Tag Archives: husky football

Ending my one remaining newspaper dependency

Warning: wandering blog entry. Those looking for a carefully structured persuasion attempt, well, that’s why this doesn’t cost the reader any money.

A couple of days ago, I deleted the RSS feed that used to give me Adam Jude’s Washington Husky football coverage via the Seattle Times, Seattle’s surviving daily mainstream paper. My link had shifted to collecting some other aggregation of Times headlines, it needed fixing, and figuring out the new RSS bookmark was more effort than their coverage was worth.

Since I do not actually buy a newspaper, and since I do my level best to block ads, refuse cookies, nerf scripts, and otherwise sidestep every effort the news media make to eke some benefit from my freeloading, one might fairly level some accusations at me:

  • I’m a freeloader.
  • I am contributing to the death of the hometown newspaper concept.
  • I’m probably in violation of their terms of service.

Even if all of those are just, I don’t care. Because:

Newspapers seem to get the vast majority of their content from wire services anyway. Most of it is the same words one could read anywhere. At no time do I ask them to cover anything. They choose what to cover, and are quite immune to any desires or non-desires on my part. I don’t think that becoming a paying customer would change that much. My business just isn’t that big a deal for them to lose, if they were to gain it to start with.

The newspaper is a corporation of some sort, thus it must do or be something exceptional to qualify for any sympathy from me. In fact, Jude’s efforts at covering Husky football are a major step downward from his predecessor Bob Condotta, one of the hardest working sportswriters in the business. I’m not sure if this speaks more to Jude’s work ethic or to the paper’s spreading his available hours thinner, but I’m not required to care. I care about reading the news concerning Husky football, and the hometown paper is no longer the best source. It might not be the third best. It was once the very best, no contest. If Condotta were still covering the Dawgs, I wouldn’t be so hasty.

That’s a business decision by the paper. My choice is also a business decision: the coverage wasn’t worth paying for before, and now it’s not worth the effort to avoid paying for. If they don’t want people to make choices on how they read the material, the executives are welcome to take down the website. I certainly have no right to object. No one forces them at bayonet point to post anything.

My issue is that the expectation of empathy seems to go only one way: from everyone to the consumer. I hate that in society:

“Give to me/do for me/let me get away with/make allowances for me.”

“And in return, you will what?”

“Well…er…I’ll do the work I am paid to do.”

“Those are the key words: you get paid to do that. You are not owed more. If you want more compensation, that’s between you and your employer.”

It gets old, this business of people and institutions asking me to care about their problems without proposing to care about mine. “Give to me” is getting old. I like reciprocity. I care about my neighbors’ feelings because they care about mine. I care about letting people merge on the highway because I am often allowed to merge, and it feels like participation in a practice of cordial kindness. I care about my clients because I respect them, and because they pay me to offer them my very best. I’m not entitled to ask for extras from them. I quote a price, I am or will be paid, and that is all the compensation I have any right to request. Sure, it’s nice to get a complimentary signed copy of the finished book, but they aren’t obligated, and I have no right to guilt them about it. If it was that important to me, I should have negotiated it as part of my compensation. It’s nice to be print-credited, but the same logic applies. They aren’t under any obligation to do that unless we negotiate it. Of course, if I have done my work well, I won’t have to request it of them. That is purely on me, to leave them feeling warmly toward me and that they received better value than they anticipated. Good service leaves a client feeling expansive and generous-spirited. And it’s not up to the client to tell me how to do that. I’m presenting myself as the knowledge source. It’s up to me to figure out how to give the best service that is in my power.

I don’t have any evidence that the print news media see it that way, though I am sure there are exceptions.

I do not regard any lengthy, fine-print Terms of Service as morally binding. Want me to regard them as morally binding? Stop making them so long that no one will read them. Stop making the print so fine that they are burdensome to read. Start making them concise and straightforward. Stop sneaking really unpalatable clauses in around page four. Do it in 200 plain English words. Surely you have an editor around there someplace, what with being a newspaper and all.

I find it amazing that people have acquiesced to the statement ‘use of this site constitutes acceptance of these terms.’ It may hold up in court, because that works out well for lawyers (the more complex that legal matters are made, the more often the citizen requires a paid escort to navigate them), but since there’s no enforcement to speak of, I don’t care. If you don’t want me to look at it, don’t post it online. I won’t plagiarize you, of course, because that is against my own ethics, but neither will I just endorse that the site owner has the right to put up ten pages of legalese and consider me morally obligated to respect it. I don’t. If the site owner wants to put it behind a pay wall, fine. Then I have another business decision to make, just as they made theirs.

