Category Archives: Sports

Book of the Month Discussion: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis. [Sticky Post]

The story of Michael Oher’s intellectual development is also the story of his body type. Michael Oher is rare. Huge. A freak of nature. He’s also an anomaly of nurture and it has taken a village to raise him. The Blind Side by Michael Lewis chronicles Oher’s turbulent childhood, his unlikely ascent into professional football and the importance and evolution, largely monetary, of the left tackle position in the NFL. The position Oher would come to play in college for Old Miss and, currently, the Baltimore Ravens.

Using a mixture of stark language and deftly placed insight, Michael Lewis describes the evolution of the left tackle with the language and rationale of free market capitalism.  In the early nineties, the N.F.L.’s  free agency system meant that teams could “buy the players they needed,” but as would soon become obvious, not all positions were created equal. “The price of protecting quarterbacks was driven by the same forces that drove the price of other kinds of insurance,” Lewis writes. “It rose with the value of the asset insured, with the risk posed to that asset.”

The person charged with protecting that million-dollar golden boy needed strength, speed, agility and bodily bulk— a massive butt and legs as well as long arms—to give the quarterback a few extra seconds in the pocket was unlike the other offensive lineman. It’s rare for someone to have all these specific physical traits, and for the players who had them, the price was high. Very high.

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Book of the Month: The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

This month we’ll be reading The Blind Side by Michael Lewis.

In an excerpt called “The Ballad of Big Mike,” Lewis tells the story of Michael Oher, an impoverished kid from Memphis who through a strange confluence of events ends up in the legal custody of a wealthy white family. At the time of his adoption at 16, Oher had an IQ of 80.  With his adoptive parents’ resources and support from the Christian high school he attended, his I.Q. rose by 20 to 30 points. He went from foraging through the garbage for food to traveling on his father’s private jet. It’s also worth mentioning here Oher is also a behemoth —6’5, nearly 300 lbs. and boasting a basketball player’s physical grace — so by the time he graduated high school, he was on the wish list of every top college football recruiter in the country.

Now, the ballad comes to the big screen. The movie based on the book comes out November 20th, and the trailer seems to be focused on the relationship between Oher (Quinton Aaron) and his adoptive mother Leigh Ann Tuohy (Sandra Bullock), as well as the kid’s massive size. (Frankly, the trailer is worrisome and strikes me as an “Inner City Teacher Movie.”)

What the trailer and the NYT article barely mention is Lewis’ analysis of the “evolution of the game” — specifically the left tackle, whose job it is to protect right-handed quarterbacks’ blind side from rushing defenders (hence the title). As the N.F.L. has opened up for passing offenses, left tackles have grown in importance, and are now the highest paid players after quarterbacks.  Oher, who was drafted in the first round out of Ole Miss, is an almost prototypical lineman: huge, strong and surprisingly agile.

The movie and book trailers are after the jump.

Happy Reading.

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Of Concussions and Cruelty.

x-posted at False Hustle

In the end, I guess I was one of the lucky ones. I left the game of football with a touch of arthritis, a few battle scars, a bruised ego and memories that get all the more grand and outlandish with each passing year. Did I ever tell you all about that time I scored four touchdowns in a single game?

Now, maybe it seems odd to say that I was lucky. I played football in high school and not-so-much in college, leaving behind mostly a legacy of mediocrity. I never got even the faintest whiff of the dream of every kid who puts on the pads – the NFL. It took me about two practices at TCU in my sophomore year to figure out that LaDainian Tomlinson had a future in the game, and that I had a future writing about it.

So, what makes me lucky? Here, try some Malcolm Gladwell:

The HITS data suggest that, in an average football season, a lineman could get struck in the head a thousand times, which means that a ten-year N.F.L. veteran, when you bring in his college and high-school playing days, could well have been hit in the head eighteen thousand times: that’s thousands of jarring blows that shake the brain from front to back and side to side, stretching and weakening and tearing the connections among nerve cells, and making the brain increasingly vulnerable to long-term damage. People with C.T.E., Cantu says, “aren’t necessarily people with a high, recognized concussion history. But they are individuals who collided heads on every play—repetitively doing this, year after year, under levels that were tolerable for them to continue to play.”

