April 23, 2014 § Leave a comment
46. Because if you do, you’ll be giving yours truly, Bad Prof, a sweet assist, just like Jimmy King of the University of Michigan’s legendary Fab Five!
So drop a dime today and then (because we’ve still got a long way to go) make sure that you spread the word so that your friends do too.
And while you’re thinking about us:
April 22, 2014 § Leave a comment
By now, most of you must know that I’m co-founding and co-editing a new online forum for thoughtful observers of sport: The Allrounder. If so, you also know that to raise funds for our launch and first year of operation, we’re in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that will run until May 20. We are asking for $55,000 in donations. As usual for Kickstarter, if we don’t get it all, we get nothing. And if we get nothing, the world doesn’t get The Allrounder. So the stakes are high. Over the next month I’ll be using Between the Lines to hector, harass, badger, cajole, coax, persuade, boss, plead, beg, wheedle, entice, sweet-talk and otherwise try to force my readers and friends to kick in a few bucks to help us go live. If everybody does just a little bit, we can make it.
In case you’re already convinced: go to our Kickstarter page now.
Today, I offer a visual indicator of the caliber of content we’ll be running: a virtual library of selected works written by those who’ve already signed on to contribute their thoughtful, accessible perspectives, from a broad range of disciplinary angles, on the whole world of sport and its attendant culture. They are not just intelligent and informed thinkers, but superb storytellers eager to share their work with other scholars and, especially with a broader audience. How great would it be to have a single, free place online where you could go to read brief, accessible essays on topical issues in sports culture around the globe by the world’s leading sports culture intellectuals? So peep this dazzling array and, if you care about sport and its role in shaping our world, you will surely feel as I do, that this is an exciting venture worthy of your support as well as that of your friends.
To make things easier, as you peruse the titles below, clicking on any of the book cover images will take you to our Kickstarter page.
April 2, 2014 § 2 Comments
I wrote most of this a few years ago. It seems much more important now. And so I added a bit to it at the end. Thanks for reading.
What is my father’s voice? What does it sound and feel like? What does it say? What difference does it make? I’ve written about how radio broadcasts would help me mute the sound of his voice as he and my mother argued and how, at a metaphorical level, my father’s desires and voice loomed as large in my childhood as Wilt Chamberlain loomed in the Philadelphia Warriors offense. But in fishing out the memories of those feelings, I’ve also snagged some other memories, other stories, and other feelings. They don’t all literally involve his voice, but the most important one does.
My dad was one of my earliest opponents on the basketball court (my two older brothers and, on occasion, my sister or her boyfriend were the others). My father loved to watch basketball—a quick and intelligent student of the game’s more subtle dynamics. But, a Spanish immigrant to the United States, he was neither experienced nor skilled as a player. Moreover, around the time I was eight or nine, he suffered a serious back injury that made it impossible for him to run and jump. Most of my memories of playing against my dad come from that time, when he was grounded, but still willing—somehow—to come out and play with me.
What a complex classroom in basketball and in life those contests would be. I say he was inexperienced, unskilled, and hampered by injury, but my father, as I recall his game, possessed a fair bit of natural athletic ability. I don’t remember him jumping, but I imagine he had pretty good hops in his day. Around 5-foot-9 with a medium build, he was quick with wiry, strong muscles in his legs and arms.
He was a determined competitor. At the time, I appreciated that. For me, playing ball was about playing against grown-ups and thereby feeling like less of the family baby. I couldn’t tolerate the idea of someone going easy on me. I’m aware now that the grown ups were both probably going easy on me and protecting me from the knowledge of that. But I still remember each game as an all-out war of bodies and minds.
Offensively, my dad had a somewhat limited repertoire. He had a fairly accurate one-handed set shot, given the time to set it up. He had a pretty quick first step to the basket, but he needed to look at the ball to dribble, which slowed his drives to the hoop. He also had this methodical way of backing in toward the basket, keeping his dribble alive, and then, finally close enough, tossing a quick turn-around, half-shot, half-hook, off the backboard. That was tough for me to stop because he was bigger and stronger. I still remember feeling the dread of the inevitable as I desperately dug in, trying to hold my ground.
