mm511: My Football-Free Fall

February 3, 2013

Perhaps you’ve noticed this logo accompanying my Facebook and Twitter postings since the football season began during late summer, 2012. As that endless season closes out today, with a certain “super” event, I decided that it’s time for another, more full explanation of what it’s been about.

We’ll begin by noting that I have loved the game of football since I was very, very young. Indeed, I recall that my parents gifted me with a kid’s plastic helmet and shoulder pads when I was about 10 years old, and I dimly remember playing in some kind of loosely organized games with that gear. As was always the case where yours truly and athletic effort is concerned, my interest level far exceeded my (pretty much non-existent) athletic ability, and, as a lineman I enjoyed playing the game but didn’t make much of a positive impression on my teammates or of any school coach. But, my love of the game only grew. I watched the college game, especially, on our (in those years, manifestly) black and white small screen television, and the annual Army Navy game, with its accompanying pageantry made such an impression on me that I was less surprised than I might have been when many years later our older son suddenly revealed as a high school freshman his interest in attending the Naval Academy, which indeed he made happen.

But I digress. Professional football, a much younger sport than the college game that began organized play in the second half of the 19th century, was embodied in my home town, Chicago, by the Bears, one of the first couple of teams created in the early 1920s by George Halas, who was still around as owner-coach when I began paying attention to the game. I don’t recall seeing many televised professional games, until I was in high school in the early 1960s, and the Bears actually won the championship. Exciting stuff. By the time I was attending that Evanston school, which itself had a lengthy history of football excellence, and an actual nationally known coach, Murney Lazier, I had long since been dissuaded by my parents from even considering attempting to try out, unlikely to be successful as that would have been, given my afore mentioned lack of any type of athletic ability – the violent, injurious nature of the game was understood by them long before I had achieved any kind of mature perspective on the issue. But I attended all of the high school home games, and, my senior year when I was driving, a few away games too.

So, that was me, football fan, even more than baseball, my dad’s longtime love. (A slight digression, but a wonderful story: he always said, and his mother confirmed, that he was an indifferent student of arithmetic until he began attending Cubs games [thanks to some generous uncles, as his father died when Dad was only five years old]. In those benighted years before newspaper in-depth coverage and Jumbotron scoreboards, my dad pushed himself to learn the math behind batting averages, so he could attend, or listen on the radio, and better understand the nuances of that game). In that same way, I loved watching football, a love that eagerly welcomed the television-fueled expansion of both the professional and college sport.

I remember the pre-Roman-numbered (prehistoric?) pro championship games, the first Monday night football game (by then viewed on our very own “large screen” [21-inch] color television – yes, I had to wait to get married before having such a luxury under our own roof), and I eagerly consumed all I could, professional and college. Meanwhile my dad, for whom I was working by that time in his small sales business, more than once expressed his own disappointment in the game, as its capacity for injury increased in proportion (or perhaps, beyond proportion) to the ever-increasing size and ferocity of its players. Even in those years, injuries were stunning. Chicago’s own Gale Sayers, a once in a generation talent, had his stellar professional football career as a running back and kick return specialist cut tragically short due to the accumulation of damage to his knees. Although, in retrospect, that brevity might just have salvaged his subsequent life, which has been quite professionally and philanthropically successful.

But, I ate it all up: the college game, the professional game, and although we were a late adapter of cable television, once ESPN was available to me, with its expanded coverage of both, I had long since become addicted. Indeed, advance forward 10-15 years to when ESPN once bragged that its “family of networks” went 37 straight days broadcasting a college or professional football game. Quite an advance from my first experience: high school and college – Saturday [no Friday night lights for our local high school until the naughts]; pro – Sunday, period. But, I ate it all up.

Yes, though my father had long since passed, I still heard his voice expressing his dismay over the injuries. Yes, I had long ago given up my subscription to Sports Illustrated, as its coverage of sports more and more resembled the crime log in a daily newspaper, what with drug arrests, bad behavior, including domestic violence, and, yes, those injuries, occupying more and more of its attention. But, I still watched the games, and listened to them on the radio while in the car, totally consumed the game (just loved Friday Night Lights, for its high quality domestic drama as much for its wonderful football drama), read all about the game, including a columnist that my son had called to my attention: Gregg Easterbrook, the Tuesday Morning Quarterback, whose weekly 9,000 word essays during the season are erudite and insightful of the professional (and college) game beyond my previous experience (Gregg, it’s you I have missed most of all this Fall!).

