The Smartest Guy in the Locker Room

Princeton’s freshman quarterback, the 193rd ranked recruit in the country, Brevin White.

When asked why he passed on scholarship offers to Power 5 schools, including Arizona State, Oregon State, Tennessee and Utah, he said, “I want to have a roommate that’s smarter than me.

The WSJ tells White’s story here. In short, he wants a career in the NFL and on Wall Street. He’s watched an increasing number of Ivy players find their way to the NFL and is confident he can do it too.

What a great quote. The irony is, by saying he wants a roommate that’s smarter than him, he’s instantly the smartest guy in the dorm and locker room.

My dad always told me to get better at tennis, hit with people better than you. The same principle, surround yourself by people more knowledgeable and/or skilled, applies to any context in which a person is striving for self-improvement.

To what degree are you surrounded by smarter, more skilled people?download.jpg

 

 

Quitting Football

Like my dermatologists are so fond of doing to my basal cell skin cancers, I’d like to cut football out of my life. Literally throw a switch and not follow it anymore, high school, college, pro.

Now that we know about CTE’s devastating effects on players, it feels too much like watching Christians and lions in an ancient Roman Coliseum. Except in this case, both sides lose.

The title of this post is too optimistic. I’m not sure I can throw the “no football” switch. “I Want To Quit Football” would’ve been too wordy. I grew up playing football so I’m talking about severing a childhood root. And I enjoy following sports more generally and it’s impossible to watch SportsCenter or listen to Dan Patrick without half of the content, half of the year, being football-related.

In 2016, in the Pacific Northwest, you can be disappeared for not being a “12”, the name given to Seattle Seahawk fanatics. Lots of (oddly elderly) people have taken to wearing Russell Wilson jerseys to church in an apparent effort to curry God’s favor. To my Canadian friends to the north, imagine how ostracized you’d be if you gave up hockey.

I didn’t care about either team, but still watched about 50 minutes of the SupBowl, 20 live and 30 at enhanced Tivo-speeds. Besides the brain injuries, I can’t take the pace of play with the incessant challenges, television timeouts, injury time, and commercials. Hey Roger, I have a dog that needs walking, a work project that I’m behind on, a house that needs packing up. Here’s an idea that only someone suffering from CTE might propose, let’s take 10 minutes from the billion viewers to determine if the receiver had possession. That’s a well spent 10 billion minutes.

There were no concussions at halftime despite an angry dance-off between Bruno’s boys and Bey’s girls. They can dance some, but if they ever play one-on-one basketball, I’m going with the Queen. She can just back him down. And of course it’s the one time of year that the commercials are actually worth watching. I’m going to buy a jeep and then the GalPal is going to throw herself on me. Or I’m asking for my money back.

That pgraph right there highlights the challenge. You can’t be culturally literate without knowing somethin’ somethin’ about football. If I somehow find it within myself to stop watching, I’ll continue to see headlines and read boxscores. Will even that make me complicit in the violence?

I’m confident I can go about eight months without watching a single snap. Here’s hoping even longer.

 

 

 

 

Why the Seahawks are 3-4

Maybe it’s because the teams they’ve played have a combined record of 19-3.

Or maybe it’s because the offensive line is making minimum wage.

Or because the receivers can’t get any separation.

Or because Marshawn Lynch’s mom has put a curse on the O Coordinator.

Or because the Legion of Doom suddenly can’t stop anybody down the stretch.

Or maybe the Seahawks mediocre record is the result of key defensive players—Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas in particular—getting PAID.

Sherman and Thomas grew up with little and are highly intelligent. Now they’re making tens of million a year, meaning their portfolios are probably generating more passive income than they earned on their rookie contracts. Even if they have a career ending injury tonight (when they get to 3-4), their families are independently wealthy.

Both spent the off-season rehabbing serious injuries and earned their eight figure contracts by sacrificing their bodies for the good of the team. Also, and here’s the key to my hypothesis, Sherman is a Stanford graduate meaning he has to be reading all of the incredibly depressing CTE literature being produced by medical docs studying retired players’ brains.

