So today, after eating a fortune cookie with my 4 year old, Oliver, at the mall, the subject of sayings came up.  A saying, I explained, was a statement about one particular thing that was meant to teach you a lesson about many things.  I don’t know that this really gets at the essence of a saying, but it turns out in practice that just about any definitive statement of a rule, social norm, or even an event that would never really happen kind of sounds like a saying.  After I told a few (a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; a stitch in time saves 9; he who goes to bed with itchy butt wakes up with stinky finger), Oliver offered some of his own:

If you drive a car speed on the sidewalk, a police officer will give you a ticket.

If you drive a car up a slippery pole, you will slip.

The person who swings at a baseball and misses strikes out.

If you get four balls, you’ll get a walk.

A light saber in the hand will light saber you.

If you eat a carrot, it will go in your tummy.

If you read a book, you will trip.

If you eat a bookmark, you will have to go to the hospital.

If you eat a cloud, rain will come running into your mouth.

If you eat a tree, tree sap will come running into your mouth…

devolving from here.

As a current San Diegan who grew up collecting football cards, watching football games every weekend, and playing pickup football games with my friends, I was deeply disturbed by the news of Junior Seau’s death today.  While not all the details about it are clear, the fact that the gunshot wound was in the chest rather than the head suggests that he, like Dave Duerson, may have been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and wanted to preserve his brain for further study.  At the very least, he must have known that shooting in the chest rather than the head would resonate as a statement of solidarity with Duerson and other retired or retiring football players who are dealing with similar difficulties.  A 43 year old man still playing football three years ago could not overcome the aftershocks of his NFL career to reinvent himself as one of the rest of us.  The reasons for such an end must be complicated, perhaps part about the things that 30 years of head on head collisions must do to the brain, part about the loss of camaraderie and social cohesion that structures and institutionalizes the life of a professional athlete, part about the fact that no thrill can quite equal the savage cheers for Sunday sacks. . .  who knows.  But in some very small way, I feel partly to blame as someone who watches.

Viewers of professional sports are both simple and mysterious.  Clearly we derive some sense of pleasure, meaning, and purpose from our weekends in front of the television watching bigger, stronger, faster men try to best each other at various games.  There is something tribal about male sports spectatorship that is hard to put into words, some sentiment of masculine worth and taking sides that we men who sit at computers or work at construction sites desperately long to retain.  What are these feelings and why are they so irresistible?  I remember going to a Chargers game several years ago, and reveling in the energy of the crowd at the moment before the first kickoff.  Ozzy Osbourne howled to bass drums and gritty electric guitar, and 65,000 of us half-crazed, face-painted, beer-guzzled men (and a few women) roared in anticipation of 60 minutes of faux-purposeful violence.  I soaked it in and roared with them, conjuring memories of spending time with my father as a boy in front of games on the weekend, of playing catch in the front yard, and tackling friends on a rain soaked baseball outfield on Sundays after the first game.  It is an amazing feeling to yell and think of these things, perhaps as close as I get to touching the divine.  There is God in a football stadium because we do not understand why exactly we are there and what it is that makes us roar for one another, and for the men who arbitrarily share the colors of our own clothes for an afternoon.  We say it’s fun because we don’t want to think about why.  “Whys” always ruin fun.

But if this is where football ends, with Junior Seau in his bed with a gunshot wound in his chest, then I don’t want to be a part of it anymore.  I don’t want my son to grow up with fond memories of watching football games with his father because if he does, then he will have as hard a time giving it up as I currently do.  I don’t really care if the powers that be in the NFL and the lackey scientists they employ come up with fancy pads to stick in a helmet that will supposedly limit concussions.  No technology will end the violence and destruction in any meaningful way because the violence and the risk is central to what makes football football.  The NFL should spend that money on non-football jobs and skills programs in the neighborhoods where the teams’ players grew up—and do it anonymously.  Of course, they will not do these things.  Instead, they will take superficial steps—finger pointing at the Saints, a suspension for Michael Vick (who’s treatment of dogs that like to fight is not so different from ours of footballers who like to play), a new rule or two about where and how to hit and some fines for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ best defenders—but they cannot change the fact that football players hit each other in the head without changing the very nature of football.  They will get concussions, and so they will get CTE.  There is no excuse for watching this inevitable train wreck unfold, and for keeping the NFL in business.  I want to boycott football.  Period.  But I’m not sure that I will be able to do it.

This is a sad admission.  Why not?  Why on a Sunday afternoon, would I choose to watch men play football on television as opposed to doing any number of more socially beneficial or hopeful things?

