Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Who Kid Athletes Want To Be, Or The Eventual Change Of US Sport #2

No One Wants Blue Balls
This gets rambly, but I think you'll find some meat on the bone. Dig in.

I got into a long and interesting IM battle today with a similar NBA-afflicted friend today over the relative merits of LeBron James vs. Michael Jordan. (That argument, which is probably best left to its own post some day, basically comes down to the sense that James does more things for your team over the first 46 minutes of the game and can defend any player on the floor, but since Prime Jordan always wins the game for you late and no one thinks NBA games matter before the End Moments, people take Jordan over James when they probably should not. Also, since people hate James for The Totally Correct Decision, and he needs people like Ray Allen to scoop up loose balls and hit legacy-saving threes, James is further denigrated because Screw That Guy. I then counter with the idea that Jordan's Bulls teams were a lot better than James' Heat teams, mostly because Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson crush Dwyane Wade and Erik Spoelstra, and that the Bull bench was also loads better. Dennis Rodman or Chris Anderson? Not much of a contest. Finally, there's the idea that basketball is played in more places now and the overall talent level has to be better, which is, of course, countered by the idea that the salary cap prevents truly great teams now. Anyway, as I said, worth its own post later. I'll get to it, honest. And with every succeeding month of Jordan's legacy-destroying work as the Bobcat GM, you'd think the case would get easier, but alas, no. Anyway, moving on.)

So that was in the back of my head tonight as I watched Russell Wilson's Seahawks utterly annihilate the Saints at home, putting the capper on a surprisingly competent weekend of pickery. And as I was watching Wilson and Drew Brees, and to a lesser extent Marshawn Lynch and Marques Colston, this thought crept into my mind.

Mostly, that the parents of Lynch and Colston must look at Brees and Wilson and wonder why their sons couldn't get the job that didn't involve life-shortening contact on a near every-down basis.

And if they had it to do all over again, if they wouldn't have tried harder to steer their progeny into a life of hoop, or soccer, or well, anything that would have used their ample athletic gifts in a pursuit with less Head Trauma.

Now, this has nothing to do with angling for Rule Changes. I'm pretty much conceding the fact that what I think should not be a penalty will be at odds with reality for the rest of my lifetime. But even with the most over-the-top whistle work imaginable, there's still nothing that can be done when two men run at top speed and collide, and there's only a few jobs with relative safety in the midst of that. Whereas LeBron James will enter his 40s and 50s with only the usual bone-rattling issues of blown knees and spent cartilage, Lynch and Colston will be lucky to avoid major life issues.

It's not an idle issue. A man with James' physicality, hand speed and, well, racial demographic does different things over the past 80 years of the American Experience. Had he come of age in the 1930s or 1940s, would have tried to have been the biggest sports star on the planet -- also known as the heavyweight champion of the world, right in the footsteps of Joe Louis. In the '40s and '50s, perhaps inspired by Jackie Robinson, he heads out to right field and becomes Hank Aaron, Monte Irvin or Willie Mays, assuming he's not still in the ring to be the next Sugar Ray Robinson. In the '60s and '70s, assuming he's ceded control of the heavyweight division to Muhammad Ali, he tries to enjoy life as Jim Brown, Mean Joe Greene, Earl Campbell or Reggie Jackson. In the '80s, he's Sweetness Payton, Sugar Ray Leonard, Jerry Rice, Bo Jackson or Lawrence Taylor. Still a mix, but changing.

And in the '90s, I think he emulates Jordan, Charles Barkley, Reggie White and maybe a QB or two (Warren Moon, Randall Cunningham and Steve McNair) if he's really not taking no for answer. Note that Mike Tyson isn't appearing in the Role Model Roll Call, as Tyson made people want to watch, but not become, since he was such a train wreck and Object Lesson. The reader will notice that with each decade, the physical toll is getting less for the role model, and the playing lifespan is generally getting longer.

With the turn of the century? Well, ask James, and he cites Allen Iverson, actually. Which is odd, since his game is more Magic Johnson's, but hey, I get that Magic is kind of tough to take, what with the HIV and the cringe media work. Tiger Woods and Barry Bonds don't enter the discussion, because of personal foibles, but Mike Vick actually kind of does, because that's just his peculiar form of magic, really. You can probably also throw Kobe Bryant in this mix, and maybe even Shaquille O'Neal, and I know I'm missing some obvious names with the lateness of the hour and my overall Philly-centric ways, but you get the point.

The best athletes in the US may, or may not, be playing NFL football right now... but the best athletes in the world aren't. They stick to basketball and soccer, and their numbers are growing, along with the quality of their diet and training regimens.

Which means that (a) we're going to start seeing more, rather than less, records and Startling Performers in the NFL, since the poles are going to move further apart, and (b) guys like James in the NBA are going to become the rule, rather than the exception. The 50-year reign of Team With The Best Center Wins is long since done; now, it's just Team With The Best Player, Who Is Also Probably Big But On The Wing, is here.

And we're never seeing a guy who looks like James in a boxing ring again.

Or lining up at RB like Campbell or Brown, or like Taylor and Greene on defense...

And when those guys are no more, the same way that Great Black Outfielder is more or less no more in MLB...

Well, perhaps we'll accept that the NBA has passed MLB as Sport #2 in the U.S. Not that NFL Fan really cares much who Sport #2 is.

Just as NFL Fan would never accept, regardless of the quality of athlete involved, that the NBA could ever be seen as a better game. The NFL will never be able to take away that much contact and violence, or the porny thrill that these things generate, especially when they involve making a QB horizontal.


But the next generation, or the generation after that?

1 comment:

John Bradley said...

If we wanted to reduce the Concussion Menace in the NFL - and I'm not sure that's a great idea (think how much less funny a completely lucid Troy Aikman would be) - the solution is obvious. Bring back the leather helmets. Or none at all. As it currently stands, while ever player is moderately armored, the attacker has the distinct advantage of being able to direct his armor at the unarmored parts of possibly unsuspecting defenders. At little to no risk to himself.

Minimize the body armor so that the attacker is no longer impervious to injury, and maybe they'll pull up a bit right before impact.

Or not. Maybe the risk of injury is just one of those constant "finds its own level" dealies, and all that reducing the armor would do is make the collisions less spectacular.

An Enterprising Journalist could compare concussion rates in the NFL with those of Rugby, or that Australian 'Football' thing they play.

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