Skate or Die: A Tale of Toxic Masculinity

It was the year 2001 and I was watching tv in my dorm. Really, it was married student housing at the University of Utah, because that is a thing there, and I was married. It isn’t BYU but Utah is still Utah.

So I get a knock on my door and it’s this guy, Brooks, who I knew, but we had never hung out. “Hey we were just wondering if you wanted to go longboard with us?” I didn’t quite understand the question. He must have seen this on my face because he quickly explained, “See we have two guys and two boards, but we need a third to drive so we can see.”

The extra explanation had a direct correlation to my confusion. I looked outside over his shoulder to some other guy, who I reeeally didn’t know. He nodded hello.

It was late January and late evening, maybe 7 or 8. I looked back inside at my sofa, at the tv, and still not having any real idea of what they were asking, I shrugged my shoulders and said “cool”.

Riding in the Volkswagen bus up into the canyon they explained to me that the idea is that two people ride the longboards, which I confirmed were just long skateboards, down the canyon, with the bus following right behind to both block any traffic from coming up behind, as well as to light the way ahead with the high beams.

“Cool. So you want me to drive. Got it.”

“Well yeah, but we figured we could just take turns ya know. Like we just thought a third would help us all get in more runs.”

“Ah. Cool. Thanks man.”

This is where I finally realized what we were doing. These dudes had me at the top of a canyon, in winter, at night, with intentions of riding a skateboard down the mountain.

I was terrified. This was not, nor is it, the sort of thing I do. I hadn’t been on a skateboard since I was in elementary school and part of why I stopped back then, was that I have never been a physical risk taker. I don’t like falling down on hard surfaces or doing things for fun that involve risk, or really, any high level of skill, because I don’t have that.

But, I was, and I fear at times still am, a bit of a bro, and what this means is that while being mortally afraid, which I was, I also thought this sounded kinda cool, which by itself would have never been a good  enough reason to get me to consider a nighttime death ride. But you see, I didn’t really know Brooks that well. He was just this guy with Geek Sheik glasses who lived downstairs- but here he was acting all casual, asking me if I wanted to do something death defying like it was no big deal. Knocking on my door like the only concern was whether or not I had something else planned that evening.

Which I didn’t.

And like I said, the bro in me was more afraid of confessing to a dude I didn’t know well, that I was afraid, than I was of riding down a mountain on a plank with no brakes. That’s messed up. I hope I’ve grown since then, but at this point introspection is a tangent when the point is recollection, and retelling the action.

So when it became clear I would be riding a board, I just shrugged and said, “Cool.”

It wasn’t till I was standing outside in front of the headlights, with a board in my hands that I worked up the nerve to ask honest questions.

“So like, how do I slow down? Or, ya know, stop?”

“Well you just sort of carve back and forth across the lanes and that should keep your speed in check for the most part. Then, If you start to pick up too much speed you just sort of jump off. Like point the board off to the side of the road  so we don’t lose it and just hit the ground running.”

I dropped the board on the ground, gave it a small nudge, hopped on, then hopped right off to practice.

“Yeah man you got it!” they sort of stated, not quite a cheer but definitely an encouragement, and most definitely a “let’s get this show on the road.”

So we did.

I pointed the board down, and pushed off for real this time.

I wasn’t sure if the rumblings were vibrations from the blacktop, or me shaking, but I was moving.

I leaned left, then right, a couple turns, then afraid to even get to second gear,  I jumped off. It worked just like they said. The board sort of skipped and rolled into a snowbank and I just kinda bounce jogged right after it. Brooks did the same.

Alright alright alright… maybe this will work.

We pushed off again and I things started to change.

I started to feel it.

This was the moment, the time I began to enjoy the experience, when I also realized that I was at least twice Brooks size and we were playing with gravity. I had outpaced my wingman and consequentially the headlights, by about 50 yards and I was not slowing down.

I thought I should bail. I should do it now. But I was right there- just past my comfort level. Juuuust a bit too fast, so I started to think up a plan B.

I started eyeing the snowbanks on the side of the road. Falling into snow, even going fast, is no big deal, and here I was with huge snow banks, glowing in the night, on both sides, ready to catch and preserve my life.

