Veterans Affairs: The Uneasy Marriage of Military Money and the NFL (via Grantland)

patriotsAll of sports is a pageant. All sports are, in their own way, propaganda. They create a self-contained ecosystem within which people are convinced to vest themselves — emotionally in their teams, and economically in the various corporate partners with which the institutions of sports have allied themselves. It is a universe of cognitive manipulation that has grown thicker and more complex as the media has changed and accelerated. This is fine for selling beer and shoes and expensive automobiles. It should not be used to sell the idea of military service, and it should not be used to create a false iconography of vicarious heroism for the folks in Section 444.

Most veterans you will see on the field in an NFL stadium, or standing on top of a dugout between innings, are genuinely worthy of the country’s admiration. They’ve earned every cheer they get. They also have earned decent health care and a chance at an education and whatever counseling they need to get beyond what they’ve experienced. What they don’t deserve to be are front people through whom the rich get richer, to be walking advertisements for the services that they already have paid back in full. This is a transaction grotesquely inappropriate for their sacrifices. … Read More

(via Grantland)

The Good Old Hockey Game (via Grantland)

What I miss most about hockey are the different ways things look, and the different ways things sound. There is nothing in sports like walking out into an arena in which everything is dark except for the gleaming sheet of ice below. Nothing sounds quite like the hiss of the blades, and the different sounds of the different tiny detonations — a puck onto a stick, a puck onto the glass, a puck onto the boards, a body into the boards — that make up the action. They are all sharp and varied, like the argumentative calls of exotic crows. What I miss most about hockey are the many ways it is so different from everything else. Everything is so damned vivid. This is, of course, only part of the reason that NHL commissioner Gary Bettman needs to be rendered naked, smeared with honey and jam, and dragged behind a Zamboni across an endless field of anthills.

Or something.

I am not even the greatest of hockey fans, but I know this one thing: Outside of NASCAR fans — who are outliers in so many ways, including, alas, which way many of them would have been rooting at Gettysburg — hockey fans have a more intimate relationship with their sport than do any other fans. Their devotion to the game as a game is more enduring than that of most football fans, and it is far less insufferable than that of most baseball fans, the latter of which, I believe, would be content if the games were contested on spreadsheets by columns of inhuman figures. (A large percentage of football fans also prefers to look on the games as columns of figures, most of which end, oddly enough, with “-10,” or “O/U 65.”) In certain parts of the country, like, say, the Boston area, in which I grew up and I live right now, hockey fans follow the collegiate and professional levels with equal fervor — as opposed to basketball fans with their endless, stupid arguments about whether or not the college game is superior to the NBA version — because, in both cases, you’re simply watching hockey, which is all that matters. … Read More

(via Grantland)

Picking at the Scabs: Week 3

The NFL’s replacement official charade certainly has become a tired to quite tired act. The volume of written responsive outrage is headed that way, too. While it’s good that the media is heeding Jim Leyland’s call for them to hold officials accountable, there’s only so much complaining you can or want to read. This new, weekly feature takes care of the latter problem for you. Each week, we’ll sift through the glut of hyperbolic, whining responses and pull out the best snippets for you.

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Charles P. Pierce:

The players are the only redeeming thing about the sport right now. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady had a remarkable night Sunday, carving up a good defense for 335 yards, and then that defense reasserted itself, shutting New England down to just a field goal in the fourth quarter as Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco engineered two marvelous drives to bring Baltimore back from nine points down. Salted throughout all this action, of course, were bizarre holding calls, odd interference calls, some purely psychedelic calls, and a game-winning field goal that was so close that, all his frustrations coming to a boil, New England nose tackle Vince Wilfork looked very much like he might eat one of the referees who were standing under the goal posts.

Drew Magary:

These a——- don’t even know the rules. . . . Basic rules. I understand when refs f— up rules that are relatively complicated (anything involving an “act common to the game” makes my head go ouchie), but thus far they’ve demonstrated a poorer understanding of the game than Tony Siragusa, and that’s a problem.

Dan Wetzel:

This is Goodell’s Heidi game, a forever blemish he’ll never live down. The lockout may not have been his idea but it’s on his watch. Someone might as well start pre-production on a documentary now, the image of those two confused refs in the corner of the Seattle end zone is sure to go down in history.

NFL:

I think the replacement officials are, like anyone working at a new job, getting better as they gain experience. They need to pick up their game when it comes to relatively minor issues like spotting the ball, but I think that the NFL could use the replacement officials for as long as they need to. They could even use them for the rest of the season, if necessary.