That’s pretty bad. And then I begin to think, maybe I wasn’t so lucky. I had one diagnosed concussion in my abbreviated football career, in my first week of college football practice. Looking back over the course of my playing days, I’m almost certain that I had another during a game in my senior year of high school – I was blindsided by a defender, went to the sideline to throw up and I don’t remember much more about that night. I kept playing, though. It was a bad night.

But what I’m not tallying are all the other little collisions that might have bruised my brain in some way. I started playing the game when I was a mere child, in the streets and backyards of my neighborhood, and started playing organized tackle football when I was 10.

What do all those thuds and thumps over the years mean? Gladwell, again:

Yet the HITS data suggest that practice—the routine part of the sport—can be as dangerous as the games themselves. … In one column, the HITS software listed the top hits of the practice up to that point, and every few moments the screen would refresh, reflecting the plays that had just been run on the field. Forty-five minutes into practice, the top eight head blows on the field measured 82 gs, 79 gs, 75 gs, 79 gs, 67 gs, 60 gs, 57 gs, and 53 gs. One player, a running back, had received both the 79 gs and the 60 gs, as well as another hit, measuring 27.9 gs. This wasn’t a full-contact practice. It was “shells.” The players wore only helmets and shoulder pads, and still there were mini car crashes happening all over the field.

I had my fair share of car crashes. And, believe it or not, this was the part of the game that I enjoyed the most. I could hardly get my heart rate up for a game that didn’t involve some collisions. To this day, I still long for the chance to randomly stiff-arm someone, or to bury my head into someone’s sternum. Yes, I understand this makes me a Neanderthal.

But it’s this yearning that makes me object to the premise of Gladwell’s piece: that football and dogfighting are more or less the same. Gladwell points out that one of his interview subjects, former NFL lineman Kyle Turley, said “he loved playing football so much that he would do it all again.” You’ll find that most ex-players feel the same way. Nothing feels quite like playing under those lights, on that gridiron.

I don’t pretend to know much about dogs or dogfighting but, to me, the major difference is the element of choice. I – and thousands of others – willingly submitted ourselves to the brutal theater that is football. But dogs, on the other hand, are maniacally conditioned by their owners to “please (their) master,” said Carl Semencic in “The World of Fighting Dogs”. This is coercion, this is abuse, this is sick.

Honestly, I can’t have a serious debate about whether football and dogfighting share any traits other than violence. But Gladwell’s piece is compelling in that we see how players can drive themselves to ruin in much the same way as a “game” canine. The toll seems to be tremendous, man or beast.

Beyond that, I’m much more interested in how dogfighting is juxtaposed against a culture of sport hunting or some of the uglier practices of our industrial food complex. Michael Vick is condemned; Sarah Palin is celebrated. But why?

Because in the end, football can be brutal. But at least everyone knows they’re getting played.

Sound and Fury Signifying…What Exactly?

David Post wonders how much our news culture distorts the information we consume.

I call it the ESPN Effect – mistaking filtered reality for reality.  We do it a lot.  All I hear from my left-leaning friends these days is how crazy people on the right are becoming, and all all I hear from my right-leaning friends is how crazy people on the left are becoming, and everyone, on both sides, seems very eager to provide evidence of the utter lunacy of those on the other side.  “Look how crazy they’re becoming over there, on the other side!” is becoming something of a dominant trope, on left and right.  It is true that we’re seeing more crazy people doing crazy things on the other side (whichever side that may be, for you) coming across our eyeballs these days.   But that’s all filtered reality; it bears no more relationship to reality than the Sportscenter highlights bear to the game of baseball.

Back in the 1990’s, the Phoenix Suns drafted this cat named Chris Carr out of Southern Illinois. Because he was athletic and dunked on people pretty ferociously, he regularly made it onto SportsCenter. The thing was, he had a lot of holes in his game and he didn’t actually play that much,  and bounced around the League for a few years before going to play overseas. But if you had only watched  SportsCenter, you would have sworn dude was a future All-Star instead of a role player,* because television news’s inclination toward spectacle comes at the expense of context.

