The Disobedience of Marshawn Lynch

NFC Champion Seattle Seahawks Team Media Availability

I have a confession to make: I kind of love Marshawn Lynch.

For some of you this is no big deal, for others–the 49ers fans of my friends and family–this is a huge deal, even a deal breaker. Lynch is on the biggest rival of my precious 49ers–the Seattle Seahawks. Not only that, but he is a sort of 49ers killer, seemingly unstoppable even with the 49ers’ top tier defense.

Now in the world of 49er fandom it’s not entirely unacceptable to like Seahawks’ players. Russell Wilson is an acceptable choice, his humble demeanor and religious beliefs do a lot for him, making him a likable figure. But Lynch is a somewhat cocky and brazen figure, not quite on the level of Richard Sherman, but close.

Yet I can’t help but admire the performance he has put on for the media this week. He has been known previously to dislike talking to the media (read Dashiell Bennet’s piece if you want an outline of his history and Bennett’s opinion on why it’s okay ) but this week he really went for it. Lynch completely trolled them, only showing up so that he wouldn’t get fined (as he repeatedly stated) and then left after his minimum time had been reached.

I love this for a couple of reasons. The first reason is it is almost a form of civil disobedience. Lynch doesn’t want to be put into this situation–we can debate whether he is right for not wanting to–so he responds to it in a way that sheds light on how stupid the situation is. He could show up and regretfully answer questions or he could skip the whole thing and get fined, instead he shows up and holds a mirror to the parade, showing us all how ridiculous we look.

Now I like the spectacle of the Super Bowl, it’s a fun event that at this point is probably the seventh largest holiday that America celebrates (1. Christmas 2. Thanksgiving 3. Easter 4. New Year’s Eve 5. Fourth of July 6. Valentine’s Day). Without the large media coverage, it probably would not be as fun of a day, so I’m accepting of the situation. But one thing I hate–which leads into the second reason I love what Lynch is doing–is the sports media.

Think about the kind of coverage we get from them, Michele Tafoya’s interview with coaches headed to the locker room–“Well, we’re trying our best and hopefully we’ll score more and be able to win”–OH REALLY!?! The coaches and players almost certainly don’t want to talk to media during the game and probably aren’t thrilled to talk to them after. The information we receive from them usually isn’t anything important, because they are not going to give us their actual, real game plan, and so we are left with some sort of pre-scripted statement that essentially means nothing. Pre- and post-game coverage wastes everyone’s time, well, except for maybe Michele Tafoya’s!

Yet players are forced to participate in this even while they must maintain league standards for what they say and how they present themselves. You must be subject to this interview and you must wear our brand and you must not say anything controversial or WE WILL FINE YOU. Civil disobedience may actually be necessary.

Lynch’s actions will certainly impact how other players behave in interviews just like it will impact the NFL’s policies. The NFL will try to stop this, likely with larger and stricter fines, but perhaps by loosening the types of forced interviews. Players will continue to figure out ways to undermine the NFL’s efforts at controlling acceptable behaviors. But my question is about what happens to the media–how will they evolve and adapt?

They are–for me–an insufficient and uninteresting part of sports, but there is potential there. Longer forms of sports journalism can bring insights into the minds of athletes, coaching decisions, and other larger sociological parts of sports. The media either needs to put more effort into getting grander results in the moment or needs to figure out better questions to ask to get better results. “What was going through your mind when you made that play?” and “How are you going to approach [insert athlete name] tomorrow?” aren’t going to cut it. We live in the age of Marshawn Lynch and until somebody does figure this out, let’s celebrate Lynch and his Skittles.

LeBron James Does Not Have to Live Up to Your Inconsistent Expectations

lebron

Every four years we can count on several things in the world of sports. There is an Olympics, a World Cup, and LeBron James selects a new team to which he will bring his talents. In the wake of his selection come regurgitated arguments as to how good of a player he is, how terrible of a person he is, and how his legacy will be viewed in both aforementioned categories.

LeBron is unanimously hailed as the best player in basketball, yet people bash his legacy because he has not won enough or because when he chose to go to a team that would win he abandoned his team and whatever happened to loyalty!

We simultaneously are in love with and despise our sports icons. We rag on them when they haven’t won enough, stating those that have won more are better. But when a player like LeBron chooses to go to a winning environment we chastise him, declaring that he should have remained loyal to his city and his team.

We place our vague morals upon players because for some reason we think we deserve a say in what they should choose. As a fan we consider ourselves a part of the team and when a player disappoints by accepting more money elsewhere, we become angry at his or her disloyalty . How dare they go there, we would never abandon our team like that! Yet how many of us would reject a position that offered us more money and a better chance at being successful in our own lives?