A good example is the New York Times. Most papers’ websites at least try to make you take cookies, or let all their scripts run. Some won’t work unless you take the cookies. The NYT, which seems to think it’s special, requires a login. Fine. Their prerogative. If I can circumvent that, I will. I’m sure their TOS prohibit that, somewhere deep in the duodenal section, and I am sure that I simply don’t care. If I can’t, that’s fine too. They aren’t that special to me.

Perhaps the biggest reason to give up on the hometown paper’s coverage of my alma mater, though, is that its coverage isn’t as good as what the amateurs are providing. All that cachet, all those resources, and still the amateurs are clobbering them. And I mean clobbering, too. The amateur coverage is prompter, more complete, more interesting, and at least as dependable. It has its homerist moments, but it has always been the consumer’s duty to read critically. Just because hardly anyone seems to bother doing so lately doesn’t relieve each of us of the duty.

What could the newspaper industry have done to avoid this decline? I don’t have the answer. They’re the media professionals, not me. But I can tell them that guilt trips and worsening coverage definitely aren’t the way to go. Is it too bad? Yeah, but it’s not as if this is bucking the trend. Our mainstream TV news is a sad joke. The main grownup world news source available to me is a channel out of Qatar, for gods’ sakes, or one out of the UK.

Of course, if I disable features, I can’t be annoyed with a site for not working as designed. So I’m not. But that’s not what happened here. The Times simply changed its RSS feeds, and it wasn’t worth the effort to fix them.

So I probably won’t be checking out the Times‘ Husky football coverage this season much. And that’s all right.

We’re strapping in for a rough season anyway, it seems. I have a feeling that reading some of the coverage will feel self-laceratory. But I’m a college football fan, and hope springs long-lived if not eternal, and I admit it: I can’t wait for the opening kickoff.

Book review: The David Kopay Story

(This review was originally submitted to Epinions. I am reclaiming my work in edited and updated form.)

So Michael Sam, a linebacker from Missouri with legitimate hopes of being taken in the NFL draft, has come out as gay. He did so knowing that this might impact his opportunity to play at the sport’s highest level. Evidently he had already come out to his college teammates, who respected his confidence and continued to treat him as a teammate.

This takes guts. You know how, when a windshield cracks, it can be repaired provided the crack doesn’t reach the edge? This may be the blow that cracks the glass barrier of discrimination to its edge. While those of us who advocate an end to homophobic discrimination are cheering on Michael Sam, I’d like to remind the world of the man who first struck at the barrier. I have more in common with him than some might realize.

David Kopay was a tough college running back who made it to the professional football ranks through sheer determination and obstinacy, staying there for a decade as a backup and special teams hand. A craggily handsome fellow who ‘came out’ in the mid-1970s while writing The David Kopay Story with Perry Deane Young. And a University of Washington Husky.

David and I, therefore, have walked the same collegiate paths. I’m proud of my alma mater; while no university is perfect, UW (we usually say ‘U-Dub,’ often without the definite article) combines a square mile of carefully landscaped lakeside campus with some of the finest educational tools that exist. As far as I know, it is still the very finest nursing school in the land, and maybe the world. For those with the self-discipline to till them, UW can offer impressively fertile grounds for learning in a rich variety of studies.

We also have good sports teams. But when I think of famous fellow Dawgs who inspire me, the first one that comes to mind is not Football Hall of Famer Hugh McIlhenny. Nor is it legendary quarterback Warren Moon. It is not statesman Warren Magnuson, flying ace and Medal of Honor winner ‘Pappy’ Boyington, activist and decorated veteran Col. Margarethe Cammermeyer, former Speaker of the House Tom Foley, newsman Chet Huntley, actors Richard Karn, Dawn Wells, Joel McHale or Patrick Duffy, or civil rights activist Gordon Hirabayashi–though I’d be honored to meet any of them.

No, when I think of fellow alumni whose hands I would like to shake, David Kopay is the first-stringer.

We must remember that this book was first published in 1977. Jimmy Carter was President. The nation was mired in a post-Vietnam funk. The economy was a hot mess. We had begun to make meaningful the civil rights gains of the 1960s. The Cold War was a reality. We were expecting the next war in Europe, possibly soon, and our military was the next thing to a broken force.

