I Wanted This To Be Funny, But…

I’ve been reading some recent stories about the NFL’s settlement of the “concussion suit” billionagainst it.  Let’s start with the basics: there is over a billion dollars involved


That’s…err…a lot.

im-shocked-shockedAnd yet people are shocked — SHOCKED — that there is fraud and gaming-the-system going on.

Look…humans are humans.  The naive, wishful thinking of both the left and right aside, human nature hasn’t changed one single bit in the 10,000 years of written history.  Let me make clear something I’ve implied before: drop Julius Caesar, or Alexander the Great, or Ghenghis Khan, or pick-your-own-ancient-figure, into the modern world and, after some language lessons, they would fit right in.

Shit, Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler would probably share a reality show on basic cable: ”Real Executions of Eastern Europe”…

At any rate, back to the topic at hand.  The single best story about the NFL last week was the one describing the advice one prominent ex-player received from his (very expensive) lawyer: show up to the medical test hung-over and doped on Valium.

Dammit!  Why don’t I get instructions like that?!  A bad morning-after, and a couple of mommy’s little helpers, to help “win” a million bucks?  Sign me up!

Okay, so all joking aside…

I’ve had more than my share of concussions.  I started playing tackle football when I was nine…I still play full-contact hockey at a high level…hell, I actually used to — shh! Don’t tell my mom! — take part in the very early days of the UFC…you know, the days when it was a weekend tournament, and you fought over and over until you lost…

Nowadays, I get a concussion if I shake my head too vigorously.

I also happen to receive all of the medical and practical data from the hockey players’ unions (some I “earned”, some I have been gifted by friends).  Honestly, that data scares the hell out of me.  No one can know for sure if they have CTE until a doctor cuts their skull open and takes a brain sample.  In other words: no one really knows until it’s too damned late.

But…but, there are symptoms.  Let’s look at the symptoms, shall we?

Depression.  Isolation & emotional instability.  Tendency to anger and self-loathing.  Suicidal impulses.  All of life’s little demons in one shitty package.

Now, look…this wouldn’t be anywhere near my radar if I didn’t have a number of friends for whom it is a DAILY issue.  Friends for whom this is very much reality.  Hell, let’s be honest: if I didn’t have a friend who killed himself over it…

It wasn’t until high-level hockey and martial arts were added to the “foundation” of football* that my brain got knocked silly, but I’m still nowhere near where some of my friends are…

*I was fourteen years old…got the shit knocked out of me on a kick-off.  I got helped to the sideline and the coach put up some fingers.  “How many?” he asked.  I got it wrong, according to my friends/fellow-players on the sidelines…but I was back on the field for the next play, anyway.

Chronic_Traumatic_EncephalopathyI admit it: I make fun of a lot of shit.  I have to make fun of the world and the universe, or it just might make me scream in rage and fear.  But as much as I wanted and intended this post to be funny, to be a “joke-post”…well…the damage that repeated concussions cause, and the reality of CTE, that I can’t make fun of.

I’ve lost one friend already to CTE (sadly, confirmed), and I have a number of others — tough men all, looked at as “fearless heroes” for their play on the ice and the field — who are utterly terrified that they are next.  So, the next time you condemn a football player for going out of bounds a step too soon, or a hockey player for declining a fight, or any other player for committing some athletic “faux pas”, just remember what really is at stake for them: everything.

The Best of Sports

Sports has its problems, I will most definitely grant you.  In spite of those problems, however, there is…something there.

When you get right down to it, sports are the ultimate expression of what makes humans human: the competitiveness, yes, but also the loyalty and commitment and urge for perfection that started us thinking, “Hey, maybe this evolution-thing ain’t so bad…”

At its worst, sports is greed and immaturity and “look at me!” entitlement.

But at its best, sports is artistry…and one of the truest meritocracies there is.  The Williams sisters are not great black athletes, nor great female athletes, they are great athletes.  Full stop.  No modifier needed.  Sports is meritocracy, and they can take their place right alongside the best to compete — alongside the Michael Jordans, and Tom Bradys, and Lionel Messis.

But this isn’t about the beauty of sport, nor the perfection of the best.  No, this about the other side of sports…the more valuable side: this is about the honesty of competition, and the random, stupid, crazy things that sometimes happen…

To compete at the highest level in any professional sport — be it the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, Premier League, what-have-you — takes a lifetime of training and commitment that doesn’t just pass common sense, it approaches monomaniacal insanity.