And then…

Easterbrook had been poking at the issue of injuries, specifically head injuries and inadequate helmets, for several years. His career as a writer (books, quality journals such as The Atlantic Monthly and the New Republic) and especially his (paid, I’m sure) status as an columnist, has been informed by his avocational experience as a coach of the organized teams participated in by his sons as they have grown up. He has always pointed out that high school and younger teams take their cues from the college and professional game. College leagues, especially, function as farm leagues for the pros, so they certainly reflect the professional ethos. And the professional leagues have steadfastly ignored, until very recently, the value of more up to date protective gear, especially helmets, in protecting the brain from injury. And, unfortunately, as the professionals go, so go the colleges, the high schools, the Pop Warner leagues, ad nauseum.

And then…

Dave Duerson, a defensive star of the championship Chicago Bears squad of the 1980s, committed suicide in a very particular way: he shot himself in the heart, and texted instructions to his survivors for his brain to be examined for football-related trauma, specifically chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)

And then…

Junior Seau, another, more recent defensive football star, died in the same way, with the same instructions.

And then…

A guy I’d never heard of named Jerry Sandusky (sorry, no link for him, he’s not worth the effort for me to place it, and you to read it) shat on the sport of college football, especially the prestige of Pennsylvania State University and its highly respected, long serving head coach, Joe Paterno.

It wasn’t the stomach-turning years-long sexual abuse of young children, nauseating as Sandusky’s crimes were. It was that he was aided, abetted, yea, enabled, by the corrupt nature of college football, as exemplified by Penn State, in whose facilities Sandusky perpetrated his dismal depravities, and whose leadership, including that revered Mr. Paterno, and extending to the president and administration of the university, shielded and protected him, even when the criminal nature of his activities was revealed to them.

But the corruption in the college game is far more extensive than just one institution. It’s all of the major leagues and organizations, who set football and its coaches on pedestals unworthy of the institutions’ purported academic aspirations. Football, and the television contracts negotiated on behalf of the premier schools, earns tens of millions of dollars annually for the premier competing colleges and universities. Coaches, as a result, are hyper-paid, and usually loyal, not to their employers, nor the young men they recruit with such glowing promises, but to the highest bidder for their services. And those young men, restricted by archaic regulations about payment, are effectively indentured servants of their colleges, paid, if they’re fortunate to be able to pay attention to their studies at all rather than the all-consuming sport they were recruited to serve, with scholarships that could, in a minority of cases, yield a diploma.

Between Sandusky, whose trial took place in early 2012, and who received an extended sentence that unfortunately did not include castration, and Seau, who died in May, 2012, the clamor in my mind regarding the truly criminal nature of the game I had loved for so long became too loud to ignore. Thus, Steve’s Football-Free Fall.

No, I am not the beginning of any trend, nor the founder of any movement, although I’ve been known to innovate. The game ignored my symbolic withdrawal. Beer still got sold in Amazonian quantities, as did pickup trucks. Super Bowl 47 will go on today despite my non-viewership (a first in that string, by the way).

But, I feel I accomplished quite a bit this fall. I read a great deal, on-line, and books, on my Kindle Fire. I followed, and contributed hard-earned dollars to, our first black president’s first black presidential re-election campaign. Very satisfying indeed. I continued my personal improvement program by dropping more weight.

And, it turned out that my supposed addiction to watching, reading, consuming the game of football was pretty easy to shake. No more horrible collisions on the field ending in stretchers, and suicides designed to further research into the hideous nature of the game. No more head coaches disdaining multiple-millions for multiple tens-of-millions, and, by the way, thereby likely depriving too many truly deserving underprivileged students and young adults of the opportunity for tertiary education.

Nope, no residual side effects. Except more free time. And, less nausea.

