Monthly Archives: August 2014

College Football: My Guilty Pleasure

College football has been taking some pretty hard hits lately. With disgruntled players considering unionizing and lawsuits over revenue sharing, I can no longer pretend it’s just a game. Ignoring the legal issues to focus on the field doesn’t help. Every bone-crushing tackle makes me cringe and worry about the serious risk of brain injury to the players.

Nevertheless, I confess: I can’t wait for Saturday. I’ll watch a full two hours of pre-game coverage and analysis on ESPN. I’ll proudly wear the Maize and Blue of my alma mater, University of Michigan. At kick-off, I’ll be in position in front of my 60-inch flat screen where I will remain – and there will be silence – until the clock reads 00:00.

But I won’t feel entirely good about it. College football has become a guilty pleasure.

I used to watch games with such joyful and overwhelming enthusiasm – the sport was all about school spirit, athleticism, and sportsmanship – not to mention promising young men earning college degrees while taking the field for the love of the game. What’s not to like?

Plenty, according to recent media coverage.

In April, the National Labor Relations Board voted that Northwestern University football players are employees rather than students, and can vote to unionize.

By late summer, a federal judge ruled that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) couldn’t prevent athletes from selling rights to their names and images, essentially opening the door for them to be paid to play.

Worst of all, new research on brain injuries indicates that even college football players who don’t suffer concussions show changes in brain structure and cognitive performance. I have never jumped for joy when an opposing player limps off the field, but now I can’t even celebrate the big plays in which no one appears to get hurt.

I’m not sure how I will get through Saturday’s festivities. Beer may help.

But I don’t buy that all the news is bad.

I still believe football players are not employees but student athletes – and the “student“ part comes first. The data back me up: Division 1 football players have a 71% Graduation Success Rate (a percentage which outperforms their non-athlete peers and has been increasing).

As for “pay to play,” it’s not necessary. Scholarship athletes often get accepted to universities they could never attend on their credentials alone – a priceless benefit by itself, not to mention free tuition, room, and board. Of course some football teams earn money for their schools, but individual contributions are negligible. If the top 2 players from every Division 1 football program dropped out tomorrow, those schools would not lose a cent of revenue.

So I don’t feel guilty because players aren’t really receiving an education (they are) or because they aren’t properly compensated for their contributions (again, they are). The head injury risk is harder to get over.

All of us who watch football expect to see injuries sometimes – it’s a rough game, but sprained ankles and torn ACL’s will heal. The brain, however, is tricky. Best-case scenario, a player with brain injuries sometimes loses his keys or has moments of forgetfulness. Worst case, he suffers from chronic traumatic encephalopathy and its terrible symptoms like depression, aggression, and dementia.

Can anyone enjoy watching football anymore?

I intend to try on Saturday. My school spirit is still strong and my heart will beat faster when the marching band (of which I was a proud member at Michigan) plays the fight song. I can’t not watch. I will feel a little guilty for liking it.

Advances in helmet technology, brain injury research, and even changes to game rules may alleviate some of the risk (and also my guilt) in the future. I sincerely hope it does, because I love my college football.

But players’ brains are more important.



What To Say To A Whistleblower

I love the South. One of my favorite things about life below the Mason-Dixon line is the abundance of good manners. People say “ma’am.” Strangers smile at each other and pass the time of day. Nearly anyone will cheerfully give you directions or offer you a sweet tea.

This is a pleasant change from my current home in New England, where moods tend to match the winter weather (frigid) and fellow pedestrians regularly ignore my enthusiastic “good morning!” even when I say it with eye contact and a smile. And I know they can hear me.

But my southern comfort was shattered on a recent vacation in North Carolina. I was enjoying (suffering through) my morning jog on a road near the beach when my running playlist was interrupted by an unwelcome “Whoooo-hoo!”

It came from a scuzzy man in a scuzzy truck (isn’t it always a truck?) towing a scuzzy trailer. The only thing missing from this picture was a confederate flag and a pair of rubber testicles dangling from the trailer hitch. If you haven’t ever seen these, you haven’t spent enough time in the South (true, this kind of automotive decoration doesn’t seem consistent with gracious manners – it’s one of life’s great contradictions).

Before I could register what had just happened, the greasy-haired perpetrator had sped past me. I only caught a fleeting glimpse of his skinny, shirtless torso withdrawing back inside the truck’s cab. I choked on the exhaust and gathered my wits about me.

What to say?

At this point I would be saying it only to myself, but I spent the rest of my run in an indignant huff. I prepared for the dreaded possibility that the truck might turn around and pass me by again. Here’s what I wanted to reply:

“What is wrong with you? Can’t you see I’m a forty-something mother of teenagers? Speaking of mothers, what would yours think if she could see you right now? The poor woman would surely die of embarrassment, Bless Her Heart. Aren’t you supposed to be on your way to work? I’m sure your boss will be delighted to know you’re making rude overtures to strange women while driving around in a truck with the company logo on it. I will write a scathing Yelp review of your landscaping company, and women everywhere will boycott them. They will go out of business and good luck finding employment, you obnoxious prick. Thanks a ton for spoiling my morning and making me feel like I want to crawl into a hole. Seriously, what is wrong with you? Who behaves this way?”

In truth, plenty of people behave this way. I’ve been jogging since I was about 16 years old and have been honked, hollered, and jeered at more times than I can count. But it’s never happened in New England.

I’m not saying my current neighborhood is more civilized or better mannered than anywhere else. More likely, the taboo against speaking to strangers, even in objectionable ways, is strong as granite. Also possible: it’s usually just too damn cold to roll down the windows of a moving vehicle.

I still love the South. I’ll go back, even to North Carolina, because the ocean is warmer, the sun is hotter, and the real estate is cheaper than here in New England. But next time I go running, I’ll remember to watch out for pickup trucks. And if I see that jerk again, I will have something to say.

PS: This will probably be the only time I link to Playboy content from my blog, but they published a pretty helpful guide for their catcalling-inclined readers.  Check it out: CatCall Flowchart