So two years ago, knowing the NFL stands for “Not For Long”, they were making 5-10% of what they’re making now and had never been to a Superbowl. They were motivated, they were physical, they were focused.

Now, they’re watching their wealth surge every thirty days regardless of what the stock market does, they’ve been to the Superbowl twice, have one ring to show their grandchildren, and they’re learning more all the time about the long-term damage they’re likely doing to their brains. If Thomas and Sherman are not playing quite like their families futures depend upon it, it’s because their families aren’t anymore. If they’re not playing every game like it’s the most important thing in the world, it’s because it isn’t anymore. It makes perfect sense if they’re wondering if sacrificing their long-term health still makes as much sense, because it doesn’t.

The cult-like 12’s only think about what it would be like to make Thomas and Sherman money. They’re not reading the scientific studies that detail the brutal costs of Not For Long glory. I don’t blame Thomas, Sherman, or anyone else in the Seahawk backfield for having lost their edge. If one or more of them are having an existential crisis that’s affecting their play, it’s perfectly rational.

Freedom Not to Speak

Power to anyone, who with microphones in their face, opts not to speak. I’m glad Marshawn Lynch refuses to speak to the media. The league is stupid for fining him. They argue players as employees have to promote the league, that ultimately, it’s in their best interest. On the surface that’s logical, but when they insist that every employee has to promote the league by speaking to the media it’s a pointless exhibition of power. The majority of athletes will always be happy to talk to the press, freeing up outliers like Lynch not to.

No one wants to listen to athletes that are coerced to talk because you can’t force anyone to say anything remotely authentic or interesting. I wish Tiger Woods would stop talking to the press starting today. Listening to him is painful because you can see him thinking “What do they want me to say?” Let’s try an experiment. Let’s let Tiger know it’s okay not to speak and then see if he chooses to say something semi-interesting five or ten years from now.

Switching gears, I’ll never understand why the family and friends of victims of horrific crimes agree to speak immediately after losing a loved one. Take last week’s tragic shooting of the on-air newsperson and her cameraman. That same night on CNN I saw her dad and fiancee talking to the press. Why? The public has no real need or right to know how they feel at that moment. I don’t begrudge the press for asking the questions, but I wish more people would decline the invitation to speak.

I pray I’m never in any situation remotely like the father and fiancee were last week, but if I get called up by the Seahawks to fill in for Kam Chancellor and become the oldest player in the league to return a pick for a touchdown, don’t be upset if I make like Marshawn Lynch afterwards and say “No comment.” Don’t sweat it though, I’ll probably blog about it.

Fall Without Football?

Last week I watched Public Television’s Frontline documentary based upon the recently released book “League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions, and The Battle for Truth.”

Because ignorance truly is bliss, the vast majority of football fans will pass on the book and film. And you can be damn sure the NFL suits are working overtime to pressure ESPN and other media outlets to suppress the book’s findings. In this drama, the NFL is Big Tobacco in the 1980s. The book was a story immediately after its release, but since then it’s been the proverbial tree in the forest.

Despite knowing much more about the detrimental long term effects of playing football, I still watched a lot of it last week—a little Washington v Oregon, UCLA v Cal, and Seattle v Tennessee. Yes, I’m part of the problem.

Not that anyone should generalize from me, but I think I could kick my forty-five year old football playing and viewing habit if there were substitutes on television on fall weekends. I haven’t learned to eat lunch on Saturdays without some sporting event on television. We used to get a cable station, Universal Sports, that was made for me. It broadcast major marathons, triathlons, and related endurance events around the world.

If the Chicago Marathon and Ironman Hawaii World Championship were on television last weekend, I would have happily watched them instead of my beloved Bruins (especially since they were taking it to the Golden Bears). At first glance, those appear to be poor substitutes because there’s zero physical contact, but upon closer review, they’re excellent ones because they’re physically demanding in their own way, often equally dramatic, and in the end, tremendously compelling.

When I watch cyclists attack in the Alps during the Tour de France, and then the chaos of the shattered peloton, I get just as excited as when a hard hitting safety lights up an unsuspecting receiver on a crossing route. I get similarly fired up when watching a sprint at the end of a long distance run or open water swim. Last summer, after watching a stage of the Tour marked by a steady stream of attacks and counter-attacks, I told the Good Wife, “It was like watching a heavyweight fight.”

Speaking of which, it’s been decades since I watched a professional fight. Truth be told, I think boxing is barbaric and have zero interest in it. Don’t tell my 20-something male students, but I’m even more repulsed by mixed martial arts.

I won’t be surprised if some fall day in the not too distant future I find other things to care about besides whether UCLA beats Stanford and wins the Pac-12 South. And if I end up thinking about football the way I think about boxing and mixed martial arts.

[Postscript—Here’s a really excellent discussion/debate about the substance of the book and film.]

I Recommend

• My new personal favorite money blog—Mr. Money Mustache. MMM started in April 2011 and he’s killing it. The DIY (Do It Yourself) Colorado bicycle riding blogger writes well and employs a nice mix of confidence, humor, disgust at the status quo, and personal finance insight. His alternative approach to life is resonating with lots of readers. Recently he’s added case studies based upon readers’ lives. Check this recent one out. Favorite excerpt, “Every young adult should be able to comfortably sleep on somebody’s floor, drive an old manual-transmission car with rust holes to a concert, and eat leftover pizza for breakfast. Without complaining.”

• Groovy post by The Minimalist Mom.

• Provocative and timely essay on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and what the end of football might look like.

• “Glee is an Immoral Television Show and It’s Time to Stop Watching It.” Trenchant critique by a young, smart, prolific blogger.

• Errol Morris documentary film, Tabloid, about Joyce McKinney, an unstable woman with a criminal disposition. Sex, religion, crime, all mixed together. The one Netflix viewer who wrote, ” She does not need a movie made about her. She needs some real help” is correct. On the other hand, deviance is often interesting because it provides contrast. See Grizzly Man and Take Shelter. I found the most fascinating character to be a minor one, a British tabloid journalist whose total lack of conscience was harrowing.

• Badass video—6 minutes.

Here’s an Idea—A Weekly Sports SparkNote

SparkNotes motto is “When your teachers and books don’t make sense, we do.” SparkNotes provides written and video summaries of To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, and every other book commonly read in U.S. high schools. Why read the whole book when someone else will do it for you?

No, this isn’t a philosophical discussion on whether SparkNotes is symbolic of national decline. It’s an embracing of the idea of delegating work to others. And of appearing smarter than you actually are.

Imagine how bitchin your life would be if every Monday morning a Sports SparkNote was waiting for you in your email inbox. Think of all the people who could benefit personally or professionally from being in the “sports know”, but aren’t about to take time from their weekend to follow athletic events firsthand? Sometimes I amaze myself. Brilliant, huh? My best idea since half-off, recycled, afternoon newspaper redelivery. Any venture capitalists want to front me?

Imagine the value of a weekly Sports SparkNote to the middle aged mom whose teenage son or daughter thinks she’s hopelessly out of touch because she doesn’t know who Dwight Howard or Lionel Messi is? Or imagine the value to an employee who wants to bond with his or her more sports-minded colleagues Monday morning at the water cooler. Or imagine the value to any man or woman with a sports-centered partner normally forced to fly solo.

Yes, close readers, that was a not so subtle reference to the Good Wife who knows just enough about sports to be dangerous. In hindsight, I should have kept track of her most epic sports faux paus for your reading pleasure. Here’s a sample drop in the bucket, “How are the Sonics doing this year?” Let’s just say I’m comping her a free newsletter.

Here’s a sample issue, in two different sizes, for the investors among you with especially deep pockets. Remember, Instagram was only worth $30m a few months ago. Don’t pass up on this opportunity to get in on the ground floor.

April 9, 2012—Full-meal deal.