But what I remember most viscerally is his suffocating style of defense. My dad gave new meaning to the phrase “man up.” I see him–feet wide apart, crouched low, back ramrod straight—playing torso-to-torso defense. He got as close as he possibly could without touching, his hands stretched to the side or straight up in the air depending on whether I was shooting. As I’d begin to dribble, his arms would come together in a kind of stiff-armed hug. I’d press my drive around him and it felt like I was trying to enter a turnstile the wrong way—a little give, but no way to get through. I imagine that we acknowledged fouls in those games, but I don’t actually remember any.
I do remember the combination of frustration and determination that his intense defense used to provoke in me, as well as the elation and triumph I’d feel when I scored. Sometimes I felt so beaten and trapped that I wanted to cry in frustration and complaint. Sometimes, I’m sure, I did (I cried easily as a boy). But sometimes I found that my father’s will to stop me seemed to infect me, and I’d feel an unshakeable will not to give up until I got past him. Then, no matter how many times I slammed into that turnstile, I’d backtrack my dribble, try a still-emerging crossover or fake, and try to get around him on the other side. Or I’d try a wider path to the hoop, hoping to elude his reach entirely. More than anything, what stays with me is the sense that I lost myself. And in that tiny, intense battle for a swath of poured concrete, that felt good.
Those times I drove past him, I felt elated, proud, relieved, but also a little anxious. I couldn’t tell what my dad felt, and that worried me. Was he proud? Hurt? Angry? All I could be sure of was that he was determined and serious. Probably, I was wrong even about that. Maybe all he was doing was trying to endure the pain caused by the herniated disk in his back. Maybe he was thinking about something else entirely. Yet it never felt that way. It felt like he was all there, all about stopping me by hook or by crook. It felt like we both had something personal at stake.
Sometimes this was confusing and unsettling, but most of all I remember those games against my dad as strengthening. They built my confidence, not to mention certain skills and qualities in my game that I still notice today when a stronger, bigger, more physical player guards me. I still usually respond by going to the basket with extra determination. I still do my best to bang underneath and to hold my ground when he tries to post me up. And so, above all, I feel the surging and energizing desire to win—more, to vanquish. And if I do, when I do, I feel it has so much to do with will, with wanting it more. I think of my dad and feel sure that nobody but him could have instilled that in me.
I’m reminded of Dave Hickey’s excellent essay “The Heresy of Zone Defense” in the book Air Guitar. Hickey opens with a description of this play:
Julius [Erving] takes the ball in one hand and elevates, leaves the floor. Kareem [Abdul Jabbar] goes up to block his path, arms above his head. Julius ducks, passes under Kareem’s outside arm and then under the backboard. He looks like he’s flying out of bounds. But no! Somehow, Erving turns his body in the air, reaches back under the backboard from behind, and lays the ball up into the basket from the left side.
Hickey thinks about the joy the play elicits and decides that its perfection is as much Kareem’s doing as Dr. J’s. Kareem’s perfect defense elicited Dr. J’s perfect response. I now think of my dad as my Kareem, the one whose perfect intensity and, ultimately, respect for me as his opponent elicited my best. He brought out my technical skills and most intense determination. Playing against my dad gave me the ability to transform feelings of frustration and anger into a combination of focused desire and intelligent calculation.
But my dad was more than my opponent. Once I started playing competitively, he was also my biggest, most conscientious, and most enthusiastic fan. I started playing soccer in competitive leagues when I was five or six and played every season through my senior in high school. I started playing competitive basketball in sixth grade and, again, played all the way through high school. I’m sure he must’ve missed a game or two because he travelled regularly during part of that time, but I can’t remember any.
Home and away, he was always there with my mother—a fixture among the sparse crowd of parents and friends on the sidelines of a soccer game or up about five or six rows behind our bench at our more crowded basketball games. With his bad back, I don’t really know if it hurt him to sit in the pullout wooden bleachers or to stand for the duration of a soccer game. I always imagined that it did. That was the reason, I figured, why he always paced the sideline. If his back did hurt, he never told me about it. He never complained once.