I think I need to change that graphic.

Steve’s Football-Free Life.

Not quite so alliterative. But a recipe for, perhaps, a more productive personal story.

mm510: Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States

November 4, 2008
© Misty Pfeil |

© Misty Pfeil |


Words fail me. But the electorate didn’t.

It’s it for now. Thanks,


mm509: Hear that sound? It’s the ice skaters in hell!

October 17, 2008
© Associated Press photo by Byron Rollins

© Associated Press photo by Byron Rollins

We’ve written before about our hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune.

Taken most seriously in its home town.

But proud of its Republican tradition. Its first editor of any distinction, Joseph Medill, was influential in winning the presidency for Abraham Lincoln.

That Republican heritage caused it to be newspaper non grata in my grandparents’ and my parents’ households, and indeed, our household for many years, until its more favored tabloid competitor, the once scrappy and progressive Sun-Times, was eviscerated by Rupert Murdoch, the first of a series of newspaper bandits that have effectively destroyed it. The latest in that series, Conrad Black, is in federal prison, convicted of fraud in connection with his newspaper properties.

But we digress.

The Tribune is <so> Republican that once, the year yr (justifiably) humble svt was born, they allowed wishful thinking to trump reality, resulting in the headline illustrated at the top of this post, a photograph that Wikipedia rightfully describes as one of the most famous ever published.

That was then.

Times, even for the 161 year old Chicago Tribune, have changed.



Tribune endorsement: Barack Obama for president

2:33 PM CDT, October 17, 2008

However this election turns out, it will dramatically advance America’s slow progress toward equality and inclusion. It took Abraham Lincoln’s extraordinary courage in the Civil War to get us here. It took an epic battle to secure women the right to vote. It took the perseverance of the civil rights movement. Now we have an election in which we will choose the first African-American president . . . or the first female vice president.

In recent weeks it has been easy to lose sight of this history in the making. Americans are focused on the greatest threat to the world economic system in 80 years. They feel a personal vulnerability the likes of which they haven’t experienced since Sept. 11, 2001. It’s a different kind of vulnerability. Unlike Sept. 11, the economic threat hasn’t forged a common bond in this nation. It has fed anger, fear and mistrust.

On Nov. 4 we’re going to elect a president to lead us through a perilous time and restore in us a common sense of national purpose.

The strongest candidate to do that is Sen. Barack Obama. The Tribune is proud to endorse him today for president of the United States.

Do you get it yet?

In over 160 years, forty (40!) elections, the Tribune has NEVER endorsed a Democrat for president in a general election.

Until today.

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mm508: A great, and most useful, debate

October 15, 2008
© Kevin Renes |

© Kevin Renes |

The last debate.

Three weeks to go.

Got me to reminisce about my early exposure to politics.

The first presidential debate I ever watched was the first modern presidential debate: Nixon v. Kennedy, 1960.

I was a kid, growing up in a very political household. My dad had been a precinct captain, and was soon to become Democratic township committeeman of our (before he took over) rock-ribbed Republican suburb.

My mother was the brains of the outfit, who had helped my dad go door to door to elect a Democratic congressman whose name was always gold in their house, even 40 years later, Barratt O’Hara.

The first television we had was purchased not to watch Uncle Miltie and the antics of Lucy and Desi, but rather was acquired to watch the conventions of 1952.

In late 1959, my parents began an impossibly quixotic quest: from our family room they created a national campaign to nominate Chester Bowles of Connecticut for president. Where this cockamamie idea came from I have no idea to this day. A very distinguished progressive politician. Before that, a phenomenally successful advertising executive. Once and future ambassador to India and Under Secretary of State.

Way too qualified for the presidency.

Yr (justifiably) humble svt spent many a weekend that year and through mid-1960 stuffing, addressing and stamping envelopes.

It was a simpler time. Stuffing envelopes in support of a national presidential campaign by hand, indeed.

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mm507: Nobel and noble – a daily double

October 13, 2008

Sometimes good things happen to good people.

Paul Krugman of Princeton University and the NYTimes, frequently quoted in this space, was awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in Economics today.

