Troubleshooting the Sports Machine (Global Sports Cultures, 1st Lecture)

Yesterday I gave my first lecture in Global Sports Cultures (Comparative Literature 100).  After teaching the course for the first time last year, I retooled the syllabus both to make the material more concrete by prioritizing certain figures and moments as primary focal points for each week’s studies and also to facilitate my making my lectures more accessible, and more interactive.  I also put lots of time into creating an interactive online course concept map as a resource for students looking to find more about particular facts, ideas, or personalities or to explore comparative connections from week to week.  It’s still in progress, but I’m including it here below because I think it could a very valuable tool, and I certainly have been learning a lot putting it together. The image below gives you an idea of what that looks like (each of those “Thought” boxes is clickable and contains more specific thoughts), but feel free click here if you want to explore the course concepts for yourself.

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The fact is, I vastly prefer small groups and open-ended discussion.  But, as I told the students yesterday, we are at the University of Michigan and our administration wants us to have a certain ratio of student credit hours per faculty position: so here we are, 172 of them and me.  I’m not there yet, but I’m trying to find ways to flip this beast.

My goal for the first week’s lecture was pretty simple: to get them to use their own experiences and feelings about sport together with the readings they’d already done in order to get to three ideas: 1) that sports may be understood as a machine for delivering certain positive effects; 2) that it may not be running as well as it could; 3) that this class was about developing certain diagnostic skills and tools to begin to troubleshoot and fix the sports machine.  To aid me in this process, I prepared a power point presentation (I know, I usually hate them to, especially giving them) with some video clips and images that I thought would provide more concrete and so impactful ways for them to think about the positive and the negative effects of the sports machine.

I’m always nervous on the first day, but was even more so yesterday because: 1) 172 adolescent students in a big auditoriums; 2) technology; 3) trying to persuade sports fans that thinking critically about sports won’t ruin their love of sports.  But I donned my professorial uniform of khaki chinos and a navy blazer, laced up my pink Chuck Taylors and bravely stepped into the arena.

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The sound didn’t work on the powerpoint videos, which in one case was truly disappointing to me, but I think I rebounded from that pretty well.  By 9 pm on the day of lecture, students are required to post to a course website one quote from their lecture notes and then to explain why they selected it.  These went up pretty quickly yesterday afternoon and I was very heartened to see that many, if not most, of the students had chosen the sports is a machine metaphor and explained the choice by confessing they’d never really thought about it that way (or even really thought negatively about sports—one of them reported that this was the first time taking a sports-related course at Michigan that he’d heard a professor refer to a negative side to sports) and expressing their excitement to roll up their sleeves, pick up their tools, and get under the hood.

You can see for yourself what you think here.  A couple of technical notes, I’m sorry that, as I said, the sound on some of the videos didn’t work.  I’ll figure that out before next week.  And I’m sorry also that the only images are of the power point slide (if anyone care about that).  I’m going to try to change that setting as well so we get both the slides and the classroom.  Lastly, I’m sharing this in part because I welcome feedback, whether from students or other individuals who might, if they were at Michigan, take a course like this or from other teachers.  If you have suggestions that aren’t too terrifying and don’t make me feel defensive, I will most definitely consider them.  So, please click the link below, and enjoy!

Trouble Shooting the Sports Machine (Lecture 1, Global Sports Cultures, September 14, 2015)

 

Teaching Values: Coaching the Right Way

In the wake of my posts last week exploring some of the history, assumptions and implications underlying various aspects of coaching, I had a great conversation with Nick Houseman at BBallBreakdown.  Nick is a coach, clearly an intelligent and caring one and so one who is looking to make coaches and coaching better. Perhaps in that spirit, he asked me the following question yesterday: “is there a debate about coaches using sports to teach overarching themes about life?”

I take it that Nick is asking not whether such a debate exists (for the record, there is quite a bit of scholarly discussion of this in the sport psychology, sport sociology and sport philosophy literature–contact me for some references), but rather, rhetorically, whether I believe that it is appropriate for coaches to use sports to teach overarching themes about life? My short answer is yes.  There’s no question that sports can provide numerous opportunities to learn, either through experience or instruction, about life; and a coach can be the individual who helps teach those lessons.  Moreover, as historians such as Dominick Cavallo and Clifford Putney (to name just two among many) have shown, sports have and probably will continue to be—for better and for worse—impactful arenas for imparting these lessons. In the case of basketball, for example, the game was in part designed to do so.  And individuals like James Naismith, John Wooden, Walt Frazier, Bill Russell, Bill Bradley, Mike Krysewski, and Phil Jackson, among many others, have authored volumes elaborating their ideas about what basketball can teach and how; even as scholars have complicated our understanding of how this might work best.