My three-year old son, now old enough to notice that when I watch sports on TV I’m not paying quality attention to him, tells me that I’m not aloud to watch television during the day.  It’s one of those moments when my own parenting convictions come back to bite me, at least on the surface.  I’m exposed as a hypocrite and a junkie for sports.  So I’ll turn it off, and we’ll draw a picture together of yet another rainbow or a rocket.  In the lull moments of coloring the umpteenth red stripe, in the moments when the malaise of domestic life presents itself as a problem to those mystical centers in the brain that generate feeling and desire, I begin to plot other ways to find a television where my three year old can’t see me.  Maybe I could go to the bar to watch the game.  A hypocrite still, but at least not a caught one!

During the NFL lockout, Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis made the savvy speculation—untested—that without the NFL season, the crime rate in the United States would noticeably increase.  Without the escape from our mundane and banal lives on Sunday afternoons, he argued, we American men could be lead to other kinds of violent diversions.  We’d start robbing.  I wonder.  Would we just switch to MMA?  Would this be preferable?  Hard to say…  There are other arguments for football and footballers, too.  This is a game populated by men who come from poor backgrounds and tough neighborhoods.  The successful football players are able to redistribute the money they make to communities that need it.  This argument implies but does not state that we are talking about a game that is largely black (except at the quarterback, kicker, and punter positions), with a viewership that is largely white.   This is a problem.

Or another: football teaches us men discipline, teamwork, and the value of hard work, so it serves a social purpose.  This is proven by the legions of suit-wearing ex-footballers who reinforce such ideas in serious tones and with serious words before and after games.  They draw diagrams and scold the player who missed his assignment, or ran out of bounds to avoid the hit, or lowered his head for a hit instead of running out of bounds.  These are men who know the code of football, who have thrived under its constraints and so can hold themselves out as its models, its spokespersons.  To be a visibly successful footballer is not just to play in the NFL, but to become the smiling, joyful, unperturbed, serious-yet-able-to-tell-a-joke oracle of pigskin for the masses.

How will such pundits spin the death of Junior Seau?  I anticipate a number of clips and photos of Seau the warrior—the way he’d want to be remembered, right?  He will be charging through the line, mauling quarterbacks, shouting with gusto to teammates, celebrating his speed and agility with carnage and fist pumps.  Serious men in suits will read the statistics of his football career like hosts of a post-mortem “This is Your Life.”  Graphics behind their heads will freeze a still, and beveled, embossed lettering at the bottom of the frame—all caps, preferably—will read “Junior Seau, 1969-2012.”  The obligatory blue graphic sashes and ethereal grayed out numbers will hover in the background.  A moment of silence before the commercial break.

Horseshit.

Do pundits want to do something for all those boys out there who watch these sports programs and vaguely fantasize about the meaning and power of their own masculinity?  Don’t genuflect on Junior Seau’s sacks.  Don’t pretend like his ferocity on the football field isn’t directly related to the violence of his death.  Don’t cover the social uselessness of this game with the gravity of your tone.  Talk about life options other than playing football or commenting on it.

Of course, we who watch are culpable, too.  We cannot always help ourselves so well—as a sports junkie, I know this.  But it doesn’t mean that we must pass on our own desires for violent sports to our kids.  We can try to boycott and occasionally slip up.  They should live in a future where they’re not pulled into this structure of desire in the first place.  It’s time to boycott football.  Football fans, let’s find something better to do with our Sundays.

By Andy Rice

At the beginning of this football season, dismayed by the recent news about long-term brain deterioration as a result of concussions, angry about the ugly lockout and stories about racism at the NFL combine, and frustrated by the graft scandals in the NCAA, I decided to boycott football viewing for the year. It was a general sentiment at first, and the details needed to be negotiated along the way, so I settled on not reading online articles about the NFL or NCAA, and not watching any football games unless they were integral parts of social events with friends and family. At the beginning of the year, I told everyone who was willing to listen that I was doing this boycott, not least because I was sure it would be a challenge for me, and I needed witnesses for my transgressions.