You certainly wouldn’t put a full-time accountant out there to play.

Until you do.dm_180330_NHL_Blackhawks_Foster_is_an_accountant

The NHL allows each team to dress two goalies for their games.  That’s it.  The team’s other goalies are playing down in the minors, not sitting on their asses watching games.

So what happens when both the starting and back-up goalies get hurt?

You suit up the damned accountant, that’s what.

A man who last played competitively fifteen years prior.  A man who works a calculator by day.  A man who plays beer league hockey for bragging rights.

My God, what a disaster!  The team will lose!  The players will quit on the game!  The fans will leave the arena faster, even, than the other team will score!

Foster-celebrationOr not.

In hockey, we have a tradition: the three best players in a game, regardless of the team, are named as the “3 Stars”.  Scott Foster, thirty-six year old accountant and beer league goalie, didn’t just win, he stopped every shot he faced.  He shut-out the best athletes and players in the world for fourteen minutes.  The fans chanted his name.  The players mobbed him.  He was the 1st Star.

And the next day he was right back to his calculator and his spreadsheets.

That is the best of sports.


Do I Dare Watch “Regular” TV?

I just scared the shit out of myself.

No, really — absolutely terrified myself.

Did I suddenly evince a passion for cannibalism?  Find evidence of some vile Lovecraftian entity possessing me?  Feel an urge to do something evil?  Stroke a white cat while laughing maniacally?

Nope…none of the above.  It’s worse than that: I figured out I’m kinda looking forward to the coming reboot of Roseanne.

It scares me because, well, I don’t actually watch “regular” TV…I just stream (and binge-watch) shows and movies that interest me at any given time.  Even worse, I didn’t particularly like the previous incarnation of the show in the first place.

Well, that’s not quite accurate — the show itself was both clever and effective in its humorous insights into life for “everyone else,” I just couldn’t deal with Roseanne herself…or, more accurately, her over-the-top antics and behavior off the show.

0404_nuclear_homer_250x220_2I was also young(ish) at the time, and far more given to Married…With Children and The Simpsons. Al Bundy and Homer Simpson are still my heroes, as a matter of fact…alandpegbundyquotes_large

So why am I intrigued this time around?  A few reasons…

If the show can continue its tradition of cleverness, and honest insights into the real world, it will be a very welcome change from what passes for funny and intelligent on most nights right now.  Aside from the weird-as-hell ending, even my younger-self knew Roseanne had some seriously good writing* going on behind the scenes.  Nowadays, my older, writer-self is excited to (hopefully) see that same level of talent.

*If you don’t know, the list of contributors includes some impressive (and surprising) names…including Carrie Fisher and Joss Whedon.

The new show is also apparently continuing to do something the original did: tackle subjects that are “challenging” and “controversial” to those who live behind ivory-tower visions of the world, but are the honest reality of friends and families and loved-ones for the rest of us.

Now for the elephant in the room: the politics of it.  I don’t give a shit.  Honestly, I’m not one of those people who thinks someone’s views — let alone who they voted for — defines them as a person, let alone as an artist.*

*Well…mostly.  You support or vote for the truly despicable and evil — for a David Duke or a Roy Moore or a Louis Farrakhan — and it DOES say something about you…

At this point, Roseanne Barr (as well as her character on the show) is a Trump supporter.  That alone has a good chunk of Hollywood twisted into knots, especially given her roots as a Clinton friend and supporter.  And I don’t care.  Just as I wouldn’t care if she had been an open and avid Hillary supporter.  To each their own.

The writer in me says the Conner’s midwest, blue collar household — if the show wants to be honest — would have to have a Trump voter, anyway.  Just as the show itself has to represent the tension that politics can (and does) bring within families that have differing views.

If the writing does continue to be top-notch, however, tension and conflict about politics can be a wonderful vehicle to highlight the strengths and weaknesses all families share…as well as being a great way to shine an occasionally-uncomfortable light onto aspects of our society itself.

Just like the original did.

roseanne-605x405Look, back then — 20-30 years ago, lest you forget! — the original Roseanne had gay and lesbian characters, TV’s first (I think) gay wedding, insights into drinking and drugs that had far more to do with people and reality than with Reefer Madness

The new iteration has characters that highlight the political extremes (Roseanne and her sister), a gender-fluid kid, and the same blue collar family, still struggling to survive, and still needing each other.  Well, all of that, and a writing/producing team that gives me hope they can make it all work.ames-mcnamara-sara-gilbert-laurie-metcalf-emma-kenney-jayden-rey-roseanne-barr-michael-fishman-john-goodman-lecy-goranson-sarah-chalke-645281710b24a9da

By the way, what got me to thinking about this enough to write this post at this particular time?  An honest, positive review of the new Roseanne by the last person you’d think: read it here.

