Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Fields Of Privilege

I spend about a quarter of my life driving now. This includes my entire life, so if we want to pull sleep out of the equation, it's probably more like a third.

Driving to work. Driving to the gym. Driving to do laundry, get groceries, get gas. Driving for strangers in my side hustle, because that's what the math tells me to do right now, and arguing with math is rarely a good idea.

Sports? Well, I listen to the A's games on the radio, and I read newsletters that might help me not be quite so terrible and unqualified in my leagues. But I don't have cable (hell, I don't even have a TV), don't go to games, and don't spend nearly the same amount of time and energy thinking about it.

That stuff has been replaced by the day job and podcasts and political concerns, and if I have time left over, maybe playing a guitar or getting on a stage and trying my hand at stand up. Or sitting at a poker table, because sometimes that works out for the math, too. Eventually, I might add in a shift as a security guard, because that money will happen without more miles hitting my car.

Sports has, effectively, been priced out of my market. At least for now.

Not so much on the actual cost, but the time one. I have 126 hours or so of waking life every week to make money, and I pretty much spend about 100 of them doing that.

This condition isn't permanent, because nothing in life is, and you don't have to really follow sports to have opinions about them. (Short take this week: the fact that Colin Kaepernick isn't one of the best 96 quarterbacks in the world is plainly ridiculous on its face, but ridiculous is what the NFL does best, and every day he isn't on a field is a day where that fact gets a little less ridiculous. Because playing football is an insane way to try to make money, and a blood bargain that its fans have to hold their nose to more every day. It's all ridiculous. But since we don't have to currently rank Kaepernick on our fantasy rankings, out of sight, out of mind. Try not to think about what this means to political discourse, or the chilling of speech towards people of color.)

So if simply watching or following sports is a privilege, and one that far too many people pay for whether they do it or not, assuming we don't cord-cut and stop the de facto national subsidy in our cable bills...

Well, that's just the thing, isn't it? It feels like they didn't use to be. It feels like you used to be able to just put on a game without quite such a dent in your actual or mental checkbook, escape the real world for a few hours, think about nothing but what went on between the lines.

I'm not sure I can do that anymore.

But hey, things change, right?

Sometimes for the better?

Monday, August 7, 2017

Jerry Jones Got An Ugly New Jacket Because, Well, Money

Nip, Tuck, Die
In alphabetical order, the list of front office personnel who have been inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. (Note that I'm not listing coaches, and plenty of these guys held that role in addition to being a GM or an owner. But you get the gist.)

George Allen
Bert Bell
Charles Bidwill
Paul Brown
Joseph Carr
Al Davis
Eddie DeBartolo
Weeb Ewbank
Jim Finks
Sid Gillman
George Halas
Lamar Hunt
Jerry Jones
Curly Lambeau
Vince Lombardi
Tim Mara
Wellington Mara
George Preston Marshall
Bill Polian
Dan Reeves
Art Rooney
Dan Rooney
Pete Rozelle
Tex Schramm
Jim Thorpe
Ralph Wilson
Ron Wolf

More than you might have thought, right? Well, that's football for you: the rich guys who got richer for exploiting the talent are awfully good at congratulating themselves for that. But let's dig into this a bit.

George Allen won with middling talent. Bert Bell founded the league. Bill Bidwill... well, whatever, the Bidwills suck and have always sucked, but maybe ol' Bill had blackmail material. Paul Brown was a genius. Joseph Carr got in because the NFL always inducts their commissioners. Al Davis was a genius, and probably would have sued if he wasn't in. Eddie DaBartolo won a lot, and was beloved even when he cheated, mostly because he cheated in ways that actually put money in player's pockets.

Weeb Ewbank won in New York; that always gets you in a Hall of Fame, regardless of league. Jim Finks ran three middling franchises and probably collected a lot of incriminating photographs. Sid Gillman invented the modern passing game. George Halas damn near invented the league.