I grew up in a household that spent many a weekend afternoon watching football games on TV, and celebrating the values of teamwork, camaraderie, and no-excuses attitude that defines the sport. My father went to the University of Florida in the late 1960s, when the legendary Steve Spurrier played quarterback and won the Heisman Trophy. As a result, my father became a lifelong dedicate fan, passing this loyalty onto my brother and I. Spurrier, as luck would have it, became the head coach of the Gators when I was a boy, and took his “fun and gun” offense, outrageous comments to the press, and feisty sideline demeanor to national prominence in the years that I developed as a filterless sports junkie. I even attended a game at “The Swamp” (the name of the Gators’ football field) one year dressed head to toe as an alligator, which my mother fashioned out of a green sweatsuit appended by vinyl stomach scales and a tail. At the same time, the Denver Broncos, our professional team of choice after living for years in Colorado, played an exciting brand of football behind the gritty John Elway, known for his late game heroics, bullet passes (rumored to leave bruises on his receivers’ abdomens), and beaming smile. While football became only one of many rituals of competition to which we paid homage, it was an important one. My parents even retired to Gainesville, home of the University of Florida. To this day, attending a Florida Gators sporting event provides me with that warm, elevated sense of consciousness that I imagine other people feeling when they hear the national anthem or go to church.

For eight weeks, barring two exceptions to watch Gator games when my family was visiting San Diego, I did pretty well. I noticed that on weekends I was spending more time with my wife and kid (I even learned how to sew!), and I was somewhat less distracted from my schoolwork, which usually demands hours on the weekend that competes with football viewing time. I honestly didn’t know which teams were doing well or poorly, and I wasn’t too bothered. There were side effects, however. For the first time since my childhood baseball card collecting days I began to pay attention to developments in baseball. I also began checking, (for reasons I cannot entirely explain given my current financial situation), the ups and downs of particular stocks. The Yahoo news headlines more often seemed irresistibly compelling, even the ones about red carpet fashion. The temptation of these diversions became stronger in the moments when my workload became larger, or at at times when I felt more anxiety about it.

Then, in week 9 of the football season, the Denver Broncos benched their struggling quarterback Kyle Orton and replaced him with the controversial Tim Tebow, the Florida Gators’ most decorated quarterback who, now in his second year as a pro, had been something of a mystery. He was not a prototypical NFL quarterback. His horrible throwing mechanics, sloppy footwork, and an inclination to run through people rather than pass over them (he’s built more like a linebacker than a quarterback) gave ammunition to a chorus of critics, who proclaimed that Tebow was an experiment doomed to fail. Moreover, Tebow had always worn his evangelical religion on his sleeve, praying in the middle of games, writing scripture verses into his eyeblack, publicly proclaiming his virginity, and performing circumcisions at Christian hospitals in the Philippines, the country of his birth, in the off seasons. He was an icon of the religious right, and had one of the best selling jerseys in the NFL even as a third string quarterback on a lousy team. He was also known, in spite of his shortcomings, as a winner with a preternatural sense of calm in high-pressure situations, who never said an inappropriate word in press conferences. He exhibited a perfect public morality. For me, the chatter around his actions on and off the field provided a fascinating glimpse at American culture in the wane of its empire, suggesting an implicit glimmer of hope that the values tied to the ideology of American exceptionalism did still pencil out. In other words, Tebow’s entre into the league was the perfect storm to lure me out of my boycott.

Tebow has not disappointed, leading the Broncos to a string of ridiculous fourth quarter comebacks and inspiring a growing legion of commentators to hazard theories. His pastor claimed it was divine intervention. Bargoers in Los Angeles chanted his name in hilarious mock irony when his wobbly 30 yard completion to Eric Decker led to his first NFL victory over the Miami Dolphins. The Broncos defense miraculously seemed to improve overnight, holding opponents for weeks to just few enough points to compensate for Tebow’s awful first three quarter performances. Even Saturday Night Live spoofed the Tebow phenomenon, writing a skit in which Jesus rode a cloud into the Broncos locker room the week after Matt Prater’s last second, 59 yard field goal kept the team alive for another overtime win. Jesus let the team know that he wouldn’t be able to help them against the Patriots the next week because he had a birthday coming up (and the Broncos did end up losing that one). Paying attention to all of this has enabled me to connect with my family, which is significant when Carla, Oliver, and I live 3000 miles away and only see them a couple times a year.

But the Tebow thing has also led me to slip a bit more on the boycott. I pay attention to the other teams in the Broncos’ division, and see how they do. Then there are the teams the Broncos play, and my brother’s passion for fantasy football, which leads me to check in on his team’s players. Other stories start to seem interesting, too. Perhaps the Chargers will pull out a few victories, and then we’ll have playoff football in San Diego (not to be, though). Tebow, in other words, was something of a gateway drug for me.