As egregious as ESPN is, that soul-crushing parade of bloviation is tonally indistinguishable from what you’d see on CNN. It’s the nature of an image-centered medium; it’s harder for a TV reporter to make dry events like city council meetings visually compelling, which is why the local 11 o’clock broadcasts always lead with crime or fire stories. (If they really considered fires and shootings “important” stories, you’d see stations circle back to those stories at some point to cover the aftermath, and yet they never, ever do.)

This is especially problematic when it comes to important, complicated issues like health care reform, which is why we spent all August seeing footage of really, really dumb people yelling nonsense at members of Congress instead of explanations of the various bills being debated.  (I guess this is actually marginally better than our usual “rash of shark attacks” or The Annual Missing White Girl Search in that it bears some loose relationship to social consequence.) The most camera-friendly voices on policy issues are usually the ones that are the loudest and most outrageous, but not necessarily the ones those are best-informed. For obvious reasons, this is kinda terrifying. I think the lunacy we’re seeing on the right is real, but our media landscape — which will lead broadcasts with violent crime stories regardless of whether crime rates are falling or dropping — make it hard to figure out how widespread it is or how deep it runs.

Still, none of this really explains why local TV stations or national networks never endeavor to do any original investigative reporting. (As blackink and quadmoniker can attest, local stations just follow-up on the legwork done by dogged print reporters.) Stories that do become national news via TV outlets  are almost always pseudo-events, like when prominent politicians say something stupid or wacky in front of a camera or a live mike. It’s almost always an accident; the stories have to fall into their laps. There’s an irony in broadcast journalism making the strongest case for why we need newspapers to survive.

*Meanwhile, Mitch Richmond, a consistent, unflashy player, put in  Hall of Fame-caliber work for Sacramento while no one was looking.

Whoa.

This is spooky.

Digging the Nate Silver shout-out at the end.

Your Monday Random-Ass Roundup: Nuts about ACORN

Today in my office, a pimp and his prostitute came looking for advice on where to score some blow and advice on how to fill out their W-2s. When I told them what they could do, they accused me of encouraging them to engage in public masturbation. I hope Beck and Co. don’t get hold of the video:

pimp

It’s hard out here for a pimp. No, really. James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles (not pictured above) risked their lives, limbs and a camcorder to infiltrate the den of “thug criminality” that is the largest organization of poor and working families in America.

This is a time for us to appreciate their deep commitment to maligning ACORN, which clearly is an issue of utmost importance in these most troubled and divisive of times. I am sure their hearts and motives are pure.

Now if we can, let us move forward and consider some of the news of the weekend:

1. As always, if you want to learn something new or interesting or possibly infuriating about health care reform, reading Ezra Klein is essential. (Blackink)

2. Are pregnancy, bunions, acne, or receiving therapy or counseling pre-existing conditions that might allow health insurers a reason to deny people coverage? Of course. Best health care system in the world, eh? (Blackink)

3. Officially, according to a U.S. Census report, the Bush years were full of fail. h/t John Cole. (Blackink)

4. Go with your first instincts, Roxanne Wilson. (Quadmoniker)

5. Massachusetts might appoint an interim replacement for the U.S. Senate seat left vacant by the late Ted Kennedy by the end of the week. (Blackink)

6. In an e-mail sent to friends and supporters last week, Van Jones made his first public comments since resigning from the White House. Said Jones: “Of course, some supporters actually think I will be more effective on the ‘outside.’ Maybe so. But those ideas always remind me of that old canard about Winston Churchill. After he lost a hard-fought election, a friend told him: ‘Winston, this really is just a blessing in disguise.’ Churchill quipped: ‘Damned good disguise.’ I can certainly relate to that sentiment right now. :)” (Blackink)

7. D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty is cutting federally funded child care in the poorest wards of the District. Making it more difficult for single mothers to bring in money (or inviting child neglect cases) seems like a counter intuitive way of addressing city budget issues, at best. (Shani-o)

8. Something we probably won’t see in any campaign brochures from Texas Gov. Rick Perry next year: Texas remains first in the nation in rates of uninsured residents and uninsured children. Upholding family values and rebuffing creeping socialism … I love my home state. (Blackink)

9. Also related: Perry is not a very smart or honest man. (Blackink)

10. House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) backed off prior claims that President Obama is a socialist because, uh … he’s not one. (Blackink)

