Aristotle Was Right

April 13, 2019 § 3 Comments

I was reading a sports column (the link is to The Athletic, which is behind a pay wall) about the soap opera that has been the Green Bay Packers’ offseason.  The author, Jay Glazer, was commenting on the drama and relationship breakdown between now former coach Mike McCarthy and star quarterback Aaron Rodgers.  The subtext was that Rodgers is at fault here, but that’s not what struck me.  What struck me was Glazer then went on to state that McCarthy has ‘absolutely zero politics to him.’

Quite simply, I call bullshit.  It is simply not possible to be a human being and have ‘zero politics’ to them.  Politics, at its most base form, is concerned with power and status.  We all negotiate power in human relations on a daily basis, we are all members of larger groups which are themselves engaged in power relations with other groups.

And McCarthy, as the long-time coach of the Packers, one of the oldest, most storied franchises in North American professional sports, had to engage in politics on a daily basis.  It is impossible that McCarthy had ‘zero politics to him.’  Every single day, he had to negotiate his relationship with Ted Thompson, his general manager; his assistant coaches; his players; the media; Packers’ fans.  And in his drama with Rodgers, McCarthy was the boss, the coach of the team.  But given Rodgers’ stature, it wasn’t cut and dried.

In short, all relationships are power.  All relationships are about status.  To declare that someone has ‘zero politics to him’ is flat out stupid.  Aristotle was right.  Glazer is wrong.

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The Problems with Football and Hockey

January 24, 2018 § Leave a comment

I watched both the AFC and NFC Championship games last weekend.  I haven’t watched as much football or even NHL hockey this year and I’ve been trying to figure out why.  In terms of hockey, my team sucks, but, I’ve remained a fan of hockey in general when the Habs have sucked in the past.  When it comes to the NFL, to be a Chicago Bears fan is to know misery.  They’ve sucked almost continually for the past 35 years.  So I’ve watched a lot of football, despite my team being in last place.

But this year, something has changed.  I have long had issues with football, the injuries, the concussions. I played football when I was younger.  I have lingering injury issues, and I don’t want to think about how many concussions I’ve had.  No one cared about head injuries in the late 80s/early 90s.  And then there’s the question of football and CTE.  I wrote about this a few months ago, when the Commissioner of the Canadian FootbalL League, Randy Ambrosie (a former CFL player) insisted that we don’t know if there’s a connection between CTE and football.  Funny, the NFL has admitted there is a connection.

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Houston Texans QB Tom Savage convulsing after hitting his head on the turf after being hit.

Hockey isn’t doing much better.  We have been subject to a steady stream of stories about ex-NHL players being caught up in drug addiction, depression, and early death.  This has happened to stars like Theoren Fleury and Mike Richards, and it’s happened to former enforcers, like Chris Nilan, Derek Boogard, and so on.  Earlier this month, I read an article about former enforcer Matt Johnson, who was in jail in Los Angeles after vandalizing a Denny’s restaurant on New Year’s Eve.  Johnson claimed to be homeless and refused legal help, at least initially.  His dad reported how worried he was about his son, and how much he’s tried to help him in recent years.  Or how about Kevin Stevens, who was one of the greatest power forwards of the early 90s, who devolved into addiction to painkillers?

To me, it seems that these athletes are sacrificing their bodies, their brains, and their futures to play.  And, yes, part of that is their own choice.  But, there are also structural issues here.  Teams have historically pushed their players to play injured or not.  Teams have pushed painkillers on players.  And then there’s brain injuries.  The NFL has come to an agreement with a group of former players for payouts for concussion damage, though there are problems there.

But that doesn’t do much for the current game.  Think of Houston quarterback Tom Savage continuing to play after appearing to convulse after hitting his head on the ground.  Or how about Rob Gronkowski in the AFC Championship game, when he was knocked silly by Barry Church of the Jacksonville Jaguars.  After the hit on Gronkowski, the Jaguars celebrated, and the commentators, Jim Nantz and Tony Romo (a former NFL quarterback), just carried on as if nothing major happened.

Then there’s the NHL.  A group of former players has brought a class-action suit against it.  The league’s response? To challenge the science behind the linkages between hockey and brain injuries.  Seriously.  It is otherwise doing next to nothing, beyond a ‘concussion protocol’ that is as much of a joke as the NFL’s.  This week, TSN in Canada reported that former NHL star Eric Lindros, whose career (and that of his brother) was ended by concussions, and Montreal Canadiens’ team physician Dr. David Mulder, approached the NHL last year and challenged the league to donate $31 million (or $1 million per team) to fund research in brain trauma. The league has ignored them.

And so, ultimately, I am finding it increasingly difficult to watch NFL or CFL football or NHL hockey.  Watching 200+ pound men smash into each other at full speed, in many cases purposely targeting the head is nauseating.  And wondering about the long-term effect of concussions is equally nauseating.

Both hockey and football are brutally physical sports.  Hockey is also played at incredible speeds on ice.  That’s part of the game.  Hitting is central to both.  I don’t have a problem with that.  I do have a problem with blatant head shots.  I have a problem with pumping players full of painkillers to get them back on the ice/field.  I have a problem with professional leagues denying a connection between concussions, head shots, and CTE.  I have a problem with commentators and fans acting like these kinds of hits are acceptable.

