Scrutiny of the Bounty: An Epilogue

The prequel and pretension past, along with the run-of-the-mill fodder, we found ourselves– thanks to a reader tip– staring down the barrel of epiloguist Jen Floyd Engel’s perspective-granting long lens in the form of her piece for Fox Sports, “Blaming Saints is height of hypocrisy.” Looking back on the NFL bounty story, Engel seeks to contextualize the thematic strands of that story with those of another and mix in a bit of stern-faced judgment for total effect. Standard-issue English 110.

I can’t specifically recall reading anything of Engel’s before, although I surely have, but the first stumbling point for me came before I even made it to the text. Maybe I still am crotchety after Charles P. Pierce’s bit on this matter, but as someone slightly out of the mold in the nomenclature realm, I have to wonder why Engel goes (presumably) nickname, middle name, last name. If she wants distinction, isn’t Jennifer Floyd Engel the way to do it? For example, Pierce doesn’t use Chuck P. Pierce (although Google suggests he sometimes uses Charlie, but where he does, he drops the middle initial (Google doesn’t know Pierce’s full middle name)). But ok, enough.

After “soak[ing] in all of the moral outrage and denunciations” of NOLA football, Engel shares with us her “first thought”: “Who will play Barry Bonds in this ‘sports tragedy’”?

Huh? Hopefully no one! Why would anyone bring Barry Bonds into this? Watch out sophomore seminar in comparative literature, here comes one now.

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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

Scrutiny of the Bounty: A prequel

We’ve been quiet here lately, though not for a lack of notable sports events, even if they are coming in the one sport that’s currently in it’s offseason. Two big NFL stories have been developing in fits and tumbles over the past week or two: 1) Peyton Manning leaving the Indianapolis Colts, and 2) Gregg Williams and Bountygate. There isn’t much to say about the first story yet, or maybe ever. He’ll go to a team. It won’t be the Titans. And we’ll get some variety of Joe Montana in Kansas City or Brett Favre in New York. He won’t have teammates like Marvin Harrison, Jeff Saturday, and Dallas Clark who are on his level, and we’ll probably see a lot of sad Manningfaces peering out of an unfamiliarly colored helmet.

As for the second story: first, a nod to Deadspin for the title tag to this post, and very quickly second, this:

That out of the way, how much can one really say about the bounties Williams and certainly other coaches paid to players for big hits on important players, and how much does one really want to say given the at least tiresome and likely nauseating cliche-laden moral hand-wringing on the part of the sports media?

Instead, we’ll offer a short, derivative series on the bounty story through the eyes of the evolving media reaction. As usual when I start a series of posts without fully mapping it out, the first post is the best (e.g., here and here), and this is likely to be no exception.

This first item is interesting because it was a profile of the New Orleans Saints’ defense under Williams published just before the bounty story broke. Untainted by the news of the bounties, the NFL’s investigation, or the media reaction to it, The Classical’s Charles Star offers up an innocent (from the writer’s perspective) take that’s telling upon retrospective re-read:

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Wildcard Monday

The wildcard round of the NFL playoffs is complete. The Lions, in their first playoff game since 1999, fell to the apparently unstoppable Saints in New Orleans Saturday night. Detroit was in command of the game throughout the first half, but by the fourth quarter, the home team had decidedly overwhelmed them. An errant whistle cost Detroit a touchdown, but there were too many missed opportunities on offense and too much softness against the run on defense for the visitors to finish the upset. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson had good games, but it wasn’t enough. Still, the Lions have to feel ok about a 10-win season that included a competitive playoff game after going 0-16 three years ago. Keep reading…

Drew Brees is the farmer in the dell?

Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s 27-year-old single-season passing record last night with a game and a quarter to spare. This morning, ESPN.com lead with “[The] Brees Stands Alone.” Hi-ho the dairy-o. In the words of Horatio Sanz (as Joe Bouchard), what does that mean?

With the obvious allusion to “The Farmer in the Dell,” one would assume that Brees, the new record-holder, would play the role of the farmer, but that only leads to more questions. When “the farmer takes a wife,” is that a reference to Brees breaking the record and making Marino his wife? (If so, I’d hate to read the feminist critique, as authored by Marino.)

I’m no Aesop, but I have written about the overlap between sports and folk songs before, and I think that this means what it says: Brees is the cheese.

Fine, but what’s the cheese? Simple. The cheese is an obvious reference to Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who, before Green Bay lost its first game of the season last week, was the unquestionable choice for league MVP. All of that is up for grabs now, though, because the Packers lost to the Chiefs and Brees seized maybe the most important passing record in the NFL. And Brees is no Case Keenum. His Saints are 12-3 and have to be considered one of the favorites to win it all. If Rodgers is the cheese, and ESPN wrote that “[The] Brees Stands Alone,” what they plainly mean is that Brees has supplanted Rodgers and stands alone as the best quarterback in the NFL.