Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Go Team

[Ed. note: The following is a rant. If you’re a fan of American football, this rant will not make you happy. There’s nothing I can do about that.]

I have problems with football.

With respect to the professional ranks, those problems include, but are not limited to, concussion protocols, Ray Rice and his fist, and the fact that Colin Kaepernick is better than at least half the league’s quarterbacks and still can’t get a gig.

With respect to all levels, but particularly the high school and college strata, those problems also include a concept that I have occasionally pointed to in this space called unearned swagger.

At least once, I recall hearing my college marching band director suggest that football and band are equally weird activities, with participants dressed in equally weird outfits … it’s just that football people have managed to convince everyone that their activity is cool.

And, of course, with perceived cool comes great opportunity for lording it over everyone else.

Case in point: this report from CollegeMarching.com:

It was a great day for the Stephen F. Austin University Lumberjack Marching Band on Saturday until a visiting Graduate Assistant Coach, Ben Seifert, from Tarleton State University[,] decided to stay on the field during halftime.

What happened next is still a bit of [a] head scratcher.

During the Lumberjack Marching Band’s halftime show the coach refused to move off the field. The band carried on with their show expecting him to leave the field or at least stay out of the way of the band. He didn’t[;] and as Kitty Hall, a piccolo player, marched towards her spot which he was standing on[,] he raised his elbow directly in line with her face. The result was a serious bruise along her nose and upper lip and a very angry band wondering why he would not move.

The band also reported that he told other marchers to go around him while he stood there.

After I got elbowed, my nose and head hurt for the rest of the game,” tweeted Hall afterward. “I’m prone to headaches and this set one off almost immediately.”

Naively, I note that Coach Siefert is working for an institution of higher learning, in which adults are hired to facilitate the education and development of America’s youth – with all the human and educational responsibility that implies. In a perfect world, it is understood that assistant football coaches, just as much as assistant professors, are educators. At its core, higher education’s mission is much more to develop American youths’ heads than to elbow them.

Yeah. I know. Naïve of me. Particularly when it comes to college football’s prevailing attitude toward, well, the rest of the world, seemingly.

True, there’s more than a hint of dramatic tension inherent in this college marching band aficionado’s view of all this. With very few exceptions (Boston University, sa-LUTE!), college bands depend upon the sport of football to provide a venue in which to do their good work.

Which they do, year in and year out. For five or six or seven home games a year at least, they lose their minds cheering for a pack of athletic specimens who in general represent the crowd that made band kids’ lives miserable in middle school.

(And, in a relatively new tradition called the Team Walk, long before kickoff many bands form a tunnel and play the school song exuberantly … while the football players walk in street clothes through that tunnel en route from the bus into the stadium, heads down, earbuds plugged firmly in, sparing hardly a glance of acknowledgement of their fellow students.)

Meanwhile, CollegeMarching.com continued its account of the Ben Seifert incident: “We spoke with Lumberjack Marching Band Director[,] Dr. Tamey Angelly[,] about the incident. She explained that the athletic departments of both universities have been discussing this matter and will take swift action to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

In a statement, Dr. Angelly continued: “[Hall] has recently received a letter of apology from the member of the coaching staff and I know that Tarleton administration is handling the situation appropriately.”

Jim Rome‘s and Bill James‘ recent Twitter snark directed at high school and college marching band participants is one thing. Sticks and stones versus name-calling, and all that. We band folks can withstand that sort of thing; hell, we’ve got all kinds of experience shaking it off.

But the raised elbow that Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert directed at the marching activity … injured a student.

That Neanderthal move was premeditated assault. And further, it demonstrated the arrogant mindset of that subset of the higher education community, the football team, that seems to consider that football is the apotheosis of human achievement – and therefore is placed firmly above all the other organizations and institutions that create the Saturday-afternoon environment that props that myth up. And that this reality therefore allows its purveyors to address those supporting characters with disdain at best – and in this case, with physical violence. Because what is football, really, if not a game of channeled violence? Its participants and fans practically take pride in that characteristic.

So here’s the upshot of all the vitriol which I have just now completely unapologetically launched:

Ben Siefert doesn’t need merely to be made to apologize. He doesn’t need merely to be reminded how to properly represent his school, or how to properly treat other humans. He doesn’t need merely to be reprimanded by his head coach. He doesn’t need merely to have his situation “handled appropriately” by his school’s administration. He doesn’t need merely to be suspended from his job, or merely to have his graduate assistantship taken away from him.

Siefert needs to be bagging groceries, or delivering pizzas, or sweeping corporate office hallways after hours, by the end of this week.

Tarleton State University graduate-assistant football coach Ben Siefert needs. to. be. fired.

Go Team.

(And by “Team”, of course, I mean “group of legal professionals whose services ought to be engaged in the filing of assault charges.”)