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But in specific circumstances (and leaving aside the kind of coaching behaviors that have left too many young people with a horrible impression of sports culture) , I might qualify my response depending on the answers to certain questions: what is the age of the athletes? What are the themes being taught and how are these being taught? And what is the social context outside of the sporting arena that might support (or undermine) the ability of individual athletes to incorporate these (presumably positive) lessons into their daily lives.  Each of these questions reflects underlying issues that complicate my answer.

Basketball for BoysThis may seem obvious, but generally speaking, I think it’s most appropriate and practical for coaches to impart life lessons to younger players. This isn’t because I think we can’t stop learning about life as we get older.  Life is complicated and challenging in ways that change as we age.  And none of us are ever too old to benefit from the experiences, perspectives, and wisdom of others.  However, in a professional context such as the NBA, where (depending on your definition) most or all of the players are adults, there is a danger that coaches seeking to impart life lessons may fail to respect or appreciate the life wisdom players already have and therefore take on a patronizing attitude.  That is, a situation can arise in which one grown adult is treating another grown adult as though he were less than adult. Because of the racial dynamic whereby most coaches are still white and most players still black and the history of race relations in the US, this such an attitude can become especially problematic.

Moreover, the NBA is a business in which coaches and players alike are employed to maximize, through their success on the court, the profit line of owners. It may not be practical in that context to prioritize life lessons.  And, in addition, the business aspect of the NBA means that coaches and players may not have the opportunity to develop the kinds of intimate personal relationships (knowledge of each other’s experiences and lives, trust, etc.) that should be the bedrock for any such instruction. However, in explicitly educational contexts (such as colleges and schools) and elsewhere that younger athletes are involved, I think using the sporting experience to impart life lessons can be appropriate and desirable, depending, as I said at the outset, on what the themes are, how they are being taught, and on the broader social context in which this is occurring.

It’s probably pretty common to consider, again taking basketball as an example, that certain qualities of character likely to lead to individual and team success are also valuable in life outside of basketball.  Hard work, self-discipline, physical health, enjoyment, graciousness, adaptability, individual initiative, cooperation, unselfishness, intelligence, self-respect and respect for others, and an appreciation of individual differences in personality and ability might comprise a non-exhaustive list of such qualities. I’ve certainly found in my life in and out of basketball that cultivating and exhibiting such qualities tends to contribute to more positive outcomes more often than not.  And most would agree in principle (even if some waver or fall short in actual practice) that these qualities should be prioritized over other values (such as winning) if and when they conflict.

I’m not claiming that these are universal values.  Some arguably are, some definitely are not.  Sometimes, the objection that they are not is voiced to prevent the specific experiences of certain socially marginalized group from being erased. Such erasure is a valid and serious concern.  But I wonder if it might be constructively addressed with careful attention to the conditions under which they are transmitted.  Perhaps this is naive on my part, but if it were the case, we could then avoid resigning ourselves to the position—which admittedly I find tempting, but ultimately counter to my experience, my reasoning, and my desire—that it is hopeless, or worse harmful, to attempt to use sports to impart life lessons to athletes we care about.

Some sociologists rightly observe that there can be in sport an excessive emphasis on defining well-being and development in individual terms. The concern behind this critical observation is that such an emphasis fails to take into account the role—both for better and worse—of society (and of other collectives) in the well-being and development of individuals. Because basketball is a team sport, and as the list of qualities I offered above suggests, this may be less of a problem when it comes to the actual values some coaches seek to impart to their young players. It’s hard for me at least to imagine a basketball coach sternly instructing his or her players to go after their own individual success on the floor at all costs and that this will stand them in good stead in life after basketball.  Even so, it may be the case that some coaches fail to recognize (for any number of reasons) the broader social context in which their players must operate; a context which might make some of these qualities less practicable or practically useful than would be the case on the team or in other social scenarios with which a coach might be familiar or, indeed, in some ideal society.

But I don’t think this means that coaches should refrain from attempting to instill the values they genuinely believe will be useful to their players on and off the court.  It does, however, mean that how a coach teaches and—equally importantly—embodies these values becomes very important.  And it does mean that we should all (coaches included, or especially) be invested in the broader conditions, both of youth sport and of the social and community contexts surrounding young athletes outside of the sporting context, that might make the difference between life lessons learned through sport becoming empowering tools for individuals and communities and such lessons becoming little more than cynically deployed empty promises leading to bitterness and mistrust.