The Gap Year

One of the scariest sentences in the world?  “So, I was thinking…”

Thinking is dangerous…thinking can get you into trouble.

But…well…I got to thinking, anyway….

It started when I wrote about education a little while back, got reinforced by an article I read after, then was brought to the front of my mind with a podcast I had playing while I drove.

What was I thinking about?  College.  The whats and whys, mainly, but also a tiny bit about the hows.

I did college twice, mostly because the first time I didn’t really come close to getting it right.  To be honest, I was most definitely one of those kids who would’ve benefited greatly from taking a couple of years between high school and college to work and travel and just experience something of the real world.

Put simply, I wasn’t ready for college at eighteen — I wasn’t mature enough, hadn’t experienced enough, and certainly hadn’t learned to understand myself enough.  There’s a reason why I went through a few majors before I got to linguistics (and my eventual degree).

If anyone thinks I’m alone in that immaturity, they’re either freakin’ insane, or they’re living in a disconnected dream-world that makes me ask, “where can I get some of that shit?”
Most kids, I would argue, are nowhere near ready for college nowadays.  Oh, I’m not talking about academics — most high schools are very good at box-checking when it comes to classes and subjects — but rather I’m talking about life, and survival, and the maturity that comes from experience of the wider world.

We can prepare high school kids with all the prerequisites in the world, but no school can teach them to expand their horizons and develop the self-reliance and confidence that success in college requires.  Look, I know college is looked at — nowadays — as the end of childhood, rather than the beginning of adult life, but that outlook just infantilizes the students and defers for five more years the act of growing up.

The less prepared are the incoming students, the more in loco parentis do the teachers and administrators have to be.  The way things stand at present — let alone in the future — those folks already have too much sway and power over things that should be none of their business.*

*A fact neither their fault, nor intentional on their part: it is the fault of the families, and of society itself, who have done little-to-nothing to prepare their kids to be adults able to think and judge for themselves.

I’m far too many words in to this post — already! — to get into every area I want to touch on, so I am just going focus and finish on this one point:

Taking-a-gap-yearThe Brits do it differently.  They do it differently and, in my eyes, they do it better.  When a high school kid finishes their A-levels, they typically take a “gap year” to work or travel or study.  A year to grow up, and to experience something of the world.  A year to, hopefully, prepare themselves for university.  When that year is done, and university is beckoning, the students take three years for a bachelors.

Three years, not the five that is now average in the US.  Yes, the British Universities are structured differently than ours…but I defy anyone to show even the slightest evidence that they are somehow worse.

I repeat: THREE YEARS.  From the perspective of student debt* and finances alone, that is a huge win.  A gap year increases the odds that, unlike me in my freshman and sophomore years, a new student will have at least some idea as to what major they want to pursue.  We here in the US charge an arm-and-a-leg for college, and then do everything possible to stretch out that college experience.  Very, very few humans who walk away with $50,000-$100,000 in college debt are going to see sufficient return to justify that expense.  What, though, if we could reduce that by 40%?  Yeah, I’d take that deal, too…

*spit**spit* Don’t even get me started on the evil idiocy that is the US student debt industry — there aren’t enough curse words in the universe for me to express my derision and hate for that particular monster.

From an academic perspective, too, the reduced time in university is a win. From the perspective of the classes and work that is important to their intended major, three years of focused and intentional study is as much better than five of meandering confusion as it is from the financial perspective.

The point of this rant?  For those of you with kids nearing those college years — middle and high school age kids — think about what best prepares your kid.  Is it to go straight to university?  To, potentially, spend a year or two taking classes just to take classes…and, likely, partying, err, rather heavily?

Or is it better to spend a year experiencing the world?  A year to work…  A year to travel…  A year to, equally likely, party rather heavily…and get it out of their system?

You be the judge.

Looking back, by the way?  If I had it to do all over…the linguistics and history degrees would (very likely) be the same, even with a gap year, but the career path would be markedly different.  Oh, for all the paths I didn’t take, and the opportunities I missed…