All of this makes me wonder what it is that makes these stories of competition and games so appealing. Granted, I’m probably something more of a sporting nutcase than the average surfer of weekend television, but I imagine that I am not entirely alone. These respites from the difficult things we do are always welcome and alluring, and not without their consequences. When I was looking forward to a Thanksgiving of gluttony and a social event where I could watch football without breaking the boycott, I talked to someone who was going with family to volunteer with their church at an orphanage in Northern Mexico for the holiday. It’s the kind of thing Tebow endorses, but I’m not sure that this family paid any attention at all to football. There is some irony in this, that the time I spend watching Tebow use his public platform as a football player to advertise faith and good works, is probably the time I have in my life to enact good works and experience something like faith. It’s too simple to say that sports narratives substitute for real engagement with a community of care and support, as care and support can happen through shared engagement around such narratives, but it’s also pretty easy to slip back into the old habits of mindless consumption that doesn’t do much good for anybody. It’s the devil in the game, really.

First, an article here that argues for an inverse relationship between the driving force of good ole fashioned virile masculinity (testosterone levels) and fatherhood.

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/13/health/research/13testosterone.html?_r=1&hp

Second, a brief article about the alienation of boys during elementary school in the United States, which argues for incorporating video games into curriculum, and notes a decline in the population of male elementary school teachers from 14% to 7% over the last 20 years.

http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2011/09/12/boys-school-games

Thank you to Carla for these two very thought provoking tips.

Can Academics be bad asses?

Posted: September 1, 2011 in Old Almost a Man

Many question the toughness and street cred of those few who pursue life
in the academy.  Egg heads, absent minded professors and ivory tower
quants are often accused of being detached from reality and unable to
function according to the tough laws of those concrete jungles that lie
outside their university gates.

Sad truth is, not every PhD can understand social theory by day and raid
booby trapped mausoleums by night. Though Indiana Jones gave hope to many,
his case is just a bit too improbable to save the profession from its lack
of bad assery.  Even recent efforts often come up short:

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/2011/08/24/2011-08-24_call_him_traitor_of_the_lost_ark.html

Until today.  Associate Professor of Kinesiology and appropriately named
Stephen Kinzey, of Cal State San Bernardino, showed it can be done.  Not
only did he teach the undergrads, but he was president of the local
chapter of the Devil's Diciples Motorcycle Club.  This MC is serious.
First of all they spell "Diciples" wrong...on purpose!!!  What?  Yeah
that's crazy bad ass.  Also, they sell lots of meth.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2011/09/college-professor-allegedly-led-motorcyle-gang-drug-ring.html 

Though not our drug of choice here at almostaman, there is no doubt
Kinzey has earned his PhD in keeping it real.

Also of note are these links that show his twitter account (he was late to lot's of classes) and the rate my professor account.

http://twitter.com/#!/kinzeycsusb

http://www.ratemyprofessors.com/ShowRatings.jsp?tid=585478&page=2

8.30.11

Part of a new series of collaborative marker drawings, coming in all likelihood daily, given Oliver’s tenacious passion for 2D rainbows, Wiggles, kittens, dancing princesses, and skunks.

Tired of cubicles and computer screens?  Well, here’s one way to reconnect with the outdoors.  A family owned business in rural Minnesota has begun to offer visitors the chance to drive a World War II era British tank, fire blank rounds, and, for a price, drive the tank over an early 1980s jalopy.  To crush one car, a visitor must pay $500 extra, on top of the $450 fee to drive the tank.  To crush two cars at the same time, it’s an extra $700.  Take a look:

http://www.driveatank.com/

The present Almostaman doesn’t don’t totally understand this marker of virility.  But it appears, at least on the site, that many tank rides are actually purchased by women for their particular men, on birthdays, anniversaries, and the like.  And this phenomenon raises a question about whose desires the tank-driving fantasy serves.  Is it the men who would like to drive the tank, crush the cars, and tap into an ancient drive to impose their will on the external world?  Is it the women who desire to see their men driving tanks and crushing cars?  Or is it that the women who purchase tank rides and car crushes imagine their men missing the nature-conquering masculinity more strongly associated with bygone eras, and see this tourist adventure as a substitute somatic thrill?  Does tank driving constitute a romantic date these days, bringing couples closer together through their shared elation at flirting with the taboo of violence?

Perhaps this is not so different from the ways that people watch movies or television together, at its core.  Shared viewership provides subject matter and time for people who care about each other to have something to talk about.  David Morley’s early reception studies work on families in the UK found that negotiations around television viewing frequently aimed at such ends.  The violence, misery, and suffering depicted on screen–even in the evening news–gave family members something dramatic, quasi-urgent, and beyond the evening’s dinner menu to discuss with one another.  Given the cost of crushing cars with tanks, a visit to Minessota is certainly more of a one time effort for sharing and caring, but it might not be so different in kind.  Do we need these kinds of adventures to maintain our relationships of love and care?  What do you think?