What’s more, and I’ve never heard of any other dad doing this, he kept track of the statistics at my basketball games all the way from sixth grade through high school. He used a small yellow steno pad and one of the ever-present fine-point pens from his shirt pocket. In neatly labeled columns, he recorded my field-goal attempts, field goals, free-throw attempts, free throws, assists, steals, turnovers, rebounds, fouls, and points. Once I made varsity, he started doing it for the entire team.
My dad never used these statistics to criticize me or my teammates. I don’t remember him actually ever even making any neutral observations about the statistics (He eventually entered them into a database, so he could print from his new personal computer in the early 1980s). My dad was a scientist, a very capable scientist, with a brilliant statistical mind and love of numbers. Though I never had his aptitude, I did love the mathematical games and tricks he shared with me when I was a boy, and I did love to pore over sports statistics. I even—I’m a little embarrassed to say—kept track of the statistics from one-on-one games against my friend Robb (I kept track, consulting him of course, of his statistics too). All of this is to say that my dad’s stat keeping was a way for him to connect more deeply with my life. It was enough that he was always there at the games, no matter what else might be going on. But he took it further, connecting one of his abilities and passions to one of mine. This enhanced and augmented the space we shared.
Of all these memories of competing with my dad and poring over statistics with him, the one that most sticks out in my mind is the sound of his voice—deep, hoarse, slightly accented—bellowing over the sound of my coaches and the hundreds of fans at one of our basketball games. “Go Yago! Goooooo Yago!” Sometimes my friends made fun of me. That annoyed and embarrassed me, but, very secretly, I was grateful to my dad for being the kind of dad-fan who yells for and not at his kid. Not all my friends’ dads were like that. Some of them never came to games. Others came but were quiet supporters. Others came and berated their sons publicly during and after each game. My dad came, kept stats, occasionally gave the ref a piece of his mind, and shouted “Go Yago!”
It’s not just that he yelled “Go Yago!,” it’s in that “Go Yago!” that he expressed all the pride and love and joy he drew not only from my accomplishments but from my participation. My dad let me know that he was proud of me when I won an award, or made all my free throws, or had a high assist-turnover ratio. But he also let me know, just as frequently, that he was proud of me and loved just watching me run down the floor. He just loved to watch me run. I don’t even know if it was really the running. I dimly feel that my running on the court (or on the soccer field) just stands for my being. And by loving my running, my father expressed his love for me, just as I was, just because I was. So “Go Yago”—the name of my first basketball blog—is most deeply that: a calling forth of the love and acceptance of my father for me, just because I am and my being brings him joy.
I have talked to my Dad daily, usually via FaceTime since early July, when my mother, suffering from late stage Alzheimer’s, had a seizure and a bad fall and had to be placed in a skilled nursing facility. He was suddenly alone for the first time in his life. None of this was what he imagined his final years would look like. For nine months I’ve talked to him daily. We have never been closer, talking openly of regrets, angers, sorrows, and love and mutual admiration. Sometimes, we would just be silent, looking at each other’s images on our respective devices, feeling the strange combination of proximity and distance. We closed our conversations by blowing each other a kiss. In January he received a diagnosis of inoperable cancer. In March he moved into the same facility with my mom. My wife and I were there to put him to bed on his last night in the home he shared with my mom for 44 years, the home they raised me in. “Ah, Yago and Claire,” he said before closing his eyes that night, “You are so sweet!”
We still talk every day, but his mind is going fast, and he’s frequently too tired to all for more than a few minutes. His voice doesn’t make much sense when it speaks or me anymore. His eyes aren’t open that often and when they are they are looking at something else. I don’t know what.
I’m afraid of how it will feel when I know I won’t hear his voice ever again; his voice, and eyes, and smile, expressing that joy that I exist.
