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.

Random Squirreling: Politics By Other Means

most-interesting-squirrelHey, I went on a politics kick a little while back, so why wouldn’t I go off on some other tangent?  Even better, a tangent that’s almost as divisive and vitriolic as politics itself: professional sports.

What’s funny about this (at least to me) is what it is that actually gets my nerd up and going when it comes to sports: the off-season.

Yeah, yeah, I know…that’s just crazy talk.  No one gets excited about the off-season.  And, sure as hell, no sane human actually likes the off-season.

I never claimed to be all that sane.

Anyway, the off-season.

Now, with the exception of the NHL, I don’t particularly follow any sport in detail.  I don’t sit there on Sundays and watch NFL game after NFL game.  I can’t spout stats like ERA and OBP off the top of my head.  I barely know the difference between a striker and a midfielder.  And God forbid we so much as touch on golf — what the fuck is the difference between a “brassie” and a “mid-mashie” anyway?!*

*For my part, the only way to play “golf” is with a couple of frisbees and a six-pack.

link_CRUqKZKKFRGAlAFTlfPdN5TEw3cvwdL4,w1200h627But the stuff that goes on behind the scenes…the stuff of deals and trades and negotiations…even more, the stuff of hope and dreams (in the form the draft)…

Yeah, for all that announcers and fans like to talk about the tension and drama and storylines of the season, the off-season just has so much more.  Not even our own “beloved” Mordor-on-the-Potomac can match the level of back-stabbing, power-gaming ruthlessness that goes on in the off-season for the NFL…or the Premier League, or even the damned PGA.  And — God forbid! — we get into the sheer, matchless corruption of FIFA or Formula One.

I study and follow and enjoy the off-season of the major sports in the same way I study and follow and enjoy the politics and conflict that led to the transition of Rome from Republic to Principate, and then to Empire.  And, yes, you are right: I’m a politics junkie, even if I can’t stand the bullshit of the last 15(ish) years in the US.

Right now, I’m completely nerding out on the NFL…and especially on the storylines of ac079b69982d288ffaa217c0987f6a1cfree agency and draft. When a player can go, with a flick of his pen, from being “the greatest ever” to an evil son-of-a-bitch who obviously abuses old ladies and kids…well, hell, that there is the roots of a story!  Cruella Deville and her dalmation coat ain’t got nothing (apparently) on Richard Sherman if you’re a Seahawks fan…

Or take a reasonably “normal”  college kid — you know: naive, narcissistic, and completely ignorant of consequences and the wider world…just like all of us at that age — and make him a first round prospect.  All of a sudden that very normal kid is either (a) the great hope of salvation for an entire state, or (b) a complete freak who should be sterilized and exiled to a speck of rock in the South Atlantic.

I once talked about how entertaining are the folks who get themselves worked up (on both sides) about the flat-Earth thing, but they’re nothing compared to the columnists and commenters who write about the NFL draft.

Look, I could go on for hours (and pages) about sports as a microcosm for politics, and for life itself.  Could go on about the lessons and examples and warnings that come out of that concentration of wealth, privilege and complete OCD-ness, but that means I wouldn’t have time to get read one more column about a 21-year-old kid saving — or destroying — our entire society and the fabric of the universe…

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.