The ex-hippies were just starting to be promoted to lower management, but going home and listening to the Beatles and the Stones on vinyl at home, and clinging to their VW microbuses as tokens of a bygone time when ‘all you needed was love.’ We had partied the hearty party of post-WWII prosperity, we were about done throwing up the morning after, and we were mopping up the puke with a throbbing headache and drinking cranberry juice. And telling everyone to turn that damn music down.

The popular perception of male homosexuality in the 1970s was that it was a personal choice, like becoming a Jehovah’s Witness or a disk jockey. Many also saw it as a dangerous perversion, felonious in many states. Family and friends tended to treat it as a major disgrace. Society treated male homosexuality as a rare, contagious, emasculating disease.

In this timeframe, at the finish of a ten-year NFL career, David Kopay let it be public knowledge that he was homosexual. No one else had done this, especially not someone who had spent nearly a generation in men’s locker rooms where he might–omigawd–see other men naked. It sounds stupid now, but remember the times, and you’ll be able to imagine the reaction.

With Young’s able assistance, Kopay tells us the story of his path to ultimately living as an out gay man. The conflicting desires. The intoxicated sexual incidents with friends and fraternity brothers. How hard he tried to be heterosexual, and the ways in which that hurt women who truly cared for him. The cracks and comments from teammates who had no idea how correct they were, and the way Kopay enjoyed hitting them extra hard in practice. The format alternates between Kopay’s narrative and Young’s commenary, and flows well, with no sense of reading a tennis match. (Not that it’s really germane, but the two were never lovers. Of course, if you co-author a book with someone, you might as well be.)

Kopay’s book impacted popular perceptions of athletes similarly to Jim Bouton’s Ball Four. For many years, the public had practiced voluntary ignorance concerning professional athletes’ humanity. Bouton, another of my great heroes (although it should not be glossed over that Ball Four contains some crude homophobic references that I suspect Bouton regrets today), had made athletes look more human. By coming out, Kopay humanized them in yet another. If part of the population is gay, part of the athlete population will be gay. Kopay’s work destroyed that comfy ability to pretend that wasn’t so.

I find Kopay’s description of his upbringing to ring with truth, which is why I’d recommend it for anyone who wishes to better understand the experience of being gay. Of course he found his early desires and thoughts confusing; he was raised in a very religious home, and there was no manual available in any case to explain that some people happened to prefer same-sex partners. His only clue was that he knew, deep down, that he was more interested in males than females, try as he might to live otherwise. The candor of this self-discovery story, and his coming to terms with it, makes Kopay’s book relevant nearly two generations after its first publication.

By modern standards, his family’s reaction to his coming out would be considered very disappointing. For the 1970s, their reaction was commonplace and mainstream. Kopay lets us see the pain that caused him, the ‘we cannot truly accept you as you are’ hurt that continues to bleed long after. His African American teammates who knew or suspected he was gay were also the most understanding. While the book is explicit, it’s not pornographic. it is more about football than sex, and again, Kopay is straightforward. He was not a big star. He hung on in the pros by sheer force of will. He just wanted to play the game.

That explains another part of the kinship I feel with David Kopay. Armed with moderate athletic talent, he lowered his helmet and charged, pounding his way to a respectable ten-year professional football career. Unlike Kopay, I lacked athletic talent, yet I battled my way to two high school varsity baseball letters, a varsity football letter, and the slightly fear-tinged regard earned by someone lacking a commonsensical regard for his own safety. The only thing that got me any respect was the reckless use of the hardshell helmet against joints, soft parts, and so on. (I once hit a kid hard enough to break one of the steel bolts holding my face mask in place.)

After college, I took up amateur hockey and played it for six years, leaving memories of myself with many; I also played ten years of amateur baseball, making solid contributions to competitive teams (and, I daresay, leaving a few physical calling cards along the basepaths). I refused to accept lack of talent as a disqualifier. I wanted to win, and to do well, and I wanted it bad enough to give all of what little ability I did have. I’ve learned that it’s about 80% what you do with what you have and about 20% what you have to work with. The same ratio held true in college academics, as I learned by underachieving my way through my first two years of school, while others of comparable natural talent made me look rather dumb by comparison.