This is worthy recognition to an outstanding thinker, who not only thinks the deep thoughts of his “dismal science,” but articulately delivers complex concepts with clarity.

Well done, Nobel committee, and Paul Krugman!


Last post, I spoke in glowing terms of one of my favorite progressive blogs, First Door on the Left.

Len did it again today (recognizing Paul Krugman, by the way) by posting the complete transcript of Barack Obama’s fleshed out economic rescue plan delivered in Ohio today.


A Rescue Plan for the Middle Class

Posted by Len on Monday at 1:19 pm in Democrats, Election 2008, Politics

I know these are difficult times. I know folks are worried. But I also know this – we can steer ourselves out of this crisis. Because we are the United States of America. We are the country that has faced down war and depression; great challenges and great threats. And at each and every moment, we have risen to meet these challenges – not as Democrats, not as Republicans, but as Americans.

We still have the most talented, most productive workers of any country on Earth. We’re still home to innovation and technology, colleges and universities that are the envy of the world. Some of the biggest ideas in history have come from our small businesses and our research facilities. It won’t be easy, but there’s no reason we can’t make this century another American century.

But it will take a new direction. It will take new leadership in Washington. It will take a real change in the policies and politics of the last eight years. And that’s why I’m running for President of the United States of America.

My opponent has made his choice. Last week, Senator McCain’s campaign announced that they were going to “turn the page” on the discussion about our economy so they can spend the final weeks of this election attacking me instead. His campaign actually said, and I quote, “if we keep talking about the economy, we’re going to lose.” Well Senator McCain may be worried about losing an election, but I’m worried about Americans who are losing their jobs, and their homes, and their life savings. They can’t afford four more years of the economic theory that says we should give more and more to millionaires and billionaires and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. We’ve seen where that’s led us and we’re not going back. It’s time to turn the page.

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mm506: What to read when you’re not reading me

October 9, 2008
© Bruno1998 |

© Bruno1998 |

Away (from blogging — the writing, not the reading) and the economy, and especially the stock markets, continues in free fall.

Everyone is on edge, if not downright frantic, because if you’re too young to be that concerned about your retirement account and pension, you very well might be looking over your shoulder for economy-related pink slips.

The presidential campaign continues its free fall, from idealism and straight talk to Republican distortions and lies, and increasingly strident (and quite rapid, altogether a nice improvement over the “gentlemanly” Kerry debacle) Democratic responses.

And chanting relentlessly about Bill Ayers to mad-dog mobs (did Sarah Palin bring out every last one of this country’s rednecks?) while 401Ks keep decaying and mortgages keep resetting  is making ordinary, moderate people downright angry.

Fiddling while Rome burns, indeed.

My approach to the meltdown? I just don’t look at my funds.

If you’re not spending it tomorrow, why make yourself crazy? If you live long enough, you’ll see the markets come back. And I’m not retiring until my 90th birthday.

Of course those now living off of their pensions and especially their IRAs and 401Ks have a right to be furious with the criminal class of plutocrats running (yeah, and ruining) this country’s biggest financial institutions. And the Republican politicians who made the world safe for their crimes.

I can imagine some really juicy show trials come January.

Meanwhile, I’m reading lots of good stuff, enough so that this past week I find myself rather tongue-tied as a result.

So, rather than fight to get the words out, here’s a laundry list of worthwhile reading.

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mm505: Could it happen again?

October 1, 2008
© Bo Widerberg |

© Bo Widerberg |

There’s more at stake in the present Wall Street bailout tsunami than the partisan posturing might lead you to believe.

Conservatives vs. moderates vs. progressives vs. everybody.

In a lifetime of casual reading about the Great Depression of the 1930s, the main cause that stuck in my mind was the wrong-headed protective tariffs established by the Smoot-Hawley act, which caused the economic dominos to topple all over the world.

Economists tell a different story; far less global, and very much local. David Leonhardt, in the NYTimes tells of some disturbing parallels with the current crisis.

Crisis feels altogether too bland a word for what the nation is facing today. Abyss feels more appropriate.

And if I exaggerate, that is a reflection of what I see and hear.

This one has even the normally oblivious shaken.

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