It’s not like we even are consistent in our outrage. We are seemingly more willing to forgive players for committing crimes than we are to forgive a perceived betrayal. In fandom, crimes against humanity are lesser than crimes against our team.

Even in the world of the NCAA we expect our athletes to play for a love of the game, after all the reason we pay so much money to watch these games is for our love. We dish out and dish out money but expect our athletes to remain pure in their love of the game and our love of winning – a strange thrill for the fan that is somewhat inexplicable other than being a non-violent sort of us vs. them expression of victory to replace wars and make us feel good for literally doing nothing.

There is a false admiration and compassion for athletes dependent on stories that are shaped by various outlets. Our athletes are assets to large corporations, heroes for children, opium for masses of the middle-aged, and most importantly but least remembered – humans.

What if LeBron or whatever other player decides to go somewhere because that is what makes them most happy? What if we allowed for that? There is little compassion for professional athletes because they make millions of dollars (the best ones do anyway) yet why shouldn’t they try to capitalize during the prime of their careers? Surely the owners are doing the same to them and their careers only last for like ten years (and that’s better than average) while the rest of their lives will likely be spent referring back to their past glory days.

If a player leaves a team to go to a place that will win more or in order to make more money, they are not being selfish, they are being logical.

This isn’t a call to change any sort of larger system, really, I’m not calling you to love the athlete or anything ridiculous like that, I’m just saying at the maximum to be compassionate and at the minimum to not be stupid.

 

A Lamentation

All my songs will be in minor for the night.

My eyes weary from 15 years of hopes dashed by a distance of 5 yards.

5 yards the difference between excitement and lament.

Between Queen and The Smiths playing through the speakers.

This is all arbitrary, I know; I can view the sports world from a large enough distance to recognize that.

It still sucks.

It’s like having to throw away your favorite childhood toy, it makes no difference in your life, but in a small way it does.

I suppose things take on the emotions that we attribute to them.

Houses, cars, clothes, and sports, they all exist in a sort of neutral form; what we think of them dependent on the experiences we go through with them.

They provide the setting to the ups and downs of life and, at times, can even invade the narrative at times.

In sports we cling to narratives, some giving us hope (the Olympics are chock-full of these), others causing us despair (Lance Armstrong).

The David vs. Goliath stories capture us, while we root against those we perceive to be “bad” people.

We really don’t have any good clue on who’s good and who’s bad, but it adds to the narrative; adding to the emotional weight of each pass or score.

In the end, it really is just the background. Part of the setting that our culture (and a lot of others) deems important.

The season is over and at this point it’s weird. It’s almost exhausting to think of having to do this again next year. As a fan, I don’t want to have to face another loss in another game like this. I can’t think of anything else to compare it to.

I’m sure come September, I’ll be all ready to go, but the finality of this game is deadening.   The narrative has run dry; stopped 5 yards too short. It’s ready to go into the metaphorical box in the attic with 15 other years of memories, only to be looked at during nostalgic binges.

I guess this is a letter goodbye to this season. The credits are rolling and Andy has just handed over Woody, never to see him again.

Ahhh sports.

 

Sports

super-bowl-2013_03

In my last post I wrote about my history with the San Francisco 49ers; the ups and downs I faced as a young sports fanatic. I concluded it, by stating that this year’s Super Bowl is personal for me. When you think about this though, it’s quite strange. I have no stock in the 49ers, I know nobody involved in the organization, if they win or lose it should not personally affect me in any way, shape, or form…

Yet, I have probably faced more heartbreak (of which I consider genuine) at the hands of sports teams than I have girls, friends, or anything of the sort. I have a personal investment in these people who have mastered a set of skills that society has for some reason deemed important.

Why is that?

These are questions that I have pondered, not extensively, but a little bit, which I think is something that is more than the average sports fan has. Why do we love sports? Why don’t people ask themselves this more often?

I guess the main reason is that it is a distraction from our lives and thinking about it takes away from people’s main purpose in enjoying it, the not thinking aspect of it. But I do think critical thinking is important, so think about it I will.

I have broken down this attraction to sports (and subsequently games as well) into 3 different categories. Each person has their reason for enjoying sports and I think that they may fall into at least 1 of 3 categories: Competition, Creativity, and Community.

Competition:

Competition is a desire to see who is the best; a desire to see the best physical specimens doing what they’re best at and seeing one conquer another. This perhaps comes out of some Darwinian nature or throwback to days when war and world domination was even more common than it is now (or at least more violently prevalent, because this certainly exists in more subtle ways today).