Lamar Hunt was critical to founding the AFL. Curly Lambeau was a legend; Vince Lombardi is *the* legend. The Maras and Rooneys get in because the NFL has always had hard-ons for the Giants and Steelers. George Preston Marshall moved a team to DC and had an on-again, off-again affair with Louise Brooks, and I can only carry so much hate for a man who bedded Brooks. Bill Polian built contenders in three cities, and kept the Patriots from utterly dominating the 21st century.

Dan Reeves got the league to the West Coast. Rozelle made it profitable with the use of TV. Schramm built the borderline dominant Cowboy teams, Jim Thorpe made the game mean something at the dawn of football, Ralph Wilson introduced football to Buffalo, and Ron Wolf won in Green Bay, which is almost as good as winning in New York or Pittsburgh.

And now we come to the newest member of this caste cast, one Jerry Jones. Who won Super Bowls when he just wrote the checks, and has barely won any games of consequence ever since. Sure, Dallas occasionally rattles off a deceptively big year, just like every other franchise in the NFC LEast over the last couple of decades, but they inevitably fall apart in a favored playoff game, then fall off a cliff the year after that, mostly because Jones can't help himself from overdosing on bad character dudes who can't keep their noses clean for very long. He's responsible for some of the biggest reprobates drawing a paycheck in our lifetimes, and he's also responsible for treating a Hall of Fame coach (Tom Landry) like he was Willy Loman. If your idea of a Hall of Fame owner is a paper tiger team fronted by a grinning death mask of plastic surgery, Jones is your guy.

But that isn't why he's in the Hall of Fame, and everyone knows it. Jones got in because he showed everyone else the way to even greater riches: build a pleasure palace for the worst and richest men in America, stick local tax paying rubes with the bill, and treat it as the greatest possible tribute to yourself. The fact that the stadiums are never necessary doesn't matter. Then watch as the nation's sports media fawns over it, all because the NFL is staffed by guys who think subtle should be spelled without the b, because you don't really hear it. No new stadium has ever been described as less than the greatest invention since the blow job, and no owner who has ever gotten one failed to, well, get one from the media for years afterward. Even when the stadium clearly stinks on ice.

Jerry Jones is to football ownership as Donald Trump is to the Oval Office; a new and precedent-crushing low, where a clown and an asshat masquerades as the Emperor, and no one drawing a significant paycheck notes the nudity. The fact that it's all a facade, and actual Cowboy fans (there are some, honest, pushed below decks every time the team wins more games than it loses by the bandwagoneers) dream of the day where Jones dies, so that actual competent GM work will take over, but even that is a hollow hope, considering that he's got his cracker spawn all over the place as well... well, none of that matters, because NFL owners don't really love NFL owners who win games.

They do, however, love the ones that make them more money. Preferably by showing them that silly little notions like class, human decency, or even a trace amount of self-awareness and humility is for the rubes who can no longer afford tickets to games.

So yes, Jerry Jones is now enshrined in Pro Football's Hall of Fame, with a bronze likeness of his douchebag face and skull to reside for all eternity, or however long it is that humans care about football and draw breath.

Oh, and if you want to feel just a teeny tiny bit better about that, and maybe even still want to visit the place?

Well, it's in the same room as OJ Simpson's.

Fitting company, yes?

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Falling Out Of Sports?

Getting There...
About three months ago now, I left my home in New Jersey, and my connection to cable television. I took a new gig in California, money is tight, and I've just been renting rooms ever since. In time, maybe a year or longer from now, the plan is to get the family back together, cut our housing expenses to a single location, and maybe then, I can get back to watching sports again.

And then again, maybe not.

Because honestly, when I poke my head above water once a week or so, and try to come up with some gist for this mill, I get...

> More, as if there's anything more to say, about Kyrie Irving

> Tim Tebow hitting his fifth (fifth!) home run of the year in some minor league park, because ESPN can't resist pressing the Tebow button for as long as humanly possible

> Smart people with options quitting professional football, because it will ruin your life

> Coverage of professional football that tries to make everyone forget that everyone who is playing, watching, or covering the game is complicit in a blood-soaked devil's bargain

> Baseball in a year where there are a handful of utterly dominant teams in the National League, which will end in a short data sample that will probably make the preceding six months meaningless

> UFC for everyone who thinks the blood bargain in the NFL isn't bloody enough

And, well... I've been a sports fan for over 40 years now.

