Foot Soldiers of a Different Sort

The TV types back home have been wearing poppies for a week now, and the day of remembrance has arrived. On another front of stylized war, the sporting airwaves have been spiked with tales of a truly offensive lineman for the Miami Dolphins and the out-of-bounds brutality he is said to have inflicted on his team-mate. There is much hand-wringing from the shocked public, which is countered by furious defence by insiders, arguing that civilians – and I use the word purposely – cannot know the ferociously masculinized world-of-the-wars that is an NFL locker-room. For today, I will only say that Mr. Incognito (that’s actually his name) “did not act alone”, and cite a superbly indignant piece on the “warrior culture” and its insistence that Being a Man involve sometimes being less than human. Now, it’s two other offensive lineman – the grunts, the hewers of wood and haulers of water, the spear-carriers of this quite incredible game/industry of football – that I want to mention, for an entirely different reason: they’re done with it, gone too soon as some fans might lament.

I read about them the same day. One was an NFL pro, one a wannabe in the high echelons of the NCAA “student athlete” zone of professional apprenticeship. Josh Williford played for Louisiana State University, a usual top-ten program in the best league in America. He’s 6’7” and weighs way north of 300 pounds, and in a game in October of 2012, he lost his mind.

Cuts heal, but we’re not so sure about concussions. I’ve been there — different field, same blankness — more than once. Man down, way down.

Continue Reading >>

Richard Sherman (on athletic stereotyping)

“I felt like somebody took me from somewhere else and dropped me down into this place [Compton, a rough section of Los Angeles]. I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports….I know the jock stereotype – cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it.”

Richard Sherman, DB, Seattle Seahawks (NFL), in a Sports Illustrated cover story, 29 July 2013. Speaking of stereotypes, Sherman is black, wears long dreadlocks, graduated a frustratingly close second in his high school class, and chose (and graduated on time from) Stanford University instead of the more highly ranked football factories that recruited him. Though he talks more trash than would appear humble, he is a small treasure to this coach and writer and long-time catcher and flinger of balls: Sherman is a talking, walking stereotype-buster, a jock with brains and no intention of hiding them. His story made an interesting companion to Steve Rushin’s piece on humility in the same issue, as Sherman is not shy about bringing attention to himself.

The Rich, the Poor, and the Playground

I have known for most of my life, at least in a shallow way, that extremes of wealth and poverty are toxic to world unity and peace. The Baha’i teachings have insisted on their elimination for something close to 150 years. I accepted the tenet as fact – alongside the necessities of defusing all prejudices, widening all loyalties, and rethinking all assumptions – as an idealistic young man, no more than a boy, really.

During my privileged, Canadian-born lifetime, the gap between rich and poor has only widened, and now I live in a country hell-bent on leading the world in this dubious marker of development. (My understanding is that the Excited States of America is still in front by a nose, but China and Brazil are

Sorry, this is a bit graphic. Yes, that is Chairman Mao on the 100-yuan note, China’s largest denomination (about seventeen bucks Canadian). Families live on that for a month.

closing fast. To the winner goes the spoiling, the rot, the instability, but the runners-up will know it, too.) Lately, I’ve been  brooding on the reasons for my steadily – sometimes violently – growing disillusion with sports, at least at the pro level.

Stratospheric salaries for the best horse-hide whackers and roundball  bouncers (and all their sweaty peers) are, of course, a cliché these days. Spaniard Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers will make $19 million next season, and he’s far from the highest-paid jock. I made a good and steady North American income for nearly 30 years, and my take was somewhere between a mil and $1.5 million, I figure. Such comparisons are so banal that nobody really talks about it anymore, which is why I just did.

Continue Reading >>

Too Young to Die

Dearly beloved,

We are gathered here to celebrate the lives and mourn the passing of two fine men. To be truthful, we don’t really know much about them as men – their wisdom, fairness, ingenuity, compassion, responsibility – so we honour, as we often do, their career accomplishments. They were utterly dedicated to their chosen profession, and paid a great price for that devotion during outstanding careers in the graceful, and brutal, exercise of power. Millions had watched their rise, profited (in ways not easy to account for) from their successes, and muttered quietly about their eventual and inevitable fall. And now they are gone. They were thirty years old.

They still are, actually. Brian Westbrook and LaDainian Tomlinson

Continue Reading >>