Reading at the Crossroads

Reading at the Crossroads is an archive for columns and letters which appeared in the Terre Haute Tribune Star. I also blog here when my patience is exhausted by what I feel is irritating, irrational and/or ironic in life. --gary daily

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Location: Terre Haute, Indiana, United States

The material I post on this blog represents my views and mine alone. The material you post on this blog represents your views and yours alone.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

What Will $37 mil Buy?

[gary daily col. 29 August 11, 2002]

. . . the big fellas are being hydrated like petunias in every training camp under the blistering sun, so all must be well. -Selena Roberts, “In N.F.L., Wretched Excess Is Way to Make Roster”

Was it H. L. Mencken who wrote that Puritanism is the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy? In this sense, the following may come off as puritanical. But really, all I’m inquiring into are football fan’s powers of imagination, their ability to confront and deal with reality. So, as TVs prepare to blare each Monday night, “Are ya ready for some . . . (Q. & A)?”

Q. Can you imagine what it’s like to strap on the ol’ pads, those space age foam and fiber shock absorbers developed in high tech labs, fitted by computer body imaging, and all snugged into the sausage casing of 100% polyester dazzle cloth?

A. Only if you’ve done it yourself and haven’t suppressed the memory. Or, and this is a likely possibility, if you’ve watched more hours of TV football than there are chapters in a shelf full of books.

Q. Can you imagine crisp October afternoons on the ol’ gridiron when it’s August and ninety degree temperatures and an eighty plus humidity level turns the ol’ turf, that’s astro to you bub, into a 120 yard long by 53 1/3 yard wide heating pad?

A. Probably not. Most sports reports are long on statistics but weak on pain and suffering. And, while heat-related deaths on football fields are solemnly reported, like the “Injury List” news, this stuff is deflected as easily as 99 per cent of the “Hail Mary” passes thrown each season. Compete or die clichés cover it: “you have to play hurt” or “suck it up and get out there kid.”

Q. Can you imagine ol’ coach gathering the squad around him at the start of the season, fixing each and every player with that steely eyed look of his, telling them in his best God/Father/Friend voice that who they are in life, and what they can be in life, depends on what they do this very day, this very week, and this very season of their lives?

A. Probably, yes. You’ve seen the movie. Your chest swells involuntarily. This is character building. Strange how few seem to wonder why so many athletes, given all this special, very high-priced attention, turn out to be violent social misfits.

Q. Can you imagine ol’ Chicago Bear fans gathering at neighborhood taverns around the “city of big shoulders,” filling the trunks of their cars with beer and brats and hurtling down US 57 to Champaign-Urbana where the pros of the NFL will play on a field maintained by one of the pros of the Big Ten (sic)?

A. Sure you can. These lovable lugs became famous on “Saturday Night Live.” They love “Da Bears,” hate “The Pack,” and carry pictures of the sainted Ed Sprinkle in their wallets. They work hard for their money, and after Soldier’s Field is refurbished they will have to work even harder to afford the price of end zone seats.

Q. Can you imagine what a little ol’ $37 mil is buying the University of Colorado in Boulder?

A. No. It’s not a library or arts complex. It’s not a law school addition honoring ol’ Coach Fred Folsom for his decades of coaching the Buffaloes while, get this, he was also a law professor. That $37 mil will pay for 41 luxury suites and 2000 “club seats” at the stadium bearing Folsom’s name, at least until a corporate sponsor turns up.

Q. Can you imagine how much it’s going to cost a party of Colorado “Buffs” rah-rah fans to view football games from one of these luxury suites?

A. You’re way too low. Try $50,000 in long green. Probably three times what Coach/Professor Folsom earned his last year as a teacher/coach in 1944.

Q. Can you imagine what the ol’ Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics has called expenditures such as these?

A. No. Not “obscene.” Their report calls it an “arms race of spending and building in intercollegiate athletics.” And as with all such races, who ever really wins an arms race?

Q. Can you imagine how many ol’ college sports programs are on probation? How many ol’ athletes end their seasons in court, on crutches, without degrees, or dead long before their time? How much of your ol’ tax dollar goes to paying the bills for sky boxes, luxury suites, and “club seats”?

A. Neither can I. Is anyone counting? Why not?

Q. Can you imagine any ol’ stories by fine writers that touch on any of this, especially on how it all might play a part in the large scheme of things or in the lives of individual athletes?

A. Not many? Try reading Irwin Shaw’s great short story, “The Eighty Yard Run.” Or look for the part on basketball in Rabbit, Run by John Updike. Not to be missed is E. L. Doctorow’s perceptive and moving take on turn of the century baseball in his wonderful novel, Ragtime. Most of all, promise yourself to read James A. Michener’s (yes, that Michener) Sports in America--a report from a man who loved sports enough to spell out its flaws and failings back in 1976.

Personally, I grew up on John R. Tunis’s sports fiction, Sport magazine’s  hagiological journalism, and the tall tales Bill Stern’s radio sports program dished out each week. That’s why I can’t seem to break the habit of talking and writing about ol’ this and ol’ that. It’s been the business of the sports business to not just create fans but to manufacture mindless myths, synthetic traditions, false loyalties.  They’ve done their work too well.

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