And until fans and advertizers really do question these forms of brutality against the bodies of professional athletes, nothing is going to change.

The Point of Privilege

September 1, 2016 § 2 Comments

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the national anthem last weekend.  Asked to explain himself, Kaepernick said:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder…This is not something that I am going to run by anybody.  I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

It is moments like this where I very much do feel like a stranger in a strange land in the United States.  Where I come from, I have seen the ‘O Canada’ booed, cheered, ignored, and everything in between.  We do tend to stand for our anthem, some of us sing it, some of us sing in both official languages.  But not always.  But here, in the US, everyone is expected to stand, hand over heart, and belt out ‘The Star Spangled Banner.’

Critics have been all over Kaepernick like Von Miller.  They have said he’s grandstanding.  That he’s trying to attract attention to his failing career.  That he’s privileged.  That he is disrespecting veterans.  That his protest doesn’t count because he is biracial and was adopted by white people.  And so on on and so on.  Kaepernick is not the first black athlete to refuse to stand for the anthem.  Jackie Robinson refused, for much the same reason.  And, of course, so did Muhammad Ali.  And Kaepernick is only the latest African American professional athlete to comment on the plight of black people in this country, following Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony, and LeBron James.  The most famous protest came from the WNBA, where a number of players, both black and white and including the entire Minnesota Lynx, wore Black Lives Matters t-shirts during warmups.

As for the criticism of Kaepernick, I can’t help but feel it rings hollow.  The First Amendment guarantees us the right to freedom of expression.  Critics say that Kaepernick lacks patriotism. But what’s the point of enforced patriotism?  Doesn’t that just make it hollow and knee-jerk?

The fact that Kaepernick is biracial and was adopted by white parents when he was a small child has not been lost on critics. Former NFL safety and current NBC analyst Rodney Harrison claimed Kaepernick isn’t black.  I’ve seen worse on Twitter.  The argument here is that because of his upbringing, Kaepernick has no idea what it’s like to be black.  This is specious logic.  Of course he knows what it’s like to be black.  He’s long since figured out that due to his skin colour, he can never be white. He has had police pull guns on him and a friend in college when moving out of an apartment.  He has seen inequality in the world around him.

As for his declining career and the argument he is not Robinson or Ali.  Sure, no one is Robinson or Ali. But Kaepernick is still a former Pro Bowl QB, who carried his team to the Super Bowl.  Some argue that this makes it harder for the 49ers to cut him.  I doubt it. The NFL is a business and its mercenary.  The New York Giants’ kicker Josh Brown has acknowledged he beat his ex-wife, to the point where she called the police over 20 times for over 20 separate instances.  Think the Giants care? Of course not.  Teams have also cut players for supporting marriage equality and medicinal marijuana.  And even if the 49ers cut him, maybe they’ll get a bit of flack, but life will go on.  Levi Stadium is still sold out.  Fans will still buy 9ers gear.

As for his privilege: Of course he’s privileged.  That’s the whole point. Kaepernick has made something like $20 million in the NFL.  He’s a very recognisable player.  So he has a platform upon which to make a statement.  Privilege works in many different ways.   And the only way the world gets better is if those with privilege use it for good.  And Kaepernick is using his to point out American hypocrisy regarding African Americans.  Kaepernick refusing to stand for the anthem and then explaining his motivations clearly and patiently is a much bigger deal than the average punter refusing.  Kaepernick’s privilege here is what allows the statement.

And that, gentle reader, is how privilege should be used.

The Sartorial Fail of the Modern Football Coach

January 13, 2016 § 2 Comments

As you may have heard, the University of Alabama Crimson Tide won the college football championship Monday night, defeating Clemson 45-40.  This has led to all kinds of discussion down here in ‘Bama about whether or not Coach Nick Saban is the greatest coach of all time.  See, the greatest coach of all time, at least in Alabama, is Paul “Bear” Bryant, the legendary ‘Bama coach from 1957 until 1982.

Bear won 6 national titles (though, it is worth noting the claim of Alabama to some of these titles is tenuous, to say the least).  Saban has now won 5 (only 4 at Alabama, he won in 2003 at LSU).  I don’t particularly give a flying football about this argument, frankly.  But as I was watching the game on Monday night, everytime I saw Nick Saban, I just felt sad.

EP-301129814Nick Saban is a reasonably well-dressed football coach, so there is that.  But, he looks like he should be playing golf.  Poorly-fitting pants and and a team-issued windbreaker.  He could be worse, he could be Bill Bellichk of the New England Patriots, who tends to look homeless on the sidelines.the-real-reason-bill-belichick-is-always-wearing-those-cutoff-sweatshirts But that’s not saying much, is it?

Saban and Bellichick are a far cry from Bear Bryant and Tom Landry, the legendary Dallas Cowboys coach.  Bryant and Landry both wore suits on the side lines. Bryant did have an unfortunate taste for houndstooth, of course. But Landry stood tall in his suit and fedora.nfl_landry_01

There’s something to be said for looking sharp on the sidelines.  I miss these well-dressed coaches.

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