most popular game ever, either. That idea is smoke and mirrors. Let's see what the numbers would be if there were 80 some games per season as in basketball and hockey, or 162 as in baseball. I will guarantee the ratings will drop. What, we won't see that? You mean those big and husky he-men couldn't play that many games? Then the endurance which is supposedly so important in sports doesn't exist in football? That's just another debit so far as I'm concerned.

The fewer number of games played necessarily makes each game abnormally important; yet to be fair that is no reflection on the on the game as the game. It is a reflection of scarcity and nothing more. Add to that the party atmosphere which has attached itself to football, that in itself a reflection on scarcity and not a comment on the actual game either, and we see that it is the sense of event more than the game itself which is the attraction. There's nothing wrong with that of course. But I'll stress again that such is speaking to the event and not the sport. Admit it, football fans: it's the sense of event and not the actual game which attracts many of you. On the whole, the only fans actually interested in the outcome of the Super Bowl or other football championships are the fans of the two teams involved. Just as in the World Series or Stanley Cup.

Then there's the time clock and intentionally grounding the ball to stop the clock when you run out of your precious time outs. Two things apply here. One, and this applies beyond football (basketball comes to mind) is that no one in a timed game who has a vested interest in the outcome of the game should have any say whatsoever in the time clock. That should be reserved to the game officials and not the players or coaching staff of a given team. Too many football games are won because a team which has been otherwise outplayed can stop the clock up to three times, then ground the ball with no intent on actually making a play (this an indefinite amount of times) until they're in a position to win. That simply lacks integrity. It is not sportsmanlike. It's no matter that either team could do it. Neither team should be able to do it. If sports are supposed to teach sportsmanship then this needs to be addressed. The obvious answer is that only game officials who work independent of the outcome should have any say on clock usage, and grounding the ball to stop the clock should result in the traditional penalty (which ought to include either a yardage penalty or a runoff the clock) with loss of down. Anything else takes away from true sport.

There you have it: football too often isn't about sportsmanship and is more about an event than a game. Until football accepts that, it does not deserve the mantle it by itself purports to wear.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Personal History

There's this picture I know which will mean nothing to many folks. Most pictures don't I'd imagine. They're someone else doing something else, and that's that. Most pictures are innocuous that way I suppose.

Some are captures of moments which mean little but for the excitement of that moment for those involved. Some are public and capture the peculiar importance of what it is the photographer was shooting. The VJ Day sailor and nurse, his great embrace and her great acceptance, reflect that sentiment. A birthday party or wedding are more the embalmed history of those being partied to or being married show that as well. They are important to all involved or at least, to those photographed.

And then some pictures tell a story which we would all embrace should the tale behind the picture be known by all. I know one of those.

My father loved country music, especially the twangy bluegrass genre which found its way into northern cities such as Detroit as the great northern flight fed them during the hungry days of industry after the Second World War. He met his wife that way, as he had become friends with her brother, my uncle, who himself had fled an impoverished North Carolina in the days after the war seeking a better life for his family. His extended family had, being among them my mother, came north as well. So my parents met. So is my personal history at its' start written.

Years pass, and time yields towards itself. Dad never lost his love of country music, and never lost his love of its history both personal and in its music. He became a salesman for a company, a national company of which he was merely its local rep. And that took him beyond his proscribed territory. It took him to cities which were beforehand out of his range.

He once found himself in Nashville, Tennessee, for a trade show, where he had a few moments to himself. So he took some of those moments and he went to downtown Nashville, to see the Ryman Auditorium where many of his country music heroes had performed. He took a tour and stumbled into an opportunity to envisage himself among country music's elite. He could have his own picture made at center stage as though he were performing among the country music elite.

They gave him a cowboy hat and a guitar. They told him to take a certain spot on the stage, strum the guitar, look one way, and smile, and they would take a picture. He did it all. And he came out looking, as if in an analogy he had used often himself about others, as a kid in a candy store. He looked like a country music singer in his own right.

He was smiling as though it was meant for him to be there. As though he should be there. And as though he was comfortable, right where he should be.

He was a kid smiling like a kid living his wildest dreams. No doubt he was. I see it in that picture I know.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Lucky Jim and English Humour

I see that I haven't posted a blog since the Twenty-Third of August, so I decided that I had better get back to it. A thousand inquiring readers want to hear what Marty has to say, he says knowingly (foolishly) to himself. And not out loud he hopes, even though he is alone, for that would still somehow be embarrassing.

I stumbled this morning upon the type of thing one often stumbles upon on the Internet, a list (this one by Esquire magazine) of 80 books in no particular order which Esquire insists everyone ought to read. To my delight (I can be delighted rather easily it seems) I found several books on the list which I actually have read: The Things They Carried by one Tim O'Brien, a rather grotesque Vietnam War tale which I thought far too full of itself; Jack London's The Call of The Wild, which I remember little of except that they made us read it in Grade 7; The Killer Angels, a simply marvelous historical fiction from Michael Shaara wrapped around the Battle of Gettysburg in the American Civil War (I gained a great respect and admiration for the Confederate General Longstreet after reading it); and Tom Wolfe's The Right Stuff about the Mercury astronauts, where I similarly learned to like Deke Slayton. On the list too though I have not read it was David McCullough's The Great Bridge, about the building of the Brooklyn Bridge. As he did such fine jobs with biographies of John Adams and Harry Truman I find myself interested in how he might make bridge construction an exciting read. But what most delighted me to find on list was of all things a little comedy which I first read after my wife, who had had it assigned to her in an English course at the University of Detroit, complained to me that neither she nor the rest of the class understood. So I borrowed it immediately. Five pages in I was laughing so hard I was, as the cliche insists, crying. Or hurting, as both adjectives are suggested by like cliches. The book, which by one of those strange intersections of time and circumstance I just happen to be rereading just now, is Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis.

It really is very funny in its very English way. There are passages which until yet I laugh so long and hard at that I have to stop reading for minutes at a time. Then I have trouble getting back to the text because the funniest moments just keep coming back to me. Yes, it is that good. If you like dry, droll, over the top English humor.

And you should, you know. The English have a delightful way of melding sublime understatement, surreal juxtaposition, and outlandish slapstick in hilariously satisfying ways. A wonderful example from Lucky Jim is a passage where an absent minded driver comes near to a head on collision with a bus. His passenger, the actual lucky Jim, describes the incident in harrowing comedic detail, finishing with a description of the obviously excited and screeching bus driver, "...his mouth opening and shutting vigorously.' I'm chuckling at it still.

The closest American approximations are the Marx Brothers and, believe it or not, Bob Newhart. The English, they know humor. Americans should get to know English humor better too.

And I'm not talking Benny Hill either, you walking primates out there.