11/26/2019 0 Comments
(Strap in, this is two weeks of thoughts. We’re tentatively calling it “Takesgiving”. Also, send any comments or questions to Whichcarolina@gmail.com (or just text me if we’re on that level). I appreciate any and all interaction.
What are the circumstances of inspiration? What breeds it? What arrests it? And how does it gain momentum? I ponder these as I sit vigil over my keys. Where do I mine for those evasive take-shaped nuggets that will transform this blog into the WhichCarolina Gold Rush? I’m at a loss for answers, but perhaps it is my gain. If contented minds are idle ones, then may I never think again. We’re on the doorstep of Thanksgiving and Bowl Season (Christmas is ok, too, I guess), my family is healthy and happy to spend this life together, and November’s alchemy has turned my backyard a deep and rusty gold. I might be too happy for strong convictions, and there are worse problems to have. After all, this little reflection session wasn’t a total loss. I did think of this:
What do you call it when William Faulkner makes a good defensive play?
You’re welcome. These are The Things I’m Thinking About:
The Curious Intersection of Athlete and Celebrity. (A sizeable thing)
Athletes are, undoubtedly, our most awkward, and, consequently, most accessible celebrities. In the constellations of the People-Magazine Universe, they are our nearest star. Many hail from small towns and humble beginnings, with little access to the privileges and preoccupations of experienced wealth. The mechanism of their fame is simple and shared: we all play their games, and we would play forever if we could. They just happen to be better players. That athletes are able to leverage their play into a career is, perhaps, the greatest and most whimsical cheat code of our economic system. We are them, and they are us, in a way that a DiCaprio or a Trump never could be, and the nuances of their profession only exacerbate this relatability.
Sports figures handle a different kind of celebrity. They stand closer to us, they have to answer our questions, and they can only disappear from the public eye until the next game. Their success or failure affects us in ways that the next Adam Sandler flop just doesn’t---then they have to answer for it. It’s a strange intimacy that lays athletes bare and vulnerable to the public eye.
The uncomfortable irony of this attention is that athletes are the celebrity class least predisposed to handle it. Inherent in almost every other form of celebrity is the natural inclination toward an audience. There is something intrinsic in the connection between artists and the public. Actors and singers perform for the masses, and professional validation is based largely on the extent to which those masses embrace them. The link between performers and public is the point of the whole elaborate exercise.
It’s not so with sports, where success derives from win columns and box scores. There is nothing foundational about the relationship between athlete and audience. We watch them play, but they don’t play for us. Like so many other anonymous professions, success depends upon objective excellence; the difference is that we don’t pay 100 bucks to wear the jersey of the local plumber. Thus, the celebrity of sport sometimes wears as excess baggage for people just trying to do their jobs.
This is all to say that I owe a few apologies. I have spewed contemptuous words and thoughts at some athletes over the years: Kyrie, Durant, Lebron, Brett Favre, Patrick Reed, the list really goes on. I am not the only one. We love for athletes to look like idiots. Finding out that KD used burner accounts to defend himself on Twitter was almost as rewarding as the news that Brett Favre was just another dirty 40-year-old man with rescinded cell phone privileges. I’ve rejoiced at the thought of binding Kyrie’s press conferences into a “Magical Kyrie” series worthy of Gilderoy Lockhart. Their weaknesses are our gain! The most recent culprit is Antonio Brown, who rarely lets an opportunity for embarrassment slip through his hands. He is not a story, but a saga; and we have followed every memeable, tweetable step of the way.
I fear, however, that beneath our collective contempt runs a sinister satisfaction. We condemn the acts and the actors, but we revel in the carnage. It feels GOOD to see these immensely successful people, who we’re already conditioned to root against, flounder in areas that seem basic. Their all-too-human frailty becomes contortable fodder for our self-gratification. We can reassure ourselves that there’s nothing particularly extraordinary about these people living more remarkable lives. The more successful they are, the better. That just means there’s more to burn down.
It’s a grotesque attitude to have about an athlete class that bears such an imposed, unmediated, and unpracticed celebrity. These guys are flawed public figures, if only because becoming public figures was never their ostensible goal. They are all still learning how to live beyond the sidelines, not unlike all of us. Does this mean that they’re flaws should be ignored? Of course not. But the roots of their fallibility are also the roots of their accessibility---the roots that make them so uniquely ours. Maybe they deserve a little grace.
Now to more whimsical fodder.