But the last three months that have been more or less without it?

Not entirely bad, really.

And certainly more productive...

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Cash Over Rings

Note: Not Really The Ring You'd Get
Item: Kyrie Irving requests trade from Cavaliers

A year ago around this time, Kevin Durant was pilloried in many circles for taking a free agent deal with the Golden State Warriors. Durant was, according to many blowhards at the moment, a coward; rather than stick with the team that ripped basketball away from a vibrant and beautiful coast city with a championship history, he was supposed to spend his entire career with the heartland schmoes who traded James Harden for 15 cents on the dollar, rather than work out a way to keep four drafted star level players together.

Durant more or less spent the last year showing the world that he was no worse than the second or third best player in the world, earned a Finals MVP, and helped the Dubs win their second ring in three years. He might have also made the Association less interesting in the process, because the Dubs are starting to get to the point of foregone champion conclusion, but that's not his problem. Dude has a ring, lives in the best area of the country, and will rake in endorsement bucks that will greatly outweigh the contractual dough he gave up. It's not out of the question for him to have many rings before his career is done.

Fast forward to now. Irving is looking to do something directly opposite of what Durant did. Rather than buckle in for another year of running roughshod over the lEastern Conference as Option 1B to the LeBron James show, he's pulling his chute on a Cavs franchise that's a questionable Draymond Green suspension and a single legendary defensive play from a 50+ year championship drought, despite having the services of the best player ever (yes, ever) for the vast majority of his career.

Let's leave aside the relative merits of each player... well, actually, let's not. Irving is a great half-court scorer, able to break down nearly every player in the Association off penetration... but he's also an indifferent defender, and a guy who doesn't really involve his teammates as much as you'd like. In the Dub Era of ball movement, open corner threes off penetration and maximum points per possession efficiencies, he's not really the guy you want dominating the rock. He also doesn't rebound like all-around beast Russell Westbrook, stay on the floor forever while staying healthy, and doesn't wear out the opposition with an inordinate number of drawn fouls (aka, the Harden Handbook). When James has been out, Irving doesn't elevate his teammates. He simply, well, gets his, and NBA history is rife with guys like this who never win a damned thing. But since he was with James in the year of the Cav Comeback, he's got his ring, and no one can ever take that away from him.

Now who, honestly, seems like more of a person to pillory?

If I were the man I was twenty or even ten years again, this is where I'd tell you that Irving is a complete greedbucket. That he should willingly subjugate his ego to James, who covers for his defensive lapses and makes sure he rarely if ever sees a double team. That before James returned, Irving was simply another empty calories guard on just another losing team. That unlike Durant, he didn't really care about winning, just being the lead player on a team that didn't have to play too much extra basketball in the late spring.

But I am not that man now.

Instead, I'm a guy in his late '40s, who increasingly sees sports as a con job that doesn't really make him very happy. I'm cord cut and scrambling to make ends meet, living apart from my wife and kids so that I can keep paying the mortgage. I watch games online and in gyms and bars, which means I watch games very infrequently.

Irving wants to cash out for the most he can cash out for. He doesn't want to play for the only team he's ever played for, for the rest of his career, in a borough that got its ring and the next day, well, still remained Cleveland.

If rings matter more to fans than people who will make nine figures and up from playing a game, who is to say they are wrong?

If money matters more than some legacy narrative that, in your heart of hearts, you don't really care that much about, why does anyone need to presume that they know better than the person making the decision?

If everyone with the option to avoid Dan Gilbert and his Comic Sans plantation sensibilities does so, why would it wrinkle the skin on your nose?

And if you were in Irving's shoes, knowing that your earning potential is going to come to a crashing halt after your life is maybe less than a third over...

Would you honestly step away from the biggest possible payday?

Especially when James is likely an overwhelming favorite to shake the dust off Cleveland again in a year...

Because Gilbert cares even less about rings than you do?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Tha NBA Sells Out, Or Milking The Last Cow

We Bring Good Money To Asshats
Item: NBA jerseys are going to include ads on the front in the upcoming season.