Knowing I was going to crash, but I would live, I relaxed. I decided to do what I never do, and just sort of go for it.

I leaned in.

Looking up I could not just see into the void, but I could feel myself moving through it. I felt the road rumble up through my feet to my knees but there it melted into waves. By the time it hit my hips, then my shoulders, and finally face it was all just cool wind. It whipped through my hair and forced my cheeks up into a smile.

I loved it.

“Twas bliss.

Then the snowbanks disappeared.

Replaced by a guardrail.

Travelling at an unholy speed down an ungodly canyon my only saving grace was replaced by a device meant to damn the progress of those in danger- but now promised to be my destruction.

The rail was on a curve. I tried to take it, leaning in and whatnot, but I could not.

The board went one way and I went the other. Suspended in the air I started my feet and legs running, proving my previous doubts of Wyle E Coyote’s experience wrong, and just like he, I did eventually fall. I touched down with one foot.

Then the other.

But my top half was faster and I tumbled.

It is natural, though not advisable, to put out one’s hands when falling. Especially on pavement.

I was picking said pavement out of my palms for the next two weeks and it was at least four months before I could bear a push-up.

When I returned home that night my wife informed me of a post mortal truth, that at the gates to heaven there are two lines. The first; is full of cancer patients, martyrs, those who died in righteous acts, and innocent children. The second, is full of stupid white people who died doing things like hang gliding.

She went on to explain that she would be in the first line and had no intentions of waiting for me if I wasn’t.

That was a long time ago and I have grown. I am not dead, we are still married, and I may still have hope.

How Safe Are “They” From “Our” Fear?

I’m in a Facebook group. It’s a sort of neighborhood watch for the development in which I live, and it has shown me more about where I live, than physically living here ever has.

When we first moved here we took home baked cookies to all the houses on the block with no observable consequences. People were friendly enough, but we haven’t had a follow up conversation with anyone since, at least not in person.

Our real introduction came last Thanksgiving. I saw a notice from Facebook that the group had new comments. I opened it up to see a long thread of mean-spirited notes about parking. It included a story about how multiple complaints had been previously made, there were accusations of inconsideration, and lots of rhetorical questions of how stupid someone must be to park such a way. There was absolute consensus that not only was this bad parking and bad form, but that something must be done. Yes, the abuse had gone on too long and gone too far.

The best part of the thread was the photo of my car.

There it was, plain to see, with passenger side tires on the sidewalk. I had indeed parked it that way- and did so on a regular basis. But there was also another car, my next-door neighbor’s, right in front of mine, parked the same way.

The day we took our initial tour of the property as potential tenants I noticed that this block parked on the walk. I thought it a bit odd, but funny enough, not new to me. I had previously lived 7 years on a narrow block where one had to park similarly in order for cars to have room enough to pass. That was back when I first learned that rear view mirrors folded in for reasons other than the car wash. But that was then and there, here, in my new suburban community with a gate out front, the road was wider, but I shrugged and followed suit. I did as the Romans without asking why.

And here were the Romans ready to turn me into pre-revolutionary Spartacus.

I posted an apologetic comment with a promise to reform, and a deferential request that if I offend in the future, that I would be happy to atone-especially if my errors were in fact brought to my attention.

The thread did a turn-about. There were apologies and discussions about actually getting to know each other in person. One of our neighbors even brought us over a Black Lives Matter yard flag and the moderator of the group even changed its name from a “watch” to a “community”. I appreciated that act. The online reform was sort of nice.

Sort of.

Since then, I have seen things.

Mostly complaints about the front gate not working. There was that one time someone posted a picture of a crane, like the long-necked bird, walking through the subdivision, and then the images of stray trash cans after a windstorm. But I also saw doorbell pictures of the neighbor’s children who I knew, with the heading “beware white car using children to steal packages.” I know those kids from church. They were delivering gifts to the homes of other members of our congregation. I saw a blurry image of a kid on a BMX bike with the text, “Does anyone know this person? He is suspiciously riding around the neighborhood.”

I didn’t know him nor could anyone from the image quality. Photos of cars are posted regularly being declared suspicious or unknown with the caution to beware. I have seen pictures of teenagers hanging out at the park with the caption “troublemakers hanging out at the park being disrespectful.”