Kopay set forth to be a collegiate and professional athlete, not an activist. His career was not spectacular, but certainly successful (he was particularly tough on special teams). After that career ended, a challenge far greater than the Rose Bowl came his way. Kopay faced and met that challenge. His account doesn’t dwell on the courage that took; nor should it, because it speaks for itself. Sure, he was afraid; I also would have been. He felt the fear, and did it anyway.

I wish I’d had David Kopay on any or all of my teams. Skills, talents, sexual preference; all secondary considerations. Give me someone who’s honest; give me a comrade; give me someone who wants to win with all his or her heart; give me guts under fire; give me someone who never quits; give me someone who’ll angrily tell me I’m full of it; give me someone who will lead me if I falter, follow me if I lead, and avenge me if I fall.

Let me draft a team loaded with that mentality, and we will make a way.

In the first round of that draft, my team selects David Kopay.

Michael Sam’s step is of similar magnitude. I am glad that today, unlike Kopay’s day, he may look behind him and see not merely a few confidential well-wishers, but a great multitude in which straight allies outnumber those who are gay. This is one of those rare crowds where I feel comfortable. Good luck, Michael.

Our college football ritual

It’s not very writer-nerdy to love college football. Don’t care. My nerd card has far too many punches in life for any pencil-neck to criticize. I do care about graduation rates, education, safety, and conduct within the community, in addition to football. I care that football essentially pays the way for most other sports at most schools, which has made Title IX’s equality requirements financially doable.

The NFL, I don’t much care about. Wake me up if the Broncos make the AFC Championship, especially if it’s against a real team (read: not a newfangled Southern team named after some monstrous feline).

The great thing about college football is that one can have many likes and many hates. However, one’s undergraduate allegiance is nearly always one’s home program, one’s favorite, because you are one of them. They walk the same halls and pathways, fellow participants in history and tradition. So, I like Kansas because I’m from there and my father went there, and Colorado State because both my folks went there, and varying other schools for various reasons. But even though I’m not a Washingtonian, I went to Washington, and thus for me college football begins with purple and gold.

The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold;
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee.

My wife’s varying undergrad schools did not offer football, though for many Alaskans, UW is a sort of default allegiance (and a dream academic destination), like people from Montana who root for the Denver Broncos. In any case, my enthusiasm has somewhat rubbed off on Deb. Husky football has become one of our fall rituals, something to do together. I doubt she’ll ever be a big student of the game, but sometimes this is the way for women: their psyches flex and adjust and adapt better than ours, probably one reason they live longer than we do. It has become one of our marital rituals, Husky football on TV, and she loves her I BARK FOR SARK t-shirt.

The way it works is through nachos. A lot of nachos. Pure nachismo. A whole pizza plate full of them. We make a massive plate of nachos, sit down and watch the game. I believe she likes it partly because I participate in the production (I normally am not much of a cook, though on request I will always take responsibility for providing food). I consider myself an advanced placer of tortilla chips, and am always willing to grate cheese, oil the pan, chop stuff up, whatever strong-back-weak-mind task I can do. This year (or this week, anyway), I am taking a greater role, because I’m making my version of her chorizo chile to put on the nachos. That covers the beans part, the hamburger part and the sauce part.

I do not believe in lame nachos. Nachos are the place to go all in. The only reason to stop putting stuff on top is if it will a) insulate the cheese from melting correctly, or b) cause problems in the oven by bumping against the burners or pouring off the pan. We all know that most cheese tastes better when heated/cooked. There must be no chip not coated in good things. I wouldn’t feed most sportsbar nachos to Deb’s dogs, which I don’t even like.

The general custom is to consume gallons of beer while watching football, but I don’t. It’s emotional for me, sometimes very disappointingly emotional (even depressingly, as in the Tyrone Willingham era), and for me, drinking and being unhappy don’t mix. After it’s over, of course, if I’m pleased with how things went, I’ll definitely have a few celebratory belts, but I don’t like to get really drunk even then.

We’d have people over more often (no way can we eat all that), but we have not really lived in places where there were a lot of Husky fans. Tri-Cities was hardcore Coug country, and the only reason for them to watch UW is to root against us (and even against Oregon, I don’t openly root against my host’s team…some things are best kept to oneself). Boise is hardcore Boise State country, and we haven’t yet met many other Dawgs here. So it’s not really a social tradition, more of a marital one. But it’s a good one, especially when attending games in person is now more cost- and time-prohibitive than ever. (Eight hours of driving, each way. At least one motel night, probably two. Meals. $150 for tickets. Total, maybe $700–which I read as 2/3 of a house payment. Not happening.