September 11, 2019 Posted by | band, education, football, marching band, sports | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

We Will Receive, We Will Receive

Usually I take a dim view of sports talk radio folks who try to talk politics.  Usually, I think to myself, “you were hired to talk about your area of expertise on the radio; therefore you should try not to talk about subjects that are clearly NOT your area of expertise.

This week, it was the reverse.

Stephanie Miller, my favorite left-leaning political talker, turned her eyes to the Super Bowl, and decided to root for the Atlanta Falcons; because the architects of the New England Patriots’ football prowess, Messrs. Brady, Belichick and Kraft, have all been identified as admirers of Donald Trump, to varying degrees.

When I was in the fifth grade, and prone to hero worship … my view of those gentlemen might have become, if you’ll pardon the expression, a little deflated.

This week, I nonetheless came up with this line of thinking:

Political leanings don’t mean spit when you’re trying not to get sacked, or when you’re trying to analyze the other team’s offensive scheme on very short notice, or when you’re trying to draft the exact right lineman. And if they do, there’s something desperately wrong with your approach to football.

I also try not to validate my personal self-image solely by lining it up with the belief systems of multimillionaire professional sports figures.

On the other hand, I do know these things:

[1] Robert Kraft paid for the construction of Gillette Stadium with his own money and extorted zero dollars from the taxpayers of Massachusetts; which is such a rare thing for an NFL team owner to do that I had to look it up to make sure it’s true. It is.

[2] Bill Belichick has a remarkable (again, not perfect – see also “Aaron Hernandez” – but exemplary) record of taking “problem children” from other NFL teams, parking them in a New England uniform, and succeeding in convincing them to hold themselves up to high standards of behavior and preparation, on and off the field.

And [3] every time Tom Brady completes a ridiculous touchdown pass (into triple coverage, threading the needle in a way no one should be able to do), he always, without fail, visits his offensive line on the bench, letting them know how much he appreciates the fact that they kept him from getting killed en route. Slap on the helmet, whack on the backside, that’s what I’m talkin’ about, let’s do it again.

I also know that, as a Patriots fan since the mid-1970s, I have no business taking Patriot success for granted; as they used to have truly repulsive ownership, ineffectual coaching, and highly breakable quarterbacks with nobody to throw to and nobody to keep them alive. In short, they used to stink the joint out.

So for four hours Sunday, I shall reluctantly set aside my concern for the future medical well-being of large people who crash into each other’s heads for a living; and I shall not wonder, on third down, whether that wide receiver thinks it’s folly to have an oil company executive as Secretary of State.

Go Patriots.

February 1, 2017 Posted by | current events, Famous Persons, football, politics, sports | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Puzzlement

This isn’t about politics.

Well, it’s not about national, Presidential-level politics. At least not in spite of the first few paragraphs.

It’s a little bit about local politics, but perhaps not the way I’ve set you up to think.

It’s more about dilemmas.

It hasn’t been too often that I’ve stepped into my local voting booth and filled in the little circle for a candidate for President. Much more often, in my lifetime, in a general election, I’ve voted against someone I definitely didn’t want to be President.

It’s said that in primary elections, you fall in love (with a candidate) and you vote with your heart … and in general elections, you fall in line (with your party) and vote with your head, or at least with a bit more recognition that certain things just kinda happen; that things have been done the way things are done … that you’re participating in “politics as usual”.

And sometimes you come out feeling conflicted, and a bit at sea: I wish it were different than it is, but it is what it is, and for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always as pure as “I frickin’ love this candidate and what they stand for and I think they have my personal best interests at heart”.

You’re participating in democracy, as filtered through a party-oriented political system that is, we are forced to admit, almost hopelessly in thrall to money. Therefore you’re participating in a system prone to corruption, even while you are personally against corruption.

You’re often choosing a candidate that you perceive as the lesser of two evils; and you’re often feeling like you’re part of a political setup that is definitely the lesser of two good things.

The grownup, adult world is full of these dilemmas. There are folks who wish to see the world in strictly black-and-white terms; but, sadly, it’s much more grayscale. Takes more thought, more pondering, more head-scratching in the effort to try and see a solution, or a way out, or a way forward.

Which brings me to my alma mater.

Via the good offices of my college band’s alumni association, yesterday I became aware that the UMass Faculty Senate was to vote on a motion to recommend that University administration [1] downgrade UMass football to Division I-A status, or [2] eliminate it altogether. Their reasoning had to do with finances, as well as some other considerations. The motion was voted down, but not before it got me to thinking.

Setting aside for a moment the unlikelihood of the latter [1], within American culture – although my colleagues and I from Boston University in the late 1990s might offer a bit of perspective about killing football programs – and set-ting aside the attractiveness of the former proposal [2] … I will admit to being more than a bit conflicted.

Football has almost always caused me to at least raise an eyebrow. Long before former NFL players were putting it to the NFL that concussions were not just a roster-management nuisance to teams, but were in fact a health crisis generated by the very nature of the sport, I saw football as dangerous to the health of its participants, and let’s face it, a bizarre sport. Football has never been my idea of a great sport to play, myself – I’m pleased that my young nephew is all about baseball – and is assuredly not my favorite sport, period.