September 26, 2013 § Leave a comment
Today I received the good news that the new course I designed — Global Sports Culture — was approved so that I will be able to offer it as Comparative Literature 100 in the Fall semester of 2014. This gives me a chance to devote more of my teaching time to the topic of sports, to broaden my teaching repertoire beyond the culture of basketball, and it offers students who have been interested in, but unable to enroll in my Hoops Culture course, a chance to take a different sports-related course with me. So please share this with anyone you think might be interested.
I’m still sifting through the specific materials I’ll be using. But I have a course description and schedule in mind and thought I’d share them.
(Note: I welcome suggestions for materials that would be appropriate (in terms of the balance of ease and difficulty) for college undergrads. Please post them in the comments or e-mail me with a brief sense of where and how your suggestion would fit. Thanks.)
Playing, watching, and talking about sports is perhaps the most popular pastime around the world today. Taking an astonishing variety of forms in different locales, sports and the images, metaphors, narratives, and values that spring up around sports weave themselves into the stories we tell about ourselves and our world, even when we don’t think we’re talking about sports. In this course, we’ll study stories and images purveyed and consumed within sports culture around the globe. We’ll be looking at what they tell us about how we think about such things as play, beauty, goodness, violence, money, sex, gender, race, and nations.
The course format is lecture and discussion. Each week’s lecture will offer students historically grounded, philosophically informed reflections on concepts key to critically understanding sports culture in its transnational and global dimensions. Then, in discussion sections, students will explore these concepts in greater detail and more concretely by 1) completing a reading assignment that fleshes the lecture topic out in relation to a particular example or case from global sports culture; 2) completing a short written reflection on the reading assignment prior to the discussion section meeting. Students will also complete three short and one longer paper.
Week 1 “Introduction: Studying Global Sports Culture”
Week 2 “Play”
[Introducing the concept of “play” as a fundamental impulse underlying global sports culture. We will explore cross-cultural, philosophical, and social and historical dimensions of play, while at the same time noting the differences between anthropological, philosophical-aesthetic, and sociological-historical approaches to the topic.]
Week 3 “Rules”
[Introducing the concept of “rules” as structuring parameters in sport. We will view them from the putatively “universal” perspective of the philosophy of games as well as historically in the concrete case of the invention of the rules of basketball in the US and its subsequent export and transformation abroad.]
Week 4 “Creativity”
[Explore the creative expression that can arise when the desire to play meets the constraints of rules by looking at the aesthetic quality of sport in general from a philosophical perspective and by critically examining the ways that nationality, globalization, and race influence both that creative expression and the way it is understood as a sport migrates transnationally.]
Week 5 “Competition”
[introducing the idea of “competition” as a way to explore questions of inter-subjective relations in global sports culture. This includes a detailed examination of how competition comes to be consciously or unconsciously invested with geopolitical significance.]
Week 6 “Ethics”
[Approaching the issues of ethics in global sports culture from the disciplinary perspectives of philosophy and sociology and by comparing the way in which ethical issues pertaining to sport vary transnationally.]
Week 7 “Aesthetics”
[Considering global sports culture as an art form or at least as an aesthetic phenomenon, taking up the issue both from a philosophical standpoint and from the more concretely historical and sociological perspective and situation of West Indian cricket in the mid 20th century.]
Week 8 “Watching”
[Taking up the issue of spectatorship and fandom. The accompanying readings, from philosophical, literary critical, and sociological perspectives, address both the putatively universal condition of watching sports as well also the global vicissitudes of that condition.]
Week 9 “Stories”
[Spotlighting the pivotal role that narrative plays in global sports culture. The readings concretize this by exploring how narratives shape performance, spectatorship and consumption of global sports culture and how these narratives are shaped by such categories as self and other, location and nationality, globalization and universality, and class, race, and gender.]
Week 10 “Media”
[Examining the role of the mass media in global sports culture, focusing in particular on how, in different global contexts, the mass media directs traffic at the the intersections of sport with such political and social categories as class, race, migration, ethnicity, and nationalism.]
Week 11 “Market”
[Focusing on the market as the place where the spectacle of global sports culture is manufactured, bought, and sold. The readings, from the perspectives of history and of cultural studies, focus on the branding and selling of American basketball player Michael Jordan in the context of neo-liberal globalization.]
