In addition to my media notes, I’ll be swinging by Wednesday afternoons to write a weekly column dealing with How We Think About Sports (or something), entitled “The Obstructed View.” Think of it as an unfortunate tariff; and feel free to yell at me on Twitter about it (@Hadfield__) or email me at Hadfield.Ryan@gmail.com.
The transitory sphere of sports
commentary entertainment is alarming; probably because, alarmists are running the show.
This last weekend, for instance, saw miracles and epiphanies of the Other Kind unfold. On Saturday, The Book on Ravens quarterback, Joe Flacco, 28, changed from him being “inconsistent and frustrating” to “big when it matters most” and “dangerous;” and the signal caller in Atlanta, Matt Ryan, 27, once designated as a “fine regular season quarterback,” was reborn into a “winner” Sunday.
“It’s all happening!!!” Kate Hudson and her fellow “Band-aids” bellowed on the television screen Sunday night during my 187th viewing of “Almost Famous.”
Yes, it was. (Except it wasn’t.)
The problem with the much-talked about column written by Dan Shaughnessy (which the attention gained, as much as he denies, was exactly how he drew it up), is that he leaves no room for growth. Players are typecast, and crazy ideas like “learning about your craft” fall by the wayside (or somewhere else). Thus every player, it seems, is JaMarcus Russell or Tom Brady (unless you’re Brett Favre, in which case RIDE THE WAVE). And I think we can all agree, speaking and writing in vague, highly circumstantial terms that can’t possibly be quantitative – like adjudicating whether or not an athlete is “clutch” or a “winner” – is just obtuse. These concepts have been specious from the outset of their existence. And, mind you, their sheer existence is due to selfish fandom, writers yearning page views, and radio hosts trying to fill air time.
I can’t figure out why, however, we enable this to keep happening time and time again. Maybe it’s because, these days, we want things like ChuckStrong – the moniker placed behind the Colts’ improbable run, purportedly credited to the inspirational story of head coach Chuck Pagano, who recovered from cancer this season – to matter; instead of Andrew Luck being really good at football.
Because sports has to take a bigger form – It All Has To Mean Something, or else we start asking more pressing questions like, “What the hell are we really doing here, man?”
So, in turn, we constantly hear and read emphatic declarations of whether athletes pass or fail subjective “eye tests” based on intuition. Perception gradually coalesces into reality; only those ruling on such matters are manufacturing this perception, instead of observing what actually exists, leading to one sad fallacy: You are who you are, until, of course, you aren’t.
I was fat, then, I lost weight, and now I’m skinny – today am I a different person?
Woah, I just blacked out. Somewhere, Lance Armstrong is nodding. Suffice to say, existentialism and sports shouldn’t mix.
Still, the Shaughnessy and Michael Felger’s of the world sly wink and feign ignorance to this truth (even though they totally get it. It is, after all, staring them right in the face). Shank wrote a book about a mythical curse, which later was broken. It seems like Felger exclusively talks in generalities. For example, like most, he killed LeBron James after Paul Pierce drained a 3-pointer in Miami to give the Celtics an “insurmountable” 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals last year.
James, everyone agreed, didn’t have stones. Months later, we all staggeringly recant, he does.
An interesting case study, really. At 18, LeBron James is a great basketball player. LeBron James, now slightly older, flees Cleveland, and thus, lacks self-awareness and is selfish. LeBron James fails to win a title in his first year on the Heat, and it’s decided he can’t will a basketball team to a championship (yes, this was a real question in 2011). Last summer, The King is crowned, after winning the NBA Championship and leading Team USA to Olympic Gold; magically, he’s transformed and (you guessed it) figured out how to be clutch!! Most recently, though, LeBron James showed regression by berating an official — consequently, he’s back to being a dick.
Everything is about this is true; yet, everything about this is false.
Contrary to popular beliefs, LeBron’s accomplishments last spring and summer didn’t alter the reality that he is a great basketball player; just like raising the Larry O’Brien trophy didn’t mark his personality traversing from puerile and nonsensical to reformed and modest. This isn’t a Hero’s Journey, just someone’s journey.
And, despite recent events, Matt Schaub still could have beaten New England last Sunday night, he just didn’t. Because … uh … because … ahhh screw it – NOTHING IS PROMISED, ANY GIVEN SUNDAY, AND THE OTHER GUYS GET PAID TO PLAY, TOO.