Chase Young, My Goodness (a slippery thing)
Gonna be honest, I haven’t watched a lot of Ohio State football this year. Somehow, the matchups were never what you’d describe as “enticing” or “good” or even “worth changing the channel for”. I have, however, followed Chase Young’s sack numbers with all the cynicism that my SEC homerhood could muster. “Sure he’s good,” I told myself, “but Ohio State’s dudes always look better than they are because of weak competition and the talent around them” (I’ve just discarded the Bosas as an inconsequential blip). On Saturday, Chase Young taught me otherwise.
Young is the first person I’ve ever seen who has low viscosity. He doesn’t go by the blocker, he washes over him. His body is fluid, and the o-lineman might as well be trying to stop a waterfall. He’s slippery and powerful and determined, like some gigantic irascible otter. I usually compare these guys to Jadeveon Clowney, the most explosive athlete for his size that I’ve ever seen. Clowney, though, doesn’t have Young’s amorphous amoeba-like flexibility that seems to just absorb its way to the quarterback. He’s a new stage of evolution, and, if I may, his dreads are a perfect accessory to his havoc.
EVERYONE IS OPEN! Right? (a medium-sized thing)
I just want to call everyone’s attention to the cheapest, most low-hanging fruit in the replay business. The quarterback just got sacked, or the bootleg got run out of bounds, or the defender deflected the pass, and the replay guy inevitably shows this: some receiver downfield with no one near him, jumping around wide open as a Sunday afternoon. This draws the expected visceral fan outbursts “Are you KIDDING me?!” and “How could you miss him!”. Then after the game, the team only lost because the QB just “ignored” all those “sure touchdowns”. I’m here to tell you, don’t be that fan.
Certainly quarterbacks do miss opportunities to hit open receivers, but rarely do these replays tell the full story. This isn’t just a game of catch. Sometimes there’s a 6’6” guy blocking the QB’s view to that side of the field. Sometimes the pocket is collapsing on that side of the field and the QB either has no base to throw off of, or is staging a retreat. Sometimes the guy was fully covered when the QB was going through his progressions. Sometimes, and this is the most egregious, the coverage doesn’t actually let the receiver go until it’s clear that the play is being run to the other side of the field. Wide receivers ALWAYS think they’re open. Don’t fall for their demonstrative pouting. Usually, it’s just venting over finally beating a guy and not getting rewarded. The reality is there’s a lot more that has to go right to complete a downfield pass.
Arm Sleeves and Ball Carriers (a small thing)
At least a half-dozen times this season, I’ve seen a ball carrier lose a football and then look at his arm sleeve like “WTF”. The arm sleeve is too slick to keep the ball tucked! I first picked up on this after the late Ray Ray McCloud fumbled during an early-season punt return, and I’ve watched it happen ever since. Ball carriers, disrobe your arms. The sleeves are only adding layers of frustration to your experience, and new levels of anxiety to the fans who really want you to HOLD ON TO THE DAMN BALL. Unless you play for Clemson, ditch the sleeves. Tigers, I’d hate for your arms to be cold on Saturday in Columbia.
A Bit about Gratefulness (a pleasant thing)
There’s a curious characteristic of my two-year-old: he understands “Thank You” much more than “Please”. We encourage them fairly equally, but the Littlest Gamecock doesn’t have much for “please”. He wants what he wants, I guess. What does he care if he emphasizes it with some extraneous p-word?
“Thank you”, though, is more intuitive. One of the thrills of early parenthood was hearing him enthusiastically bestow an unprompted Thank You. Now, he gives Thanks Yous out like Halloween candy. You help him pick a shirt out in the morning? “Thanks!” You bring him some buttered toast? “Thanks Daddy!” This weekend, we got him a yellow truck with M&Ms on it. We didn’t really wanna buy it, but we could tell it was gonna take a federal subpoena to get him out of the store without it, so we caved. The next 36 hours were just a string of sincere Thank Yous. Every time he’d sit down to play with that truck (very often), he’d mutter under his breath “Thank You, Mommy and Daddy”. When we’d ask him what he was thankful for, he’d smile, and turn his little blond head up to us and say, “For getting me my truck”. It was the best 7 dollars we ever spent.
There’s something deep, abiding, and instinctive about gratefulness. We’ve never really explained being grateful to our son, but he recognizes it and understands it and practices it like it’s a compulsion as wondrous and sacred as jumping into a pile of leaves. It’s not because of the great example his parents have set. Like most run-down self-absorbed adults, I rarely spare a breath to give words of sincere thanks. But my son stops, looks you in the eye, and gives thanks with joy---like he was born to it. His spirit flows from a spring of gratefulness. All of us have this spring, I believe, if we just stop to clear away the leaves and twigs of this cluttered life. Happy Thanksgiving, readers, I’m grateful for each one of you.
Until next time, keep Carolina on your mind.