Coach-Gray-Sports-Coach-Tip-No-18-Coach-John-Burns-1024x1024Take care of your body might be the most fundamental tenet of all coaches and the athletic principle with the most obvious relevance to daily life.  The habits of physical self-care that a young athlete might cultivate in the context of their sporting experience may well become a life-long habit with clear benefits.  But, in imparting that lesson, are we taking adequate account of the situations that athlete may be facing in their home or community that might undermine their efforts at attending to their physical well being? Do they have adequate nutrition, for example, or the opportunity to cultivate proper sleep hygiene?

Respect yourself and others: another fundamental lesson to be learned through sports.  But self-respect and respect for others are not cultivated in a vacuum, through sheer force of individual will (even if such a will is a necessary condition for their cultivation). So when we teach young athletes to respect themselves and others (teammates, coaches, officials, opponents) are we considering whether or not the conditions exist in their lives outside of sport in which such a lesson might take root and grow?  Are they respected by their teachers? By law enforcement? By their peers? What about the coach? Is the coach, in his or her interaction with players, showing respect? Or, indeed, exemplifying the other lessons of life and of character he or she seeks to instill in them?

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I think one could go down the list of qualities that I mentioned above and ask of each of them: is the coach exemplifying them? Is their adequate social support for the cultivation of these lessons in a wholistic manner? If not, is the coach (and others claiming to care about the well being of the young athlete) working to ensure that the conditions exist outside the sport—in the family, neighborhood, community and country—in which these qualities can be both practicable and practically useful?

Obviously, as literal questions, the answer will be sometimes yes and sometimes no, depending on the coach.  But I mean them more as rhetorical questions designed to illuminate the more challenging areas that I fear are obscured by the broad popular consensus that sports are a good arena in which to learn life lessons and, therefore, that coaches are the appropriate instructors for such lessons.  I mean to be, in other words, pointing out some of the conditions that I think we need to meet if the potential of sport (and coaches) to work in this positive way is to be fulfilled.

Reason # 50 to Support @theallrounderco – Understanding the Donald Sterling Story

The Donald Sterling story that has filled sports pages and overflowed into mainstream news coverage and water cooler conversations over the last week provides reason #50 why we need the Allrounder and why you should support us today.

From the tactical to the cultural to the historical, from the political to the legal to the economic, Sterling’s case exemplifies perfectly the sort of complex breaking event in the world of sport that arises out of the intersection of a variety of forces in human society and that the Allrounder, with its pool of teachers and scholars from different disciplines will be poised to cover, as I explained to The Classical’s David Roth last week.

Leonard After Artest Just imagine, if the Allrounder already existed, you might have read Professor David J. Leonard (author of After Artest: The NBA’s Assault on Blackness) contextualizing Sterling’s taped remarks and backhistory within the broader framework of the league’s racial history.

Szymanski SoccernomicsBut what about the economics of the case?  Without a search or even a change of website, at the Allrounder you might see Professor Stefan Szymanski (sports economist, director of the Michigan Center for Sports Management at the University of Michigan and author of Soccernomics) break down the bewildering legal and economic issues and implications of the NBA’s response in ways we can all understand.

bass not the triumphOf course, we all know that sports aren’t only about the bottom line. What might the Clippers and other NBA players be thinking about their options?  How do these options fit into the history of Black athletes and political protest? Professor Amy Bass, historian and author of Not the Triumph but the Struggle the 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete, would provide you with thoughtful reflections on these questions.

Sure, there have been, amidst the din of noisy jackassery that is the mainstream sports media, a handful of clarifying pieces by smart journalists. But they are scattered across the web and, besides, who helps you think critically about even the best journalism?

(Bad) Prof. and Allrounder editor Yago Colás teaching his Cultures of Basketball class at the University of Michigan in 2013.

(Bad) Prof. and Allrounder editor Yago Colás teaching his Cultures of Basketball class at the University of Michigan in 2013.

Your professors! Think back to when you were in school and some news event broke that touched directly on your professor’s area of expertise. How excellent was it to be able to ask her directly in class what she thought of what going on? Don’t believe me, then ask POLITICO, which just yesterday phoned yours truly, Allrounder editor Yago Colás, for his views on the Sterling affair.