And then there was that one time someone posted a video of what appeared to be a teenaged girl wearing a bikini and slippers standing, and sort of dancing, in the middle of the street.

The person taking the video was asking the girl to identify herself and repeatedly asked her if she lived in the community. She refused to answer. The person who posted the video, who I am guessing was the videographer, was asking the community if anyone knew her and insinuated the girl was on drugs.

I wondered to myself why the avenue of the filmer’s inquiry was bikini girl’s address. She was being asked to prove where she lived, insinuating she didn’t live here, which in tun insinuated that the acceptability of her behavior hinged on her residence as well as the assumption that people who own these homes are incapable of acting that way.

Curious. The nature of poster’s question disturbed me much more than the girl’s exposed stomach and legs.

The video was quickly taken down.

Just yesterday there was a complaint about illegal fireworks that inspired the moderator requesting decorum.

The resulting comments included a man who insisted this online group exist as a watch, because people are too dangerous these days to speak with in person. I, not exactly naïvely but with misplaced hope, offered that in order for community to exist, we must be willing to engage each other directly. He did not agree.

He aggressively countered with “Have you ever had your life threatened?” because he of course had. “Had I ever had someone threaten to kill me just because I asked their children to get off my property?” Because of course he had, and he will never talk to anyone with whom he doesn’t already have a relationship, because people will shoot you for no reason these days.

I withdrew from participation on that thread without pointing out that no one had in fact shot him for no reason in his anecdote. Nor did I post the local crime data I Googled.

Our little city does indeed have incidents of crime; packages are stolen from porches, houses get burgled, and someone painted a penis on the picnic table at the park. Last year, 2 people were murdered. That gave us a 2.2% murder rate, compared to a national average of 6. We have an assault score of 194 compared to a national 282, robbery at 60 compared to 135 nation-wide, and burglaries come in at 329! The national average is 500.

All of these scores have declined since 2017.

I am having trouble understanding my neighbor’s fear.

In fairness, part of this, or even most of this, lack of understanding comes from me not actually knowing my neighbor.

Another part is fed by where I lived before.

My previous neighborhood’s murder rate was 22%. Not 2.2, that is where I live now, but rather “twenty-two”. Assault scored 486, robbery 331, but then burglaries were closer, coming in at 409 (note, Philadelphia is below the national average in burglaries!!!). I was there for almost 8 years, experienced several conflicts with neighbors, and yet, unlike my suburban neighbor, no one threatened to kill me.

I am not relating this to win, danger is not a contest, but more because I worry about fear. People make poor choices when they are afraid, or rather, we are willing to go to extremes when danger is perceived. And fear is a feeling, a perception, not an analysis of data.

I experience danger and fear differently than some. I am just over six feet tall and a bit more than “just” over 200 pounds. I am an adult white man who appears middle class. I walk the world, both corporate corridors and back alleys, knowing that I am physically more imposing than average people and that if cops are called, they will likely see me as an ally or at least they will listen when I speak.

Not everyone has these privileges.

But my fearful neighbor does. Unless he is using a misleading avatar, he is a grown white man just like me. But he is afraid – of me. I don’t think he is anomalous.

I have never hurt anyone, nor even attempted to hurt anyone (sports don’t count) in my life, and yet my Facebook neighbors feel fear. The data show that the things to be feared, are not likely. I do not know what has happened to all those who live nearby, but I can calculate the likelihood. But that isn’t the issue as much as their impressions are.

Now, as I go outside for some COVID fresh air, and ride my bike, or cruise on my long board, or walk with my kids, I know that behind those doors are people who see me first with suspicion and possibly as a threat. Me, and I don’t feel welcomed or safe.

And then I imagine what it must be like for those who aren’t large middle class white men.

How welcome are Black women or brown men? How safe do those who aren’t physically imposing, or whom the police don’t assume are safe, feel? If you are so afraid of me that we cannot speak, how do you react to them?

How safe are they from your fear?

If I don’t know you, or if we won’t get to know each other, how can we fix this? And also, most disappointingly, because of who is afraid and how fearful people act, it looks like it is completely up to those who are feared to attempt building bridges.

