Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Why?

All right, I’ve got something I wanna get off my chest. It’s been sitting there for, what, 23 years now, I guess?

Namely, I need to rail against an injustice.

Why yes, I shall elaborate:

A meme cropped up after this weekend’s flap over NFL players kneeling (or not) during presentations of the National Anthem.

My beef is not with the meme, or the NFL players, or the National Anthem, or the guy who flapped.

Actually it IS with the meme, or rather what it represents.

The meme is a photo of two American figure skaters, clearly a publicity shot from the run-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. To the left: the blonde, diminutive Tonya Harding. To the right: the tall, brunette Nancy Kerrigan.

(Oh, that’s what he’s going on about.)

The text: “Back when taking a knee meant taking a knee”.

Ouch, baby.

 

For 23 years, people have mocked Kerrigan for one single moment, a moment captured by video cameras and replayed how many hundreds of times since?

The U.S. National Figure Skating Championships were being held in Detroit a few weeks before the Lillehammer Olympics were set to begin. Following a practice session at Detroit’s Cobo Hall, a briefly-unknown assailant whacked Kerrigan in the thigh, very close to her (figure-skating-crucial) knee, with a club, as she exited the ice rink.

Who does that?

Well, we found out who it was, and who he was affiliated with; and the soap opera that had already begun just escalated from there.

Miserable. Potentially, an injustice. But, worthy as it is of being railed against, it’s not exactly the one I’m thinking of.

In the moments just after the assault, before Kerrigan knew that the injury was not immediately career-ending, while EMTs and other personnel tended to her injured leg, she sobbed inconsolably … at one point, wailing, “why??”

Yeah. Why’d this have to happen at that moment? And why would anybody do something like that, in that moment, in that context, to anybody else, at all? Particularly to an athlete who kinda needed healthy knees in order to go about her business?

Hell, it was only the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships. Only an event that an athlete would likely be working toward for her whole life. Nothing to get upset about.

Um, can we forgive Nancy Kerrigan for being just a little put out?

The injustice I’m thinking of is, frankly, the one committed by every person in the last 23 years who has mocked that particular cry, “—Why??”

She wasn’t whining.

Literally, her life’s work (to that point) was in jeopardy.

 

For 23 years, it’s been far too easy for the comics and the wags to set aside empathy for the sake of a joke … for the sake of mocking an easy target. And every time I hear somebody do that to Ms. Kerrigan, I get defensive, at least inside my own head. Cut that right out.

And then I think, well, okay; was it because I was rooting hard for her and not for Tonya and her attacker turned out to be some schnook hired by Tonya’s ex-husband for the specific purpose of eliminating the competition, like some second-rate 1940s gangster? Was it because Kerrigan was from a town not far from my hometown, so rah rah rah for the Massachusetts native?

Was it because in her shoes … skates … whatever … being attacked like that would cause me to lose a little faith in humanity?

Yes, yes, and yes.

So … while this may not be the most important issue to deal with at this moment in history (while, say, the population of Puerto Rico is in desperate straits and not getting any help … just as one example of something that really genuinely overshadows most other issues) … it does have at least one thing in common with a whole lot of issues facing us.

In this case, it wasn’t a Presidential tweet, or a controversial Congressional bill, or a proposed governmental policy which would actively make life more difficult for this or that group of people. It was a meme; a joke.

But a representative one. Lately, we’ve been inundated by instances of startling lack of empathy and compassion for people who are hurting, or injured, or vulnerable.

Why?

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September 26, 2017 Posted by | Famous Persons, 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