Thursday, May 28, 2015

A season removed from purgatory

As I look back at the season that was historic on so many levels, it is a certainty that my own experience in 2014 was a bit tainted by choices and situations both within my control and outside the purview of my capabilities. I look to the 2015 season as a season of renewal which is perfect in timing thanks in large part to the efforts of the Flyin' Hawaiian and the misadventures of a writer turned recluse who returned not so reluctantly to the sidelines late in the 2014 season to watch history unfold in front of my own eyes.

It is with this backdrop that I open the 2015 football coverage both from the standpoint of writing for a website, covering the team based on their standards, attempting to also juggle my own priorities and still finding a way to jot down the season as it unfolds, quite like keeping a football journal which takes us all through the season.

What I find interesting about a journey I have yet to begin, and a journey that will, as is frequently the case when embarking on a destination of unknown points, take me directions I cannot predict, is that it once again begins amidst some ambiguity regarding my role as a sports writer.

I use the term writer in place of journalist because to consider someone writing about sports a journalist, their work in such capacity should be ground-breaking and consciousness altering regarding the topic. Nothing I say in an article about Oregon football rises to the level of journalism in its essence. I think sometimes sportswriters call themselves journalists because that is the only way to take their job as serious as it is believed to be in their minds. This is a game, after all. There are not life and death decisions; there is no nuclear war being averted. There is nothing of substantive value provided from writing about a sporting event.

Groundbreaking stories regarding the ‘cheating’ of college coaches in garnering competitive advantages in recruiting are hardly at the same level of importance as say the Watergate scandal or other political scandals that tend to rock the core of society and how we view things through a tainted lens of obscurity. Once in a while there can be a sports story that shines the light on bigger problems that need to be addressed. I am not thinking of those nice little ten-minute tear jerker segments on ESPN produced to remind us of the fragility of life in general, but more important stories that talk to us about our souls as a people and a nation. The Penn State scandal involving Jerry Sandusky comes to mind as one which exposes a much wider issue than anything a football game can provide. Our perverse approach to sexuality in this nation has gone so far beyond being merely complicated. But even the Sandusky story was done so not to really delve into the meat and potatoes of a society so obsessed with sexual desire and lust built into a culture through media, but to simply expose a criminal. And while that exposure was of the utmost importance not just to right the wrongs of sins against our children, but to hopefully prevent such future abuses, little was done to dig deeper. A pervert was caught, a pervert was jailed, and some media people became famous in their exposure if the pervert. Then it all went away.

Therein lay the problem with not just sports media, but media in general. We are so busy looking for stories, that we create little one-liners for television guest appearances and do so very little to do more than expose a nasty truth. We do not dig into why we have let a nation built on strong principles and brilliant ideology devolve into such a ball of mass confusion.

Sports is a window into the soul of individuals and society as a whole. As I write this piece today, I am bombarded mentally by the image of a former six time All-Pro NFL defensive back pleading out and accepting nine more years for drugging and raping women all across the nation. I write this in the shadows of concussion lawsuits and suicides of once great athletes. There are plenty of articles detailing the demise of the players, the cover-up by the leagues, and the lack of proper care. Yet there is still little information, little satire, and far too little social criticism focused on the culture that created this monster.

It is like we are afraid; afraid that if we discuss in satirical nature why this monster exists, that the write structure will crumble and that which we love will suddenly fade into oblivion. The truth is that I am a sports fan, and specifically a football fan. I am not fearful that the sport will entirely disappear for several reasons. Firstly, I don’t think that anything I or any other writer puts in paper or cyberspace will destroy the game. If the game is to be destroyed, it will happen from within. When deaths begin to occur with regularity, not deaths after completion of a career, but actual in-game deaths, when those begin to occur, the sport itself will implode rapidly. Secondly, there is a life outside of sports. If all competitive sports were to be decreed illegal tomorrow, there would be no loss in my ultimate lifestyle. Life would move forward. I would have more free time in which I could read literature, explore the world around me, or even just do yardwork.

So this is the beginning, but it is really just another step in the metamorphosis of a man. I was a boy once, and in many ways, I have always been that little boy. I stumbled onto some interesting tidbits of information that others found to be worthy of print. I wrote a story once about the recruitment of a young man, the lies that were told, and the misperceptions that were extolled to sell stories. Many members of media discredited me straight away because I was not a journalist in their minds. If by journalist they were referring to someone who attended journalism school, worked for a traditional news gathering organization, and received a paycheck for his services, well, they were correct. However, if a journalist is defined as a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information, then I along with many others who have done similar stories, could have been considered a journalist. But, again, I am talking about sports. This is not rocket science. But do not turn away, because while the individualistic concept of sport is not life altering, it is a mirror into the soul of a society and it is that mirror which I will explore throughout the season.

For me, this mirror was also provided into my own personal soul. Through the process of writing the original story and 6then developing my own brand of writing covering sports, it awakened the child who used to love to read and write. Maybe some will refer to this as a beast, but I refer to it as the beast within, and that is a good thing. It allows me to expand those things which had become a hindrance in life to becoming a breakthrough.

What is interesting to me as I approach this project and the upcoming football season is that I am once again threatened by a potential loss of status. Writing has become a participation sport where not only is my reliability as a writer, one who has never missed a deadline or not written a story when it was important; a writer who has always been willing to cover where needed for the site; that is no longer enough as my spot has been threatened for more message board participation. Sure, it is a goal really to have me re-engage with my readers, something I am remiss has faltered over the last two years for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is my burgeoning desire to expand my thoughts beyond one page articles about football branching into writing literary fiction novels. That has created a huge restriction on what time I have available to post and respond to some of the inane off-season banter that surrounds college football. It is that very lack of conversational whimsy that has my presence among other writers feeling threatened. And it is from that position that I begin the journey that is the 2015 football season.

Along this path, I will write football stories, and I will write deeper commentary on those stories. The journey will be unique to me as I capture the feeling of this season removed from my own self-imposed purgatory. Will I be back in the booth this year? Or will I be banished to my old seats in section 36? Only time will tell the full answer. And along the way,  I will share that experience.
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