Sunday, November 10, 2013

Precision & Perspective

Football is an ambiguous Sport,
depending upon both Grace and Violence.
It both glorifies and destroys Bodies.
- George Sauer, Jr.

True confession:  I love sports.  As a kid, I played pickup games in every sport imaginable and spent Saturdays as a participant in my father's Play Group program.  Once Mom and Dad sent me to W-H as a 5th grader I played sports almost every season of the school year through my senior year of high school, earning letters along the way in soccer, basketball, track and wrestling - and the latter also allowed me to earn several bruised ribs, a concussion and mat burn that still has not quite disappeared in its entirety from my shoulder blades.  As an adult, for close to fifteen years post-law school I played softball in one league or another on a team organized my one of my friends.  About four years ago, I discovered running.  While I do not play softball in an organized league any longer, my "hands on" sports fix is met through running.

In addition to being an active participant in sports, I love watching sports.  If you have wandered past this space at any time before today then you know already that I am an avid supporter of my Alma mater, the Colorado Buffaloes, in all athletic endeavors. I have rooted passionately for the New York Rangers for the entirety of my life and also root hard for the New York Giants and the New York Yankees.  A lifetime ago, when my kids were in fact kids I was given the opportunity to be an assistant coach on teams on which both played.  I had the chance to watch Suzanne play hoops at OLMV from a seat on the bench for a couple of years and to watch her play softball there as an 8th grader from a seat in the dugout.  When Rob played hoops at OLMV as an 8th grader, I served as his team's assistant coach and got to watch him play up close.  As a parent who was not home a great deal when his kids were in fact kids, having had those opportunities was - for me - something that I shall remember and treasure forever.

In spite of all of the above (and that was one hell of a long-winded preamble....even by my standards), I am constrained to point out as we the people of the United States prepare to honor the men and women who have served - and those who currently serve - in this nation's Armed Forces on Veteran's Day, the manner in which the media has spent this week discussing the "Warrior Culture" in the NFL really chaps my ass. 

Take the time - but not now because if you bail on me now you will hurt my feelings (as if I have a feeling to hurt) - to check out the piece Brian Philips wrote on Wednesday or Thursday for Grantland.com.  In my opinion, it is extraordinary.  This is America.  You are free to disagree with my assessment.  I swear I was kidding with that whole "hurt my feelings" bullshit.  Regardless of whether you end up agreeing with him or not, he says things that I think needed to be said vis-a-vis the whole mess that continues to ooze out of Miami.  

Here's my .02 on the whole "Warrior Culture" jive:  It is utter and complete nonsense.  Do not misunderstand.  I accept the position or the point of view that professional football is NOT a contact sport but, rather, it is a collision sport.  There are scant few aspects of the game that are not permeated by violence.  Large, athletic, muscle-massed men hurl themselves at one another with a vigor usually reserved only for multi-vehicle wrecks on a NASCAR track.  It is unquestionably a trying way to earn a living.  

But the men who avail themselves of the opportunity to play it are not warriors.  Sorry.  They simply are not.  A NFL athlete is no more a warrior than a marathon runner, a wrestler or an ice dancer is a warrior.  He is what he is:  a professional athlete.  To compare the voluntary, officially sanctioned and regulated violence of any sport to war is inane and offensive.  Yet every time a commentator drops the word "warrior", "combatant" or "hero" into their play-by-play parlance, they raise the athletes involved in the game to a level that frankly they have not earned.  

Sport is an important part of my life.  Always has been.  I presume it always shall be.  Yet it is what it is. What it is is an entertainment.  The men and women who earn their living as professional athletes are no more warriors than is the ER nurse in a major metropolitan trauma center, the school bus driver or the commercial fisherman.  They arguably are all warriors compared to a middle-aged cynic who earns his living as a lawyer but, candidly, that has far more to do with him and his chosen field than it does with them and theirs.  

Contrary to popular mythology the Republic shall not fall because a particular team wins the Super Bowl, the World Series or the NBA Championship.  The great American experiment shall neither succeed nor fail based upon the leader board at Augusta National at the conclusion of the final round of the Masters or upon which man and woman hoist trophies over their heads at the end of the U.S. Open Tennis Championship at Flushing Meadow. 

Athletes are not warriors.  They are athletes.  Nothing more.  Nothing less.  You know what?  There is not a damn thing wrong with that either.  Not one damn thing. 

Tolstoy wrote, "The strongest of all warriors are these two:  Time and Patience." Neither has ever bounced a ball or shot a puck.  They do not need to for while both is a warrior, neither is an athlete. 

Let us start doing ourselves the great privilege of ceasing to use those two terms as if they are interchangeable. 

They are not....   

....Once precision of language arrives on the scene, perhaps perspective will follow shortly thereafter.

-AK      

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