That’s who we are at The Allrounder: your sports professors! And we will give you just what professors can give: an informed expert’s opinion on what you care about. But it’s even better because it will be more like a team-taught course by some of the most experienced, accomplished and accessible individuals teaching about the world of sports in all its many dimensions.

The Allrounder will give you this, but we can only do it if you first give to the Allrounder. Please give $5 or $10 or, if you can $25 or $50 today, right now. And then make sure you brag about it and tell all your friends and framily by clicking on the Facebook and Twitter links after you’ve donated. Send them e-mails too.

Jimmy Then and Now

Jimmy King, with Fab Five teammate Jalen Rose in 1991 (L) and (R) with Old Skool Ballerz teammate and Allrounder editor Yago Colas in 2014)

Or, if you’ve got some major sports fans among your loved ones, consider making them the gift of a sports fan’s lifetime: imagine the basketball fan in your life upon hearing that they will be playing in a 3 on 3 tournament alongside the legendary Jimmy King of Michigan’s famed Fab Five! You can make that happen for a slightly higher donation.

But whatever the amount, the important thing is for you to please give today and help us continue to move towards our goal of providing the best single stop source for intelligent, accessible writing on all the breaking news that you care about from the world of sport.

Reasons #47-49 to support @theallrounderco

47. Because David Roth at The Classical thinks you should and he knows what’s what in the world of online sportswriting.  I know because he interviewed me yesterday for his own Kickstarted website for smart sports fans (a bit more journalistic and poetic than ours may turn out to be) and said some great things about us.

Here are a couple of excerpts:

48.

DR: What are the challenges of writing about this sort of thing within academia, and what about that experience made you want to take to the web?

YC: I’ve already mentioned that this sort of publicly accessible writing tends to be undervalued at many institutions. Moreover, among many academics, especially in the humanities (the case I know best), sports are viewed with disdain, as a kind of brutish populist phenomenon unworthy of scholarly examination. But it’s also the case that most of us teaching and conducting research in the field of sports studies can find ourselves somewhat isolated within our institutions, even when our work is supported and taken seriously. There are still very few departments of sports studies around the world.

This means that most of us have to venture outside our disciplinary home to find interlocutors. This can happen, sometimes, in our institutions as well as through the organization of panels at conferences. But the possibilities that an online, publicly accessible forum offers for collaboration and for informing ourselves and our readers about the great depth and range of work that others like us around the world are doing simply can’t be reproduced within the structure of the university and its publishing apparatus. And speaking for myself, a relative newcomer to the field of sports studies by comparison with many involved in the project, already in this early stage, the Allrounder has given me the opportunity to discover work I hadn’t realized existed.  

In this sense, the Allrounder is a resource. It’s like a big, awesome room someone can walk into to find that these great conversations among smart people on issues that I care about, not just as a fan, or as a sports studies scholar, but as someone who lives and cares about our world and the role of sports in it; who knows that sports isn’t just escapist entertainment but a critical experience through which billions of human beings around the world shape their images of themselves and their place in local, national, and global communities. At the Allrounder, we know this about sports because we count ourselves among those billions; and we address the sporting experience with respect and with a desire to understand—and to help others understand—it more deeply, ultimately with the hope that this understanding will empower us to shape our experience of sports more actively.

49.

DR: What do you envision as the thing that will make the Allrounder stand out from various other sports-y sites out there, and the thing that it will contribute to the conversation that other sites can’t? How will the money raised through the Kickstarter go to make that happen?

YC: Our contributors, mostly academics, dedicate enormous amounts of time to actual research and serious critical reflection on sports and that really makes a difference. But there’s more, because typically the time it takes to craft academic work and to publish it in traditional venues means that the work of scholars falls behind the curve of the topical.

At the Allrounder, the size of our pool of regular, rotating contributors counters this by allowing that same caliber of thought and writing to speak accessibly to issues in the world of sports that are happening right now, in real time. Then, the geographical and disciplinary diversity of that pool will make the Allrounder the only place where you can get a global perspective on sport from a variety of angles. Economists, historians, sociologists, literary and cultural critics, anthropologists, kinesiologists and others all see a different sporting universe. Their specific ways of seeing help bring different territories in the world of sport into sharper relief. No other site does this.