We can be better.

A Quagmire Caused by the Mud We Have Slung at Each Other.

This is a quagmire caused by the mud we have slung at each other. We have known exactly what both Clinton and Trump are for decades. Now is not the time to double down and give either a chance to be anything new. They are what they are and it is fair to measure them as such.img_5981

Hillary Clinton:

She attended elite schools, Wellesley and Yale, was active in politics while an undergraduate and as a lawyer published academic articles on the legal rights of children. She married an ambitious politician and engaged in a career as a political spouse. By all appearances she endured marital infidelity and stayed in the name of political expediency.  Never just arm candy and state dinner conversation haver, she has always been involved in policy and brokering. She has been running for president since she was first lady. She was elected senator and served two terms. She ran for president, lost the nomination and was appointed secretary of state. She left that post to continue her run for president. She makes an exorbitant amount of money giving speeches and her book deal included a huge advance. Since becoming a senator she has been a centrist, supporting war, no threat to Wall Street, and backed the president on health care; an issue she championed as first lady.

She is a politician in every sense of the word. Her position and experience have granted her access to power, authority, and influence which she appears to use in order to gain more of the same. She is without a doubt brilliant, ambitious, with a willingness to compromise principles to attain a goal, or perhaps more directly put, her principles are that goals must be attained and that all other things called principles may or may not be adopted depending on how they serve her agenda. That agenda almost always has at its core, the next election. She is arguably the hardest working most determined most experienced politician to run for office. She has been running for office most of her adult life and bears the accompanying scars and attributes.img_5088

Donald Trump:

He attended an elite school, obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Wharton. With funding from his father he started working in real estate buying and managing buildings. He branched out into casinos and hotels and since then has filed bankruptcy six times. His real estate company was sued by the federal government for racial discrimination. He was a founder of the United States Football League. It folded. He started an airline. It folded. He started a “business opportunity” marketing scheme which he called a university. It folded. He has always had, and touts as much in his book, a reputation for using legal and financial bullying as regular tactic in getting whatever it is he wants.

He has always liked to be in the media and has consistently portrayed himself as something akin to a caricature of Hugh Hefner. He has been married three times, had public extramarital affairs, gone on radio programs that were marketed as shocking and trashy and bragged publicly of being both those things. He bought the Miss USA pageant, which was the second best known pageant behind Miss America, and chose to differentiate it from its competitor by making it trashier. He has been the star of two reality television shows, Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, both of which are based around making money, conjuring interpersonal conflict, and supplication to Donald’s firing authority. He has spent most of his life marketing his name as a brand that stands for, above all else, wealth. His view of wealth is that it is most important and should be overtly displayed.img_5969

It is silly and rather embarrassing for us Americans to argue with each other or split hairs regarding who these people are. We know, and have always known, who they are. There is nothing new here.

Wikileaked emails from the Clinton campaign exposing manipulation and flirtation with nefarious money only confirm what we have always known, or suspected about Clinton.

Leaked video of Trump being lecherous provide nothing new but rather confirm what he has always publicly said about himself.

They are both known quantities. Please let’s stop arguing that they aren’t who they have shown themselves to be. Let’s stop arguing that they are suddenly extra things that they have never been before.  Let’s be honest with ourselves and come to grips with the truth that these people, who are exactly what they have always been, are who we chose.

If you dislike who Clinton is and then chose Trump, accept that. Accept that he is a lecherous failure at business that relentlessly chases fame and fortune giving little thought to anything else. Do not kid yourself that these negatives are the result of media bias or Clinton lies. The one thing that Donald has the most well documented trail of success in, is leveraging the media for his own benefit. Accept that either you are comfortable with who he is, or that you see these things as less nefarious than what you see in his opponent.

If you dislike Trump and chose Clinton, accept that. Accept that she is and has always been, smart enough to know the rules surrounding things like emails and servers and protocols and that she is calculating and measured enough to take intentional risks along the path to election. Accept that either you are comfortable with who she is, or that you see these things as less nefarious than what you see in her opponent.

We need to own it and not lie to ourselves or to others in some feeble attempt to assuage the cognitive dissonance we are experiencing due to our own compromised principles. Doing so is dishonest. Doing so is dangerous. Doing so entrenches us in the sort of immoral self lies that have caused America to embrace slavery while shouting the word freedom. The sort of self lies that allow us to conquer tropical islands while simultaneously standing against monarchical expansion and colonialism. It allows us the sort of self lies that put our most precious and noble values in jeopardy in order to support our darkest failings.

We are better than this. We must be. And we can start by simply being honest with ourselves and each other; recognizing our two candidates for who they are.DV IMAGE

 

Soap Box: but just a small one.

As I observe the world it sometimes feels as if there is me, and then everyone else. So let me just say this:

Dear world,

 

Without having to take a stance on any sort of “should” related value statement, please remember, or learn, that outside of the situation where one is a victim of rape, NOT having sex is always an option. Always.IMG_7732

 

Human genius is not a recent occurrence. Smart people have existed as long as humans have existed. (I do realize that many who espouse a belief in continuing human evolution may think this a dumb statement. I accept this with the rebuttal that there is within such theories a debate as to when what I am calling “humans” began their existence. Consider my statement applying to that point in time/evolution). Just note that you, all of you, are not by nature smarter than everyone who came before you, no matter how long before you it is that they came. Also, please know that there are smart, and even good, humans who disagree with you.

note- this also means stupidity is not excusable simply because it was in the past.

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Violence is always bad. Before you respond with some “defense of family and the innocent”, keep in mind that such defense would be unnecessary if there wasn’t some other initial violence. Stop glorifying violence. Strive to end the initial violence. There are occasions where it is excusable or forgivable, which forgiveness or excusing is only needed because it is bad.

 

Justice and mercy are not mutually exclusive nor should they be just plain exclusive.

 

There are surely such things as bad ideas but ideas themselves are not bad. We should only be afraid of the idea of having ideas when there is only one idea to choose from or if all ideas are coming from a singular source. Many bad ideas are easier to identify when they are placed in line with other ideas, no matter the quality of those accompanying ideas. This also means that good ideas, even if there is for some reason only one source for all the good ideas, are best identified and most appreciated, when standing in contrast to bad, or just plain less good, ideas.waterbuffalo

 

Football 101: the Ivy League

When you contemplate the upcoming college football season, because I know you do, what schools are on your mind? Perhaps it is the notoriously ferocious athletes at Princeton? Maybe ‘tis the physically imposing young men of Yale? Ah, or by chance you appreciate the absolute dominance of the University of Chicago?

Right. Of course not.1200x-1

I find this amusing. Ironic, in the Alanis Morissette usage of the word.

You probably think of places like Auburn, USC, or maybe “the” Ohio State. You are wondering, or rooting for, who will win the Florida vs. Florida State game, or Texas vs. Oklahoma. You think of the SEC or Big 10. The PAC 12 or ACC. Do you ever consider the Ivy League? No? Let us consider it now.Ivy-League

Once upon a time America was a relatively new political institution consisting of mostly English expatriates and the ones with money wanted their kids to go hang out with other children of rich English expats. So they sent them to colleges. Places like Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Brown. There these young boys had parties, rioted over bad cafeteria food, memorized Latin, and had rituals where they beat each other up en masse. Now there were some exceptions. Some young men went to college because they were both rich and also nerds. These are the ones who read philosophy and were named Franklin Roosevelt. But make no mistake, FDR was the exception, most of them were more like Teddy. This was way before US News and World Report rankings or even before the BCS. Back then college rankings looked more like a pedigree chart and banking network. Back then college kids wore ties. On purpose.IMG_2580

But most schools, at least once a year, took off those ties, usually their shirts too, and had giant shoving matches or competitions. They varied from place to place but it was usually something like Juniors versus Sophomores trying to move a gigantic leather ball from one end of a courtyard to the other.  Or a tug of war. Or wrestling. It was a competition to win a bowl, or a jug, or bragging rights. Important stuff.penn