Week 12 “Gender”
[Introducing the concept of “gender” as a lens through which to examine global sports culture. The readings offer both theoretical reflection on the concepts of gender in sport and case studies of how gender and sports intersect in national and transnational sporting contexts.]
Week 13 “Race”
[Examining how race functions in global sports culture. The accompanying readings help to ground this examination by exploring the vicissitudes of race’s functioning depending on its intersections with gender, the particular sport in question, and the national and international setting.]
Week 14 “Geopolitics”
[This lecture concludes the course by focusing directly on how global sports culture is shaped by and shapes forces of nationalism and imperialism in the context of globalization.]
August 24, 2013 § Leave a comment
This was written sometime in the summer of 1996, after the Bulls won the NBA championship, led by the trio of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and, implausibly, their former nemesis and Detroit Piston Bad Boy, Dennis Rodman.
A former colleague and good friend of mine, Grant Farred, with whom I’d shared numerous conversations about sports, invited me to write it for a collection he was putting together. Grant went on to a very successful academic career in the field of sports studies, but this particular collection never got published and I thought my contribution was lost forever. But I recently found the typescript in a drawer at my parents’ house and thought I’d share it here. Some of the writing and formulations are out-of-date, embarrassing, or just wrong. But I haven’t changed anything in it.
You have to turn your imagination back to the 1995-1996 season and especially the finals (or fire up some youtube clips from the period). And if you can, then this piece might have some historical or archival value – as a way of seeing the Dennis Rodman of that time. ~ yc
Dennis Rodman looks out of place on a basketball court. His body doesn’t seem to belong, not to him and not on the court. First, there’s the way he runs the floor. For all his athletic ability, maybe even because of his athletic ability, Rodman runs like that guy in middle school: the one the coach pulled out from behind the school where he was smoking cigarettes with the other dirtballs, switched his leather jacket for a pair of gym shorts, and put him at center because he’d hit puberty before anyone else. He could run the floor faster and longer than any of us who had been doing it all our young lives, but purely as a physiological act. His body seemed to do it in spite of himself, in spite of his mind, which surely was elsewhere. Knees picked up too high, landing almost on the tips of his toes, arms doing nothing but helping him run. He could run alright, he was a natural runner, but not a basketball player who was running. He could jump too, but the same way, as a natural jumper.
Our resentment surely began there, covetous of squandered gifts we knew already we would never enjoy, we turned our timid pre-pubescent wit at everything else about him: his skills first, but also his grades, his appalling and shameful delinquency, and above all, his nonchalance, which we, true to the formula of athletics, recast as “lack of intensity,” egotism, or when it related to the coach, “insubordination.” The “head case” was born of our envious juvenile imaginations. This is Rodman, and you see it everytime he pulls down a defensive rebound. He seems almost afraid to move his feet because of the disaster that will ensue if he tries to do that which he does so well when he’s just moving in a straight line down the flow while he has to think think of something else, like how to get rid of the ball as quickly as possible. « Read the rest of this entry »
June 19, 2013 § Leave a comment
A poetic experiment, with apologies to Wallace Stevens
The cotton, nylon and spandex are blended
to provide superior softness, stretchy comfort
and to keep sweat out of your eyes,
so all you have to worry about is your game.
For eight dollars
you can own
your own NBA Logoman Headband®
that cost ten cents to produce.
Taut atop the 7’ frame
of the Big Dipper
the headband heightened
the threatened menace
Slick Watts first
used duct tape
as a headband.
Big Ben was benched and fined
for wearing his headband
in defiance of his coach’s prohibition.
the center circle,
and the headband are one
A laurel wreath,
and a headband are also one.
Caught in the hand of a young fan
a headband is a treasured relic,
preciously captured and made holy.
the headband prevents
awareness of our own effort
from blinding us.
sweat of your brow
the headband buys you time in Eden
Slipping ever higher, we conceal
the signs of time’s receding
with a headband.
On King James’ dunk,
the headband left him of its own accord,
knowing it was a redundant crown,
and that time could flow again.