Typically, the kind of writing our contributors will be doing will not be recognized as legitimate by their institutions for the purposes of promotion and merit pay increases. In many institutions, there is still a prejudice that views with suspicion academic writing that is publicly accessible and unvetted by other academics. For our first year, while we get off the ground and transition to ad revenues, the money we are looking to raise through Kickstarter—besides supporting the infrastructure of the site—helps to make all this cool think-y stuff happen in much the same way that the money in medicine, law, and business helps attract academics in those fields to venture outside the university: by giving academics a tangible reward for the time and energy they will be dedicating to generating high quality content for the site.

So if you weren’t sold already, surely you now are aware that if you care about sports, or really just about our world at all, then The Allrounder is something you want to back.  Go to our Kickstarter page and do so now.

Reason #46 to Support @theallrounderco

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:

  1. check out our preview site
  2. follow us on Twitter
  3. Like our Facebook page

45 Reasons to Support The Allrounder

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.

Andrews Sports Stars

1
David L. Andrews
Sports Stars:
The Cultural Politics of Sporting Celebrity

Leonard After Artest

2
David J. Leonard
After Artest:
The NBA and the Assault on Blackness

David Andrews Michael Jordan, Inc. Corporate Sport, Media Culture and Late Modern America

3
David Andrews
Michael Jordan, Inc.
Corporate Sport, Media Culture and Late Modern America

bass not the triumph

4
Amy Bass
Not the Triumph but the Struggle
The 1968 Olympics and the Making of the Black Athlete

Coy Hoop Genius

5
John Coy
Hoop Genius:
How a Desperate Teacher and Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball

Aaron Baker Contesting Identities

6
Aaron Baker
Contesting Identities:
Sports in American Film

Boykoff Celebration Capitalism

7
Jules Boykoff
Celebration Capitalism
and the Olympic Games

Duru Advancing the Ball

8
N. Jeremi Duru
Advancing the Ball:
Race, Reformation, and the Quest for Equal Coaching Opportunity in the NFL

Collins Sport in Capitalist Society

9
Tony Collins
Sport in Capitalist Society:
A Short HIstory

Andrews Sport and Neoliberalism

10
David L. Andrews
Sport and Neoliberalism

Farred In Motion At Rest

11
Grant Farred
In Motion, At Rest:
The Event of the Athletic Body

Farred What's My Name

12
Grant Farred
What’s My Name?:
Black Vernacular Intellectuals

Alegi South Africa

13
Peter Alegi
South Africa and the Global Game

Pablo Alabarces Fútbol y patria

14
Pablo Alabarces
Fútbol y patria

Farred Long Distance Love

15
Grant Farred
Long Distance Love:
A Passion for Football

Goff Gold Medal Physics

16
John Eric Goff
Gold Medal Physics:
The Science of Sports

Goudsouzian King of the Court

17
Aram Goudsouzian
King of the Court:
Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution

Krasnoff Making Les Bleus

18
Lindsay Krasnoff
The Making of Les Bleus:
Sport in France, 1958-2010

Little The Sports Show

19
David Little
The Sports Show:
Athletics as Image and Spectacle

Holman Canada's Game

20
Andrew C. Holman
Canada’s Game:
Hockey and Identity

Millward Global Football League

21
Peter Millward
The Global Football League:
Transnational Networks, Social Movements and Sport in the New Media Age

Morrow Sport in Canada

22
Don Morrow
Sport in Canada:
A History

Nadel Futbol

23
Joshua Nadel
Fútbol!:
Why Soccer Matters in Latin America

Raab The Global Game

24
Alon Raab
The Global Game:
Writers on Soccer

Martin Sport Italia

25
Simon Martin
Sport Italia:
The Italian Love Affair With Sport

Rowe Sport Culture and the Media

26
David Rowe
Sport, Culture and the Media

Bloom There You Have It

27
John Bloom
There You Have It:
The Life, Legacy and Legend of Howard Cosell

Simons Secret Lives of Sports Fans

28
Eric Simons
The Secret Lives of Sports Fans:
The Science of Sports Obsession

Blake Canadian Hockey Literature

29
Jason Blake
Canadian Hockey Literature

Bebber Violence and Racism in Football

30
Brett Bebber
Violence and Racism in Football

David L. AndrewsSport-Commerce-CultureEssays on Sport in Late Capitalist America

31
David L. Andrews
Sport-Commerce-Culture:
Essays on Sport in Late Capitalist America

Elsey Citizens and Sportsmen

32
Brenda Elsey
Citizens and Sportsmen:
Fútbol and Politics in Twentieth Century Chile

Gaffney Temples of the Earthbound Gods

33
Christopher Gaffney
Temples of the Earthbound Gods:
Stadiums in the Cultural Landscapes of Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires

Nichols You Only Get One Innings

34
Barry Nicholls
You Only Get One Innings:
Family, Mates and the Wisdom of Cricket

Trimbur Come Out Swinging

35
Lucía Trimbur
Come Out Swinging:
The Changing World of Boxing at Gleason’s Gym

Alegi Africas World Cup

36
Peter Alegi
Africa’s World Cup

Erdozain The Problem of Pleasure

37
Dominic Erdozain
The Problem of Pleasure:
Sport, Recreation and the Crisis of Victorian Religion

Hutchins Sport Beyond Television

38
Brett Hutchins
Sport Beyond Television:
The Internet, Digital Media and the Rise of Networked Media Sport

Ryall Philosophy of Play

39
Emily Ryall
The Philosophy of Play

Boddy Boxing

40
Kasia Boddy
Boxing:
A Cultural History

Vogan Keepers of the Flame

41
Travis Vogan
Keepers of the Flame:
NFL Films, Pro Football, and the Rise of Sports Media in America

Waterhouse Watson Athletes

42
Deb Waterhouse-Watson
Athletes, Sexual Assault and ‘Trial by Media’

Smith Sons of Westwood

43
Johnny Smith
Sons of Westwood:
John Wooden, UCLA, and the Dynasty That Changed College Basketball

Szymanski Soccernomics

44
Stefan Szymanski and Simon Kuper
Soccernomics

Young 1972 Munich Olympics

45
Christopher Young
The 1972 Munich Olympics
and the Making of Modern Germany

At the Top of the Wheel

IMG_1823I just finished a lunch at the Oberlin Inn with Dr. George Korkos of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and his grandson Nick, a freshman on the Oberlin College football team.  I had a BLT and some coffee.   They both had French onion soup and a sandwich.  The first big snowfall of the year swirled wildly outside.  It is not a distinguished restaurant.  In fact, to be honest, it’s about the last place in town that I’d choose to eat.

We met at noon.  Tired from a week that included three round-trip commutes from Oberlin to my job in Ann Arbor, I had only just woken up an hour before to see the text from my friend, Oberlin football coach Jeff Ramsey, that Dr. Korkos wanted to meet me at noon.  I treasure my morning routine and was somewhat put out that this lunch was on my schedule.  But Jeff had gone out of his way to arrange this and so, much as I wanted to just stay warm in my pajamas and robe, enjoying my coffee and breakfast with my wife, I hustled to get dressed and shuffle out into the snow and wind.

You see, Dr. George Korkos, together with his friend Wesley Pavalon, raised the funds through an IPO to found the expansion Milwaukee Bucks in 1968.  The Bucks – I  have told the story more than once – figured enormously in my early childhood, stimulating and populating my imagination as I learned the game in my driveway, playing alone, against my siblings and father, or neighborhood friends. Read more

'Money!' A Story of a Passage Toward Greater Perfection

Yago-008     spt-110810-jimmy-king

“Humility is a sadness born of the fact that a man considers his own lack of power, or weakness.”

“Humility is not a virtue.”

~ Baruch Spinoza, The Ethics (Book III, Def. XXXVI and Book IV, Prop. 53)

Among the many joyful moments brought me by my recent collaboration and friendship with former Michigan Fab Five stand-out Jimmy King is a recent one in which, as we shared memories of our respective on-court moments, so vastly different and yet somehow strangely similar, he said, “We should ball, Yago.”  Nope, that wasn’t the great moment, though that was pretty good.  The great joy came a few moments later when I found myself trash talking him and — here it comes — he trash talked me back.  I told him he wouldn’t be able to stop me and he told me back that I wouldn’t be able to stop him.  The joy and beauty of that exchange lies in its perfect mixture of  sheer absurdity and absolute truth.  Of course, I can’t stop Jimmy King.  He’s 6-5 (I’m 5-9, maybe), he’s 39 and I’m 47, he’s a former McDonald’s All-American and I was second-team All-City in Madison, Wisconsin, he’s been to two NCAA finals and I’ve been to one Wisconsin state quarter final, he’s played in the NBA and I’ve been to an NBA game.  And, well, he’s Jimmy Fucking King.  So of course what he said was true and what I said was absurd.  But what I said was true too.   He can’t stop me.   And the best thing is, he knows that’s true, he understands exactly in what way it is true, and he will acknowledge that it is true, even as he will resolutely affirm the opposite.  Respect. Read more