Over across the pond, where these boy’s granddaddies came from, school boys were doing similar sorts of things. Lots of kicking balls and roughhousing and being rich. At one school, called the Rugby School, they started picking up the ball rather than kicking it. The game started to catch on. This was about the year 1827. Back in 1827, England, or rather the fathers of rich English school boys, had pretty much colonized most of the globe. This colonization did include America at one time, but there was revolution and all that mess, so by 1827 when restless rich English kids graduated University, or when they needed to gain some legitimacy, they joined the Royal army and went and played their roughhousing games in places like Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa. The boys at Harvard and Yale were watching their cousins but were soon distracted when some clowns attacked Fort Sumter.  That distraction lasted till 1865.resolver (17)

Once the American Civil War was over the young rich kids from up north had to go back to school. The rich kids from the south weren’t rich anymore and the poor northern kids stayed in the army. Funny thing is that once boys have been to war, or even if they were too young to fight while a war was going on, they get extra restless if then sent to sit in a classroom. Having good memories these young students recalled those games their English cousins were playing and decided to follow suit. This was pretty normal for them, after all the whole college thing itself was a bit of an imitation game. Harvard is built in a place they called Cambridge and Princeton had always been trying to be Oxford.IMG_2026

Anywhose, on November 6th 1869, Princeton visited the campus of their divorced sibling Rutgers and played a game of football. They did indeed call the game football, it was mostly kicking, and Rutgers won 6-4. Seven days later Rutgers sauntered on over to Princeton for a re-match. Playing on their own turf meant they got to propose their own rules, one of which allowed for a player to catch a kicked ball mid-air. Princeton won 8-0. Crafty buggers.

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Not too far away Harvard, like any rich kid who notices what the Joneses are doing, wanted in on the action. In May of 1874 they invited McGill to come down to Cambridge for a two game series. On the first day they played football with a round ball like they did in New Jersey. Harvard won 3-0. The next day McGill, being good Canadians who never poured any tea in a harbor, insisted that day’s game be played more like the updated version the English rugby boys were playing. It had an oblong ball and running. The game ended in a tie but the Boston boys were hooked. Later that very same year, 1874, 2,000 people showed up to watch Harvard win the rematch 3 tries to 0.

These rich college kids were on to something.wollen_last_cent

At this time all of America was getting “on to something”. Industrialization was becoming a thing, Manifest Destiny was all the rage, and more rich white people were sending their boys off to college to be with other rich white boys than ever before. Problem was back then telephones weren’t all that big and no one had televisions, so it was difficult for rich parents to keep in touch with their school boys and it was even tougher to make sure everyone else knew your kids were rich and important. Luckily one of the great ways to get rich back then was to own a newspaper. The internet hadn’t started the French Revolution yet and so the Bourgeoisie New York Times was free to cover the activities of rich college kids like the internet would a Kardashian.3707358200_0d296eab18_o

The sports page had things like rowing, fencing, and equestrian events. Pretty soon, thanks to all our practice at Gettysburg, Andrew Carnegie, and the White Fleet, there were even more rich people than there used to be and the sports page was covering football games at places like the University of Chicago, Notre Dame, and Stanford. This football thing was getting big. So big in fact that by 1903 both Harvard and Yale broke ground on permanent stadiums just for this game of football. Harvard’s could seat 30,000 people, Yale’s could seat 70,000. Neither school even had 10,000 students. But people were paying attention to the few students there were at those places, and as is always the case with Kardashians, there were a lot of imitators or spin offs. Soon you had people tackling each other and taking duck lip selfies in places like Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Not necessarily at the schools in those places- just in those places. I mean, these people weren’t even in college let alone rich. Just common Etsy users. The nerve!Yale_Bowl

With the spreading popularity of the game and the historically consistent need of rich people to win, the line between student and athlete was quickly blurred. Schools that wanted to make money by filling stadiums-er- wanted their students to learn valuable life lessons through winning intercollegiate sporting events, started dabbling here and there in paying certain individuals with certain skills to come be a student for their school for a few games here and there. This ruffled feathers. Up until this point college was first and foremost, a place for sons of rich people to commune amongst themselves, with the occasional exception for an extra serious student. This whole football thing was trying to shift those exceptions from smart nerds, whom no one cared about, to poorer (not rich) athletic kids, whom the public loved. Something had to be done.IMG_0542

