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.
Scrutiny of the Bounty: A prequel