11. Among those at the Values Voter Summit this weekend, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee was the clear choice for 2012 Republican presidential nominee. The 600 voters said abortion was the most important issue in determining their choice. What else is there to say about that? (Blackink)

12. Also at the Values Voter Summit, the chief of staff for Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma made the case that: 1. we should trust the sexual instincts of prepubescent boys; 2. bigotry against homosexuals is fine by him; and 3. “all pornography is homosexual pornography.” Video here. Sigh … Michael Schwartz and his ilk are almost completely beyond ridicule. (Blackink)

13. So rather than resort to ridicule, Amanda Marcotte moves the conversation forward to talk about some of the very real problems with porn. Which don’t include making boys turn gay. (Blackink).

14. Don’t you love links about porn? Yes. Well, here’s another: “The awkward truth, according to one study, is that 90 percent of 8-to-16-year-olds have viewed pornography online. Considering the standard climax to even the most vanilla hard-core scene today, that means there is an entire generation of young people who think sex ends with a money shot to the face.” Whoa. (Blackink)

15. Feminist Finance speculates on where she’d be if she hadn’t rejected all the “dudely money advice” she’s received over the years. (Shani-o)

16. BitchPh.D puts out a call for volunteers for the 40 days for CHOICE campaign. (Blackink)

17. For John and Elizabeth Edwards’ sake, I hope his former aide is lying about this: “Mr. Edwards once calmed an anxious Ms. Hunter by promising her that after his wife died, he would marry her in a rooftop ceremony in New York with an appearance by the Dave Matthews Band.” Please let that be a lie. (Blackink)

18. Let us mourn the death of American civility with Jude at First Draft. (Blackink)

19. Bruce Bartlett remembers Irving Kristol, father of neoconservatism. (Jamelle)

20. According to Marcus Buckingham at the Huff Post, women have grown increasingly unhappy as they made professional and social progress over the past 40 years. There’s a lot to digest in the provocative piece, and I get the feeling something is missing from this analysis. I need someone smarter than me to fill in the gaps. (Blackink)

21. After six years, Leslie Bennetts says The New York Times is finally attempting to set the record straight about the “Opt-Out Revolution” – well-off women who quit their careers to become full-time mothers. (Blackink)

22. Crooked Timber highlights a recent op-ed in The Chronicle of Higher Education that points out the problem of poor, black and Hispanic students choosing to go to less-demanding college institutions and an overreliance on standardized tests. (Blackink)

23. Colorism isn’t just the purview of black folk — it exists in the South Asian community as well. Sepia Mutiny notes a campaign that’s attempting to address the fear of darker skin. (Shani-o)

24. After charges were dropped last week against five men accused of raping a Hofstra University freshman, Amanda Hess parses some of the many problems of living in a rape culture. That includes false rape accusations. (Blackink)

25. In case there was ever any doubt, Andrew Sullivan has major pull. (Blackink)

26. While I was watching the Giants thump the Cowboys and the season premiere of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” apparently Neil Patrick Harris and the Emmy Awards were putting on quite the show. (Blackink)

27. I’m finding myself agreeing with Alyssa again: you should definitely get down to your nearest newstand or bookstore, pick up a copy of the latest New Yorker and read Ta-Nehisi’s piece about MF Doom and hip-hop. And, like her, I might quibble a bit with a few parts of the feature. Then again, we’re both from the South. (Blackink)

28. Harry Allen asks if Kanye is doomed to become “the next O.J.”? At the least, Kanye’s “victimization” of Taylor Swift has drawn out some of the bigots among us. (Blackink)

29. Nearly four-fifths of NFL players are bankrupt or struggling financially within two years of retirement. The Business Insider looks at some of the reasons why. (Blackink)

30. And because I’m from Houston and hate the Dallas Cowboys, I really enjoyed this:

Feel free to drop some links that would be of interest or chat among yourselves. Let’s hope we’re all in for a great week.

Deuces.