On the other hand, as regular readers of The Blogge will know … I did marching band for eight years in high school and college.

The original idea was that American scholastic bands marched because of football games. Then we invented band competitions, so we could have somewhere to perform wherein the spectators were entirely made up of people who cared at least a bit about marching music. But it’s the uncommon ensemble that is deprived of its football context and still thrives. Rarer still is the school marching band that never had a football team to root for, to begin with.

I’m sure that studies have been conducted to determine the adverse effect upon band recruitment of “no football games for your band to play at”, but I can’t quote any right off the top of my head. Do band people care much about that? Would it keep them from continuing to march? (Some of the college bands with whom I have worked have contained people who lived for the exhibitions at high-school band shows, and gritted their teeth all the way through football games. On the other hand, how many people join the Michigan Marching Band and don’t get a little worked up for games against the Spartans or Buckeyes?)

At the same time as I must acknowledge that cutting the football program at a major state university is unlikely … I must also acknowledge that Donald Trump as a major-party presidential nominee was considered most unlikely. So … Starred Thought: never assume anything.

For a brief moment, upon hearing about the vote (before it happened and ended up being a big Emily Litella “never mind!”), I had a Moment: –would the hypothetical axeing of UMass football lead to the end of my beloved Power and Class of New England? If so, at what pace? Via implosion, or erosion?

Now, not just because the motion did fail, but even if it had passed, non-binding as it was … and even if passage had meant something (which current University administration officials appeared to think was highly unlikely anyway!) … in the cold morning light … I’ve decided that I’m not losing sleep over this. (I *am* mixing metaphors like a one-armed bartender.) (And my similes are feeling similar pain, apparently. Sorry.)

After all, if the Boston University Terrier Marching Band could have its football team yanked out from under it (fall 1997; I was there) and still survive and thrive and get into movies and such … then surely the 380-member juggernaut from the Pioneer Valley (with a Sudler Trophy and a DCI-Hall-Of-Fame instructional staff and, dang it, a reputation) ought to be okay. Yes?

I think?

I’m already on record about the decision to move UMass football to Division I (or the BCS, or whatever the folks in charge are calling it). From the get-go, I felt it was among the more ill-considered, more pie-in-the-sky, more arrogant decisions my alma mater has ever made. No need to go into the reasoning behind that opinion, here, since all you have to do is click here and read.

From a strictly football point of view, I never felt there was either the existing interest or even the potentially-develop-able interest (from current students, from local alumni, from the general eastern-Massachusetts public) in supporting Your Alma Mater’s Football Team At Gillette Stadium Squaring Off Against the Mighty ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Big-Whoop Famous Football Teams. And (as it became quickly clear) there was hardly a hope of attracting the kind of football talent necessary to keep UMass from being perennially “Your 2-and-10 Minutemen”. Let’s be honest: this is New England. We don’t have anything remotely like Alabama/Auburn – and, at least as importantly, we don’t have anything remotely like Texas high-school football. (Which for many reasons might be just fine, actually.)

Downgrading (or, as I prefer to think of it, returning) UMass to Division I-A would mean that football would be played in the cozy confines of McGuirk Stadium, not the cavernous one-sixteenth-full Kraft Family Canyon. And it would be enjoyed by the relatively small but loyal constituency of western-Massachusetts fans which has been propping up that little UMass football program for decades. It’d be shorter money (you don’t get a big payday from a major network for playing against the University of Maine) … but UMass would get much closer to breaking even. And the student section would be full of kids who actually would be able to roll out of bed at noon and walk down to the game, rather than having to hop a bus at Absurd O’Clock and kill an entire Saturday.

And the relationship between the band and its halftime and postgame audiences would be far less diluted by the physical distance from stands to front sideline. Which, at UMass, has always been a pretty big deal at least as far back as the first time George Parks perched on that narrow concrete rail at the base of the McGuirk home stands. At Gillette Stadium, when the band crashes the sideline, the audience is still in another zip code. At McGuirk, the band crashes the sideline and the audience can see individual band members’ smiles.

One big part of me agrees with the Faculty Senate (if not its tactics). Football is, at best, a double-edged sword – one that benefits greatly from the phrase about tradition that goes, “but we’ve always done it this way”. It often offers more long-term risk than long-term reward for its participants. From the standpoint of concussions alone, some commentators have advocated abolishing the sport altogether, and I grasp their passion on the subject, oh yes I do. And the Division I version of American college football opens its participating schools up to great sweeping plains of temptation and corruption and mistreatment of people and academic hypocrisy that would make a mud bath feel clean and pristine.

But another, equally large part of me knows that a fall Saturday afternoon at halftime is a great place for the Minuteman Marching Band to do its thing.

It is … a puzzlement.

April 29, 2016 Posted by | band, BUMB, football, marching band, politics, sports, UMMB | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment