Friday, April 6, 2012

"Affect the Head"

Be Aggressive - Faith No More (mp3)
(I Don't Need You To) Set Me Free - Grinderman (mp3)

Every year, the first Tuesday of April is a day filled with mixed emotions. It is my annual day of liberation.

The Monday night before is the finals of the NCAA Tournament for basketball. Somewhere around midnight, a college national champion is crowned, a song plays (“The ball is tipped...”), and when the TV is turned off, I am unceremoniously released from the bondage of my sports loyalties.

Sure, there’s the Masters and the occasional grand slam moment in tennis, but these are voluntary, whimsical sports experiences in comparison to the fervor with which I devour football and college basketball.

When you read enough about great coaches, a common theme emerges: at the end of the season, they think about hanging it up. Always. Most of the young ones, and definitely the veterans. I’m just a B+ fan, someone who is loyal and intense but not obsessive, and with every passing year I feel increasingly exhausted, worn down, tired. Just from rooting. So I cannot even imagine what coaches must feel.

“We’ve got to do everything in the world to make sure we kill Frank Gore’s head.”

“Every single one of you, before you get off the pile, affect the head. Continue, touch and hit the head.”

“He becomes human when we fucking take out that outside ACL.”

The last thing I need, as an exhausted fan excited about the freedom of my next 4-5 months, is to have the curtain pulled back too far on my favorite sports. I don’t need John Calipari to be caught paying off his players, no matter how much I despise Kentucky. And I don’t need some beefcake NFL coach bragging about generating medical trauma, no matter how lowly I already regard egotistical beefcake football coaches.

Hearing comments like the ones above that Gregg Williams was recorded saying, and knowing that these comments are mere icing on the 5-layer cake of horrible and horrifying things coaches tell their players in locker rooms -- middle school, high school, college, pro, whatever -- leaves me cold. More accurately, it makes me seethe. But exhaustedly.

Is Gregg Williams the lone devil on the shoulders of athletes? Is he part of some precious minority, a secret fraternity of coaches? Increasingly, it feels like the good apples are the exceptions rather than the rule.

I wonder why I allow something that repays such attitudes and "instructions" with money and fame to occupy any corner of my heart. Right now, in this exhausted moment, I’m ashamed that I contribute in any way to these sports Ponzi schemes.

The last two soccer tournaments my daughter’s team has entered, we’ve had two games that were tight -- we’re up a goal, or it’s tied -- and someone on our team gets mauled. This is U11 soccer. Fifth- and sixth-graders. In one, our goalie got kicked in the face several seconds after she covered up the ball and was spitting up blood. In one, our defender fell and had her leg stomped “accidentally” by an opponent. In both cases, the opposing coach and the opposing team parents behaved in ways that were beyond embarrassing.

“It’s not your fault!” they yelled to their sweet flower of a player. “Be sure to add injury time!” they yelled to the ref, as if the bleeding goalie were stalling. “It’s OK sweetie! Some kids just need to get tougher!” they yelled... to everyone, really.

If you think this is just two isolated moments during a long season of uneventful games, you are sadly mistaken.

In fact, at the end of a recent dramatic semifinal game where we edged the opposing team, I went over and thanked the other parents and told them it was the cleanest quality display of soccer I’d seen in far too long, and they replied that it was nice to end a game without injuries and without being disappointed in how the other team and other parents behaved.

We knew we had witnessed the exception, not the rule. And we had to savor that moment.

Is it really all going to just keep getting worse, more shameful, less decent? Is there any point in fighting it from within, or are the only options to bail out altogether or numb ourselves into accepting the realities of it all?

Mission accomplished, Gregg Williams. You have affected my head. I'm not sure I want to recover.


Daisy said...

We as society continue to reward athletes and coaches with zillion dollar salaries and hero status. I just don't get it.

Tockstar said...

I have become completely disillusioned with sports. The Saints thing was the type of last straw that had been coming for a while. I'm also completely disillusioned with politics. Since these comprise about 50% of your average news hour, I've stopped listening to the news and started reading and listening to music more. Life is looking pretty darn good.

Also, as a totally clueless single person, I've watched the sports machine reach its tentacles into kids' games and vowed that if I ever have kids, they will never play any sport outside of a rec league. I know this is smug and naive. Go ahead and laugh at me, but it's where I'm at with sports these days. We have destroyed them.

Billy said...

@Tockstar - I'm not sure I'm there yet with Big Time Sports, but I might be. It's getting increasingly difficult for me to live with my investment of time and energy into football. Fall will tell, I guess.

And I don't laugh at your "naive" thing with kids. I wrestle intensely with each and every decision regarding my children, their athletic involvement, and their overscheduled lives. Sometimes I make a decision that runs counter to my long-held instincts and beliefs, and other times I keep holding fast. That's, to be cliche, life, right?

Tockstar said...

I believe that is, indeed, life. I know I wouldn't sacrifice my hypothetical kids' needs and desires just for the sake of sticking to some principle I've established for myself, but if I ever find myself enrolling these hypothetical children for two or more leagues of the same sport during the same season, please somebody bring me back to my senses.