Your Monday* Random-Ass Roundup: Heard ‘Em Say

Believe it or not, I’ve been known to be a jackass. Ask anyone who had the misfortune of knowing me in college. Or a couple years ago. I really hope President Obama isn’t asked about it anytime soon:


Anyway, lots of things have happened since our last Monday roundup. Here’s a few of them, a week and almost a full day later than usual. Sorry. I blame it on death panels and creeping socialism:

1. As you all probably know, President Obama called Kanye West a “jackass” for his behavior at the VMAs. But that moment was supposed to be off-the-record, and so Terry Moran, the ABC reporter who tweeted the comment, took it down. ABC has apologized. (G.D.)

2. Alyssa agrees: maybe Kanye really does need a break. (Blackink)

3. One picture tells a million – or two million – lies. Politifact gets to the truth about the latest “tea party” in D.C. (Blackink)

4. A new poll says that 73% of doctors want a public option. (G.D.)

5. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich attempts to bring some sanity – and facts – to talk about the public option. (Blackink)

6. But even if there is a public option, Obama has plans to go beyond language in a House bill to make sure no public money goes to pay for abortions under health care reform. Why? (Blackink)

7. Speaking of health care reform, file this under everything is always good for Wal-Mart. (Blackink)

8. The FDA just approved a new vaccine against the H1N1 virus that causes swine flu. (Blackink)

9. Despite evidence to the contrary, many people, especially Southerners, think crime is on the rise. (Quadmoniker)

10. 50 Things being killed by the Internet. (Belleisa)

11. In eight states and D.C., being a victim of domestic violence is a pre-existing condition. No, really. (Blackink)

12. As if South Carolina tourism officials didn’t have a hard enough sell, a number of people have indicated they’ll be staying away from the Palmetto State following GOP Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst at President Barack Obama. (Blackink)

13. From Jonathan Chait’s fantastic review of a new biography about Ayn Rand: “‘She wrote of one of the protagonists of her stories that “he does not understand, because he has no organ for understanding, the necessity, meaning, or importance of other people’; and she meant this as praise.” Well, that explains a lot. (Blackink)

14. This is rich: President Bush thought Sarah Palin was underqualified to serve on the national level. Well, he would know best. Also, he thinks Hillary Clinton has a “fat keister.” Classy. (Blackink)

15. Wow. A study in England found that when heroin was given to addicts in supervised clinics, drug use and street crime dropped dramatically. (Blackink)

16. Sort of related: Newly released FBI numbers show that we’re nearing epic fail in the “War on Drugs.” (Blackink)

17. Call it “The Chinese Dream“: a number of Africans are migrating to China in search of economic opportunity. In fact, a 10 square kilometer area in Guangzhou has been dubbed “Chocolate City.” (Blackink)

18. After years of being the envy of the nation, California’s higher education system- if not the state itself – could face a bleak future if it follows through on a plan for a large fee increases. (Blackink)

19. Reports of sexual misconduct of federal inmates by prison staff members have doubled over the past eight years, according to The Washington Post. In many places, as Matt points out, being sentenced to prison is a form of abuse itself.

20. A video of Quentin Tarantino’s best movie picks since 1992. And “Friday” made the list. (Belleisa)

21. Racewire calls Michael Moore’s latest film, “Capitalism, A Love Story,” his best work yet. (Blackink)

22. This post, from Booker Rising, is disgusting. And not even close to funny. There will be more on this later. (Blackink)

23. From Jacket Copy, the LA Times book blog, a site called Slaughter House 90210 which mixes pop culture images with literary captions. (Belleisa)

24. Is anyone really surprised that Jay Leno’s new show was not that funny? (Blackink)

25. The Face of Foreclosure: a Planet Money listener offers up aLink series of photographs outside the foreclosed home of Minneapolis woman Rosemary Williams. (Blackink)

26. South African runner and unfortunate international curiosity Caster Semenya has now been placed on suicide watch. I strongly agree with Pam: “She deserved — and deserves — so much better from the collective us than what she’s received.” (Blackink)

27. Michael Jordan will never let us forget that he was better than everyone else. Not even as he’s being inducted into the Hall of Fame. (Blackink)

28. And give it up, New York. LeBron ain’t playing for the Knicks. Unless, of course, he somehow tires of playing on a winning team. (Blackink)

Told you I was a jackass.

* It’s actually Tuesday.