Luckily America was blessed at this time with a president who was also a Harvard alum, so he understood the importance of the situation. He was able to concoct some national crisis or concern about how many people died playing football in 1905 (19). Hadn’t the civil war taught us anything about the value of life? Doesn’t America know we need these kids alive as we ramp up for the first world war? I mean college is where the children of Vanderbilts and Kennedys hang out. Premature violent death is for poor people and immigrants, not Vanderbilts, unless of course they are an officer in a glorious world conflict in places like Cuba, so stay tuned, but for now, football must be regulated! The following year 62 colleges signed on as charter members of the NCAA, a loose organization organized to make sure poor people weren’t being paid to play rich people games, and that the game would be safer. Teddy was great at this sort of thing.IMG_2563

So the NCAA got to work protecting integrity and human life. Most of the schools, Like the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to make the game safer by making the playing field wider. The idea is that if there is more room to run away from someone you are less likely to get ran over by them. Makes sense. Other schools, named Harvard and Yale, wanted to make the game safer by making this new trick called the forward pass legal. The idea is that if you are allowed to throw the ball away when you are about to get trampled, you are less likely to get trampled.Makes sense. This passing the ball idea made even more sense to Harvard and Yale since they had just built their new huge stadiums out of concrete and all those seats might be easier to fill if there was a new trick to watch… and it was physically impossible to widen the field since they hadn’t left any spare room when they built the 50,000 seat concrete facility for student recreation. Fortunately for the Doug Fluties of the world the forward pass won the day. But let me get back to the wide field advocates at places like Penn.out_of_the_game

While Harvard and Yale were the traditional homes of traditional rich people memorizing Latin and rioting over bad food, Penn was the traditional home of more practical press apprenticing Ben Franklin and P&L statement memorizing Joseph Wharton. Add in all the Keynesian economists over in Chicago and just plain nerds at that newfangled Cornell, and you have some relatively influential schools that were highly “invested” in winning football games. The NCAA, which more or less started as a meeting at the White House, settled on being mostly a club where schools could agree on rules like forward passes and flying wedges, and sort of skirted about the whole paying players and filling stadiums stuff so the grand settlement was that Pasadena California should build a big stadium not on any campus and host a “bowl game” every January. This may have been everyone’s undoing as no sooner did they start hosting this big game and writing about it in the Times, than schools like Washington State and Oregon were beating schools like Brown and Penn. It was just like Vogue putting Kim Kardashian on the cover; this was not in the original playbook. USC, Alabama, and Georgia Tech. Georgia Tech? There is a “tech” in the name of the school for heaven’s sake. This desire to fill stadiums and win games got so carried away that in 1916, a full 54 years before USC’s famous game against all white Bama, Brown fielded a brown player named Fritz Pollard. Imagine how popular you would be as a black man with a German name in 1916 (just as an FYI the whole world was in a war against Germany in 1916). Meh, who cares when it comes to football right? Elihu Yale must have been rolling over in his grave. But not everyone was ready to just roll over. Some folks were serious about school and integrity, and rich white boys- I mean education.77

So along comes this guy Robert Hutchins. He was one of those poor white nerds that Yale decided to be nice to back in the day. Huge mistake. First Yale let him in, then he becomes the Dean of the law school, and next thing ya know, bam, he’s the president of the University of Chicago. Ya see, when you let a non-rich nerd take over the show, they turn it into a nerd show. Poor Chicago. In 1935 a Chicago halfback won this fancy trophy they were giving to the best football player in the whole country called the “Heisman” (named after a guy who played football at both Brown and Penn). Four years later, this guy Hutchins CANCELS FOOTBALL! Ends it. Done. No more team. Nerd. Evil nerd. But what else was there to do? This game meant to keep roughhousing rich white boys busy had experienced some serious mission drift and was becoming-uh hum- common. The originally not rich nerd chose to cancel the fun so the school could stay nerdy, but the original club of rich white boys had another plan. They decided to take their ball and go home. In 1936 Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, Dartmouth, Columbia, and Penn, along with that new kid Cornell, unofficially banded together in what they were calling “an ivy league” and for the most part decided to just compete against each other and no longer mess with the rabble. This unofficial league had a gentleman’s agreement that they wouldn’t give any athletic scholarships and would only consider one’s actual scholarship (or pedigree) in deciding college admissions. This was a grand return to their educational roots and original scholastic ideals, though those ideals never really existed in the first place. Isn’t it ironic? Yeah, I really do think.8b04d512846bc903_large