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Did we miss a good one this week? Post it in the comments below. Know of something that should be included next week? Send it to us at aldland[dot]com[at]gmail[dot]com, or @aldlandia.

Whip to Grave: Levon Helm, the Real Voice of America (via Esquire)

This was healing music, but it was in no way peaceful. Levon’s voice made sure of that. It was tough and sound and brooked no easy answers. (When, an album later, he voiced the story of Virgil Kane, a grunt in the Confederate army, he managed to push the story beyond politics. You swear by the mud below your feet and you make a pact with the land that nothing can break.) It was a Southern voice, certainly, but there was in it that universal sense that we are all in this great experiment together, that we hold a number of truths to be self-evident and the ones that Mr. Jefferson listed were only the very beginning of them. That there is a commonwealth that binds us, through the worst of what we can do to each other, and the worst of what we can make of our promise. For all the wild rhetoric and the political posturing, and for all the horror that extended from My Lai to the floor of the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel and back again, that we all had an America to come back to, no matter how long we were away, no matter even if we were half-past dead. Because that America was the America of the tall tale, the underground history, the renegade, buccaneer country that belongs to all of us. Levon Helm told those stories. He gave that history a voice that we could all hear over the din of the times.

He was the true Voice of America, as far as I’m concerned. … Read More

(via Esquire)

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I’ve praised and criticized Charles Pierce here before. I’ve never criticized his ability to write, though, and he posted the excellent textual snapshot excerpted above this morning, as Levon’s health currently and precipitously fades.

Scrutiny of the Bounty: Chapter 2 – The Pretension

The prequel to this story solidly in the rearview mirror, we’ve moved past the command performances of the shock and the horror, and it’s time for the heavy-hitters to weigh in. They haven’t necessarily taken more time to consider the issues presented, even though they usually write for publications that facilitate such pondering through less-frequent publication schedules, but they are Voices, and so they must speak. Why look, here comes Charles P. Pierce right now!

I like Pierce’s writing a lot– he’s Grantland’s best writer– but his last couple articles have fallen off a bit for me. His previous one, about Ryan Braun, definitely felt rushed and awkwardly framed. What bothers me about politics coming through in sportswriting isn’t that I might not agree with the writer’s policy preferences or that I think politics and sports have no overlap (Congress and baseball excepted). It’s that a political lens often seems simultaneously inapplicable and overemphasized. In other words, it’s very unlikely that you are Hunter Thompson and that Richard Nixon is living in the White House phoning in plays for the Redskins. (Quite unlikely, since they’re both dead.) Sometimes it’s best to keep your separate worlds separate. (That’s my experience, anyway.) The point is that Ryan Braun’s situation doesn’t really have much to tell us about our overlord oppressors and the historical War on Drugs.

Follow that up with Pierce’s swing at Gregg Williams’ bounty program, which oozes pretension from the get-go. First-sentence Harvard name drop? Check. First paragraph West Wing reference? Check. We’ve got a mini-thesis on the Mesoamerican ball game before we even scrape the surface of the illusory NFL, with its “silly pretensions” (as opposed to the serious ones that he employs), “preposterous prayer circles,” and “the  dime-store Americanism that’s draped on anything that moves.” Oh, and how could we forget the “suffocating corporate miasma,” whatever that means. The word “Queegish” soon follows, and I realize it’s past my bedtime here in flyover country.

The crux of Pierce’s high-minded caterwauling is a more hushed, but apparently equally urgent Denny Green moment: The Saints’ crime was showing us in daylight that the NFL is what we thought, in the darkness of our willfully ignorant minds, it was. That’s fine. Loss of innocence isn’t not an angle of approach here. It does seem like, though, if football still had its shroud of innocence, it would’ve gone with more of a bang. The head injury issue probably fits the bill a little better, if we’re looking for a recent example, but nobody asked me, and I think we’ve known the real deal about football for awhile.

Next to drummed up (not to say inauthentic) outrage, an apparently necessary exercise in which the horribles are trotted out and reacted to as if witnessed for the first time, and now we’re nearly into a mad libs piece adapted from a reflection on McGwire and Sosa’s home run chase after the word was out on steroids.

This is getting boring to write, which may say something about your experience in reading it. The point is that I am disappointed in Pierce’s article because it seems so unoriginal, overreactionary, and unessential. I never did get into Gregg Easterbrook, but based on what Drew Magary tells me, I think Pierce could be his liberal brother. Pretension is what happens when the stuff that you get to do when you’re a really good writer outpaces and overburdens the thing that made you a good writer in the first place. That’s one way to get to it anyway.

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Related:
Scrutiny of the Bounty: A prequel