• Dwight Howard, a star National Basketball Association (NBA or “The Association”) player for the Orlando Magic said he wanted the team to fire his coach. Then when the coach confirmed that had happened, Howard denied it. This after Howard spent the whole season saying he wanted to be traded, then changed his mind, then said he wanted to be traded, then changed his mind right before the trading deadline. Then he went out and scored 22 points, grabbed 20 boards (rebounds) and all was forgiven. When this story comes up, throw this out there, “Is it a coincidence that most of the NBA drama comes from knuckleheads who skipped college?” Then slowly moonwalk away from the water cooler, and silently thank “Sports SparkNotes” for your enhanced status.

• In the National Football League (NFL), Gregg Williams, the former New Orleans Saints Defensive Coordinator has been indefinitely suspended by the league as a result of paying his players under the table to injure opposing players. The scandal is termed “Bounty Gate”. An audio tape was released of one of Williams’ pre-game “pep talks” which shocked even the most fanatical NFL acolytes. He used lots of naughty words and repeatedly implored his players to go after the knees and heads of opposing players. This is especially problematic right now since the NFL is catching up to the science that shows repeated concussions seriously compromise players long-term well being. Some claim the NFL has known that for awhile, but is only serious about protecting players now because an increasing number of retired players with cognitive problems are suing the league. Water cooler one liner, “Guys like Williams give new meaning to the No Fun League.”

• Late last week, 51 year-old Bobby Petrino, the very successful University of Arkansas football coach crashed his motorcycle. He then told the “U” he was riding alone only to find out later a 25 year-old woman who he hired to oversee recruiting paperwork was also with him. She was engaged to another employee in the athletic department who has apparently broken it off. Now she’s in seclusion. No word yet what the coach’s wife or four kids think of his indiscretion. Smart-ass water cooler quip, “When is it okay to cheat on your wife, lie to your Athletic Director, and become ‘Sports SparkNotes’ fodder? When you win 11 games. [update—Petrino has been canned]

• Bubba Watson, a lefty from the U. S. of A., who played his college golf at the University of Georgia, is the first professional golfer never to have taken a lesson. Sunday he won the Masters, the year’s first (of four) golf majors at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Bubba hit a miraculous shot from out of the trees to win on the second sudden death playoff hole over Louis Oosthuizen from South Africa. Bubba recently bought the Dukes of Hazard car, The General Lee, for $110,000; and with his wife, just adopted a baby boy. Water cooler lines of choice: 1) “I hooked my wedge 40 yards once too, but I wasn’t trying.” 2) Nice weekend to be a Bulldog (Georgia’s mascot).

April 9, 2012—Low-fat alternative.

• A star National Basketball Association (NBA or “The Association”) player for the Orlando Magic said he wanted the team to fire his coach. Then when the coach confirmed that had happened, he denied it. Water cooler line—”Is it a coincidence that most of the NBA drama comes from knuckleheads who skipped college?”

• A former National Football League (NFL) coach has been indefinitely suspended by the league as a result of paying his players under the table to injure opposing players in what’s known as “Bounty Gate”. The NFL is catching up to the science that shows repeated concussions seriously compromise players long-term well being. Water cooler line, “That screed gives new meaning to the No Fun League.”

• The very successful University of Arkansas football coach crashed his motorcycle. Turns out a 25 year-old woman who he hired was also with him. No word yet what the coach’s wife or four kids think of his indiscretion. Water cooler rhetorical question, “When is it okay to cheat on your wife, lie to your Athletic Director, and become ‘Sports SparkNotes’ fodder? When you win 11 games.” [update—Petrino has been canned]

• Bubba Watson, who played his college golf at the University of Georgia, won the Masters, the year’s first (of four) golf majors at Augusta National in Augusta, Georgia. Bubba hit a miraculous shot from out of the trees to win a playoff. Water cooler lines of choice: 1) “I hooked my wedge 40 yards once too, but I wasn’t trying.” 2) Nice weekend to be a Bulldog (Georgia’s mascot).

Which of these weekly Sports SparkNotes, the “full meal deal” or the “low-fat alternative” would change your life more? And what’s a fair price for your changed life? You spend the weekend sleeping in, reading, hiking, cleaning the garage, working in the yard, dining with family and friends, watching non-sports related films, and I devote myself to your sports (and cultural) literacy. One dollar?