Perhaps some of you do not like Alanis Morrisette, or are not of my generation so you have no idea who that is (the Drake of the 90’s), and consequentially you think I am being unfair in my historical descriptions of the non-scholastic motives of these birthplaces of God’s great game. This might be the case. I was once an offensive lineman so I am not above playing dirty. But consider if you will the idea that before the 1920’s there were no real admissions requirements other than graduating high school, for one to be admitted to college. I mean, way back when colleges started there wasn’t even such thing as a high school. There was only money. But in the 20’s a lot more people started enrolling in colleges and not just more people, but different kinds of people. Some of these people were burly non book reading types who were being paid to play football at Penn, but those guys were asked (paid) to come, and after all, there are only so many players on a football team. No one really cared. But there were also these non–rich only semi-white guys who enrolled in huge numbers called Jews. They hadn’t exactly been invited. Colleges saw this as a problem and thankfully for them they had almost 200 years of previous practice as a coalition of rich white guys and the occasional nerd to devise such things as “geographical balance” and “extracurricular considerations.” These were more or less quotas. In many cases, they were actual quotas.In the 1920’s places like Columbia (in this case Columbia specifically) upon realizing they had become 40% Jewish enacted these extra admissions considerations and successfully got that Jewish percentage down to 20% within two years. Now mind you this is the same Columbia that beat Stanford for the national title in the 1933 Rose Bowl. Go Lions!cops_gordon

New York was not the only place struggling with an influx of non-rich semi-white students. Consider this official statement from Harvard in 1922: “The great increase which has recently taken place in the number of students at Harvard College, as at the other colleges, has brought up forcibly the problem of the limitation of enrollment.

We have not at present sufficient classrooms or dormitories, to take care of any further large increase. This problem is really a group of problems, all difficult, and most of them needing for their settlement more facts than we now have. Before a general policy can be formulated on this great question it must engage the attention of the Governing Board and the Faculties and it is likely to be discussed by alumni and undergraduates.

It is natural that with a widespread discussion of this sort going on there should be talk about the proportion of Jews at the college. At present the whole problem of limitation of enrollment is in the stage of general discussion and it may remain in that stage for a considerable time.”0d1248ee26f2d6cbf70ee83156f27329

It was almost like the game was getting dangerous and Harvard found themselves unable to widen the field and instead chose to pass. They, and the other bastions of college football, were in danger of being trampled and unfortunately US News & World Report wouldn’t start publishing college rankings till 1983 so they were still dependent on pedigrees and bank accounts to decide which schools were best. In fact, these were such dangerous times that it was beginning to be hard to know what exactly was meant by best and how it should be measured. So Chicago quit, the Ivies formed a league, and Southern Methodist University eventually got the death penalty.exit the stadium

This all matters because I recently purchased this special eye black that comes in the colors of the university that employs me. I care about the intellectual development of my children and as a responsible parent I intend to decorate them in collegiate regalia when we go to the games starting this fall. It matters because we have recently learned that football teams in Illinois outrank the college president and that in North Carolina football players can get grades in a whole course of classes while the professor is away on sabbatical. These are great schools. I know this because both the BCS and a magazine tell me so. I have been to a great school and consequentially, and I write this with no irony, I can proudly pronounce the name Chris Fuamatu Ma’afala, with no help and ignore the red Microsoft squiggly lines with confidence. I am confident in my education.jefferson football

I was recently reading Walter Camp’s suggestions on how to train a top notch defensive end. His instructions included rowing and eating toast. Walter should not be ignored because he is who created Knute Rockne, Bear Bryant, Bobby Bowden, and Bill Belichick. I may even give old Walter Camp credit for Joe Montana, Joe Brown, Joe Paterno, and Joe Theismann. Yup, all of them. As I peek at ESPN.com while at my desk, listen to Jim Rome during my commute, or watch Sports Center while doing whatever verb describes what you do on an elliptical (ellipticate?) I think of Walter Camp.

And Walter went to Yale.yalecoaches