Sunday, December 21, 2008

Solstice football post

Tis the season ... of non-stop football, in addition to many more important things like more light, the lights of Hanukkah, and the birth of Light.

And so, a couple of quick football thoughts in anticipation of the bounty of TV-watching to come:

This fall I've been slowly savoring an inherited copy of Roy Blount Jr.'s story of living among the 1973 Pittsburgh Steelers, About Three Bricks Shy of a Load. What a gem of a book if you like football! Back then, before TV contracts had set cash flowing through the game to the present extent, players were unambiguously just the working stiffs in a grimly brutal public entertainment. Think something closer to Extreme Fighting than juvenile zillionaires like Alex Smith and whiners like TO.

Blount is at his best when he got the players talking about race. The white author was particularly close to black Steeler Mel Blount -- they joked that the sportswriter's ancestors had likely owned the cornerback's people. Author Blount noted the "small" indignities blacks encountered -- while white player were mobbed for public appearances, in 1973 after four years, Mel Blount had held one autograph session.

Player Blount took racism as just one more fact of life:

"When I was growing up...I really wasn't aware of what life was all about. Went to an all-black school, always worked for my daddy, competed with black athletes. My whole world was black until I got into pro football. And then I realized that things I was told in college were true. ...If you want to compete in white society, you've got to be twice as good. Can't ever take anything for granted. You got to deal with reality. Being an athlete, I have that knack for meeting a challenge."

I have no way of knowing whether contemporary athletes -- not the superstars, the grunts -- are able to be so matter of fact about their profession. Do pick up a copy of this fascinating book if you run across one.

Meanwhile, guess what's next on the chopping block? Our sports circuses are not immune to a national economic bread shortage. NPR's Planet Money has a good run down of the effect of the recession/depression on professional sports. Here's the NFL story, not by any means the worst of it:

National Football League
After promotional gambits like holding games overseas, the league recently cut 150 of its staff of 1,100. The tight credit markets have encumbered teams' efforts to raise financing for new stadiums. The 2009 Super Bowl will look very different from its recent predecessors: historically big spender General Motors has not purchased ad slots. On the upside, career sites and have added commercials.

They didn't choose to investigate the effect on big time college football. I fear those delightful boondoggles may survive long after many students lose educational opportunity. On the more general picture:

The failures in the financial services industry have left a constellation of team sponsorships in limbo. Retail banks Washington Mutual and Wachovia, acquired in distress by JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, respectively, sponsored a total of 14 MLB, NBA and NFL teams, as well as a host of events and tournaments. It is still unclear whether the acquirers, who have their own sponsorships, will continue the relationships.

Sports teams have historically done well during bear markets: "It's like booze and movies," notes sports banker John Moag. "Psychologically, people do not want to give it up." However, with Americans' credit cards at their limits and mortgage payments piling up, going to the game may become another expense to cut.

1 comment:

Kay Dennison said...

Living within shouting distance of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, I am definitely aware of what happens in pro football. It's festival is the party of the year here.

I've got to read Mel Blount's book. I have had the pleasure of meeting and talking with him a bit as a hostess (it was a "must do" for the jr, women's club types of which I was one until I got sick the crap)at the Enshrinee's dinner during the many years I volunteered for the festival. He is a very nice, intelligent guy and we'd joke about the Browns-Pittsburgh rivalry. (Mel? What did you do to my guys?)

'Way back, I was always assigned black players and their families (which my friend who ran things told me privately) because I had no racial hangups. Mel, Deacon Jones, and "Night Train" Lane are among my favs. It's not that way anymore and we have lots of black women who volunteer (and I just help supervise if I'm needed) -- and even had a black Hall of Fame Queen this year! The world has changed and I am glad of it. Yes, I know racism still exists but it has gotten better.

Now we have to work on other hatreds that I've never understood because we are all God's children.

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