I don’t really ascribe to this worldview that mankind is mere beast and I’d like to think that we can choose to live above a “survival of the fittest” ethic, but sports certainly does give us a world where compassion is naught (though sometimes we’d like it to exist which I will touch on later).

I think you see this type of fan particularly in more violent sports such as mixed martial arts, boxing, or football. Football fans have recently faced a dilemma between keeping the violent nature of the sport at the risk of the health of the people who participate in it and with each new rule there is always the outcry of complaints that they are ruining the sport.

Even something like the sprints of track and field play into this, where we just want to see someone run as fast as possible out-performing each other person by pure physical power and not much else.

This aspect of sports is one that is not the main attraction for me, but even I fall into the desire to see who is the best. This can be seen in relentless pursuit of perfecting playoff systems in order to truly find out which team or person is best and to label them “champion”. Even baseball has recently done this, a sport which can be argued, is the least physically dominant and leads every sport in the use of statistics (MATH!) in winning (see Moneyball). Every sport has a desired outcome which seeks to discover who is the best, the way the game or sport is designed figures into the second category.

Creativity:

Sports has no inherent meaning and adds no value to our lives. They exist in an interesting place that is between entertainment, recreation, and business. When you think about it, it is similar to the place that movies, music, and television play within popular culture. There are people who make a living off of each, those who do it because they love it, and those who pay for it because they enjoy the experience it gives them. While sports probably fits closer to the low culture aspects of everything listed above in that it is more pure entertainment and doesn’t purposefully tell us about the human condition, but the mere fact that people set about creating something in order to add (or take away) from our lives in some sense makes it a kind of art.

Each sport has its own set of rules and strategies to adapt to those rules in order to provide the best possible outcome for the person or team participating. The process of coming up with rules in order to create a satisfying game requires some sort of creative ability. Sports are not invented on a daily basis, but if you consider each sport as its own medium like painting or sculpting then it works like any other art form. Most painters and sculptors base their works on hundreds of years of people who have come before them; building upon the use of basic tools and ideas to express something of their own. Look at any elementary school recess and you will see kids adapting a set of rules provided to them by professionals to fit their own limitations (examples of this would be the creation of “Ghost Runners” in whiffle ball, the existence of kickball, or 2-hand touch football with all its street adaptations.)

Sports do not provide inherent meaning to our lives and at times they might seem to bring us back to some barbaric mindset, but they also help us to satisfy a creative itch that seems to exist in mankind. Most games are brilliantly drawn out down to the most minute detail, something that does not get talked about or really recognized at all.

Community:

It is a common notion that man wants to be a part of something larger than his or herself.   Poet John Donne famously put it “no man is an island”, connecting with others is something that seems to resonate within most people.

Sports have become more than a game played between individuals on some sort of playing field, they have become historical events filled with analysts, experts, and places dedicated to discussing each step taken. There are blogs, radio stations, podcasts, newspapers, water coolers, etc… all providing forums for talking about sports.

There is no doubt in my mind that sports have become such a giant part of our existence due to this ability to bring people together. We talk about coaching decisions, misplays, and phenomenons that we can hardly believe existed, things that are not as enjoyable when experienced alone.

Last weekend’s 49ers game that advanced them to the Super Bowl (and inspired this barrage of thoughts) I, due to circumstances, had to watch alone. While the game was one of the most important sporting events to me personally in my lifetime, it simply was not the same as watching it with people I grew up watching games with. I wanted to feel excited, but felt restrained.

On the opposite hand, complete strangers will embrace in celebration due to sporting feats. Going to a game or even a sports bar with unknown people cheering on the same team will draw people closer than many other things will. You can’t get some men to say more than 5 words to each other (I know because I am one of them), but throw sports into the mixture and you’ll get a conversation longer than this post.

This is probably the reason that people can get so violent over sports. It is like the reverse effect, causing people to antagonize and even act aggressively toward one another despite the fact that the outcome of a game shouldn’t really affect them (all betting aside, literally).

Sports is not alone in providing community for people, really being a subculture mostly consisting of middle-aged men, more manly types of men (mostly). I think it does the same thing that celebrity gossip sites and magazines do for women, science fiction does for nerds, and politics does for most of its followers (these are all sweeping generalizations), it provides a way to connect to others.

While all 3 of these aptly C-starting categories provide reasons as to why sports are such a huge part of our world, it doesn’t fully explain the heartbreak and joy experienced as a sports follower, I hope to continue this in a later post (perhaps in a post-Super Bowl lament or in jubilance depending on what happens) about the way we seem to crave positive narratives in our lives.