First things first: cheap comedy. Most teams haven't announced revenue figures, but nine clubs have gone for this already, and it's an interesting group. Let's take them each in turn.

> $7 million to the Celtics for GE, because nothing says killing the planet with eco-hazards quite like... well, both of them, really

> $10 million to the Cavs for Goodyear, because when LeBron James leaves again next year, tire blowout and deflating blimp jokes won't be easy to make at all

> My Sixers (gah) for StubHub, AKA a ticket-scalping service that hasn't been used by anyone watching a Sixers game in the entire Process Era

> The Sacramento Kings going for Blue Diamond Almonds, because they are also a tasty snack for opponents

> The Orlando Magic lying down with Disney, because like Disney, the Magic are in the business of providing luxury vacations for visitors

> The Minnesota Timberwolves slapping on Fitbit, because it'll be nice to show digitally how often everyone on the team takes extra steps on their post moves

> The Brooklyn Nets (Brooklyn is still in the league? Oh, sixty year old baseball references are your key to Quality Comedy) for Infor, a software company that, like the Nets, no one knows or wants to know

> Toronto Raptors for Sun Life, because nothing says Sun and Life like a concrete Canadian city that the rest of the country not so secretly despises in the winter

> Utah Jazz for 5 For The Fight, a Qualtrics move to raise money for cancer research, because Utah exists to make you feel bad about trying to see the humor in things

But seriously, folks... half of the cash from each of these deals goes to the team, while the rest slides into a league-wide revenue pool. Which means that every single team will have one soon, because who wants to be the asshat that takes from, but doesn't contribute to, the pool?

And sure, it's inevitable, and has been the case for any number of jerseys in any number of leagues all over the world before now, so why make a fuss... but It's Inevitable isn't really a stirring call to arms, yes? Death is inevitable, and so are taxes, and visits to the dentist and incontinence and new music being unpalatable, and so on, and so on. Ads on jerseys won't reduce ticket prices, or give fans free parking (now *there's* a sponsorship opportunity that would engender serious good will), or even a free drink with food. So welcoming it is pointless, because it's just a money grab / "innovation" for the owners, and who in heaven's name would welcome that?

Instead, look at ads on jerseys for what they are. One more straw on the donkey's back (we're the donkeys, folks), one more reason to not watch sports or share them with your kids, one more jab to the kidneys in the perpetual punch-out game that is Sports v Fans. One more thing that takes away from the fun, and one more reminder in the middle of your escapism that there is, nope, no sir, no escape.

Sports teams are used to a certain equation; take, and no give. The game is good enough, the athletes amazing enough, the coverage worthwhile, the analysis and fandom adding so much more that the Lords of Sport could never have done on their own. The people in the stands are rubes, marks, sheeple; fleece 'em all you want, just don't be quite so obvious about it, and win often enough to get their hopes up. Or, what the hell, be obvious about it; there's always some other town that will take your robber baron ass with open arms, and leagues love it when owners go rogue, because it makes petty crimes so much easier to get away with.

But here's the thing: other parts of our society *don't* treat the customer this way. Video games give the user an ever-increasing amount of content and game play without labor stoppages, PR nightmares, and naked profiteering. The community of these gamers interact with each other as easily as sports fans do, and you can be passive or active in your participation. Gaming used to be console-based and stationary; now, it's everywhere. Maybe even at the actual real-life game, even.

I am, of course, long past the event horizon of when people stop caring about sports; even in a year of remarkable personal upheaval, I'm in three leagues, run two of them, and made special efforts to see the games that matter to me. That's all more likely to continue than not.

But my kids, now 17 and 11?

Could, maybe, give you about a minute on which sports are which, what's done in them, and what teams their dad roots for. They haven't watched a game with me in years, and I sincerely doubt there is any incentive that I could give them that would get them to go to a game now.

I don't consider myself to be a particularly great parent, but at least there, I think I got it right.

So enjoy your ad revenue, gentlemen. Milk that cow while she's still able to stand.

But I don't much like your chances of getting the same output in a few years...

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