So Husky football returns. Go Dawgs.

Let me close with a bit of outspoken opinion on the changes in football, especially with regard to concussion prevention and increasingly stiff penalties for targeting and helmet-to-helmet hits. Yeah, I know this isn’t how we played football in high school, or when my father played in high school. However, please consider these salient realities:

  • Players are stronger, faster and bigger than before. Don’t believe me, look at the rosters then and now.
  • The impacts are harder, and have outstripped the ability of equipment to protect any part of the body completely. In any case, no protection will keep a brain from sloshing around in the braincase.
  • College is for education first and foremost. The goal is to educate young brains, not scramble them.
  • Look at the numbers in education. At some schools, enrollment approaches 60% female. It’s hard to avoid the strong suspicion that, when opportunity is equal and all is based purely on demonstrated academic merit, the women are smarter than we are. If we are on balance dumber than the women, does society need us to get even dumber through repeated head trauma?
  • Look at the later impact on families. We want our young men to grow into good men: good fathers, good husbands. Brain trauma can cause disastrous, erratic behavior, especially later in life. I’ve known of once-decent men who had head injuries and became brutal animals toward their families. With as much domestic violence as we already have, must we not do all we can to prevent more of it? Was my father’s violently abusive behavior partly a product of the three times he was kayoed playing high school football?
  • Football produces people we often admire, some of whom deserve it and some don’t. What about after football? Let me spell this out. Do you want your school’s greatest hero inducted into his school’s pantheon of standouts in a wheelchair, drooling, unable to stand up and thank alma mater and the community for the opportunity and affection? At forty?
  • We live in an era of fanatically overprotective parents. Many will not let their children play football at all. We’ll never know how great those kids might have been. Do you want to make that even worse? My father didn’t want me to play football. It went like this: “Dad, thinking of going out for football. What do you think?” “Lousy idea, son. You’ll wreck your knee, and limp around in pain for the rest of your life, like me.” This from a high school standout in a town where football was king, a lifelong fan of college football. I told him I was going to do it anyway, and he said he wouldn’t stop me, but I can only imagine what my parents were thinking when we’d kick off. I’d pick a target and ram that helmet in there. Broke the bolt holding my face mask in place one time. Hit people with it so hard that I could hear the collective feminine gasps of pained shock from the stands. May well have injured a reasonably gifted mind–for life. And that wasn’t even people hitting me. It was self-inflicted. I already have some memory issues. How much worse will they be as I age? Did I do this to myself? Will I one day find myself tending toward domestic violence I cannot control, and have no honorable alternative but to exit life on my own terms?
  • And last: it takes thirty years for us to know how bad it really is. We are only now learning how much brain damage was done to the sons of the late 1970s and early 1980s. In the meantime, the hits got harder. We won’t find out until thirty years from now what it did to our current generation of young males, but we can expect it to get worse. It cannot begin to get better until we fix it, and wait our thirty years for the payoff. Those thirty years must begin now.

Against all this, the only argument is ‘the pussification of football’ and grumpy old deprecatory stuff like ‘might as well just play flag football, why even bother?’ You tell me which argument makes more sense, that or mine. For my money, if those are your responses, maybe you yourself had a few too many concussions and they’re starting to show, because the weight of all measured reason argues for taking whatever steps necessary to quit turning kids’ brains to granola.

Let me close by mentioning that this is not the first time we’ve confronted this. Do you know why the NCAA was formed? It was because, by the turn of the century (when football still looked a lot like rugby or ‘soccer football,’ as it was called), there were over a dozen deaths on the field nationally in high school and college football. Many more were paralyzed for life. Theodore Roosevelt stepped in and said, paraphrased: “Your choice. You can fix this blood sport, or I will ban it.” Roosevelt was not known as a man who ran from fights, nor discouraged physical trials of strength and guts. In fact, he was a pretty macho president. Yet in this case, he took a stand for rules changes and protective gear. Pussification? You wouldn’t say that to T.R.’s face. He heard the same complaints, and came to the same conclusion I have: if it kills the kids, or ruins them for life, it’s got to be fixed or gotten rid of.

If that means ejecting and suspending anyone who spears, targets the head or whatever, I’m for it. The alternative is the potential decline of the sport.

I want to keep our ritual. I love Husky football enough to save it.