Football

Football and baseball are America’s two Homeric sports (one about the clash of armies with heroic leaders who perform feats of daring, the other about individual men journeying out to islands, encountering others, and struggling to return home). But, let’s face it, football is better on television than baseball is. The ball moves one direction at a time, generally speaking. There’s lots of hitting. There are lots of breaks where *really* nothing is happening, so you can cut away to a commercial (you can’t cut to a commercial break while the pitcher winds up, because he might throw any second). Because we had a TV when I was a kid, and because I grew up hundreds of miles from even minor league baseball, I have a birth-allegiance to football.

BUT. I have come to realize over the last decade that my affection for football cannot be without reservations. It’s fairly obvious by now that the men of the NFL who perform for our benefit every Sunday in the fall are very likely killing themselves slowly. It’s not as gory and immediate as Roman gladiatorial combat, and it’s not as bad as it was in the early days when Teddy Roosevelt intervened because so many players were dying on the field, but it’s still deadly in the end. That was brought home to me again when I saw the recent New York Times report on a researcher who had scanned the brains of 111 retirees.

110 of those brains had CTE, which is an enormous number when you consider what that means for the NFL as a whole (emphasis mine):

The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families have donated brains specifically because the former player showed symptoms of C.T.E.

But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the other 1,200 players would have tested negative — which even the heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case — the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly higher than in the general population.

And despite the awful circumstances, we keep watching. I keep watching.

I think a GQ profile of a very young player who had CTE and committed suicide sums up my (ambiguous) feelings on the subject.

We could ban football. (But we love football.) We could allow people to play football only once they turn 18, which is what Omalu has proposed. (And what happens when 18-year-old athletic phenoms—freight trains who have never learned to tackle properly—are suddenly turned loose on one another? Is that better?) We could take away tackling. (Sorry, no one’s watching the National Flag Football League.) We could build a safer helmet. (Which will only encourage players to use their heads as weapons.) We could have a consistent concussion protocol through all levels of football. (We already do in the NFL. Ask Cam Newton how well it’s working.)

The GQ article raises another really good issue: we can say that NFL players are grown men who have chosen their profession with its associated risks, but the kids who play football aren’t in the same position. And you can’t make it to the NFL unless you start early. Sometimes someone will propose technology as a solution, but “technology” really means “money”, and LOTS of it.

And so I don’t quite know what to do. The World Cup is coming up…maybe I’ll just take up Association Football fandom instead.

 

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Irving Update: Spring 2017

Apologies to all my local friends who have probably heard me talk about this enough lately. You can all ignore this… my target audience here is all the friends and family in distant lands.

It’s time for another update from down in IrvingLand! I just finished my second year of graduate school; I got all my papers in (mostly) on time and managed to keep a fairly decent sleep schedule going in the midst of it. That in itself is a very good gift.

I’m in a PhD program, but they allow you to collect a Master’s degree along the way when you’ve met certain requirements. You have to pass X number of credits, demonstrate proficiency in one foreign language, and pass the “comprehensive exam” (a 4-hour essay, followed by a 1-hour defense). I’ve met all those requirements, so I’ll be receiving my MA in Politics at the commencement ceremony on Sunday. I get a hood! I get a diploma! I get to update my CV!

This is not the end of anything. It’s as if you’re running a marathon and they hand out medals at the halfway point: It’s a real medal, and you really did something, but you haven’t yet completed what you actually set out to accomplish. Or flying to Paris: you might have a layover in LaGuardia, which is cool, but that’s not the end point. The end point for me is still a PhD, and I realistically have two more years in Irving before I can torch this banana stand and go write my dissertation. So if you see pictures of me in a cap and gown, don’t get ahead of yourself: I’m sticking in the Dallas area for a while yet. I’m just picking up my half-marathon medal, or ducking out of the airport for a slice of pizza before continuing on across the Atlantic.

I am, actually, taking this a little time off from academics and not enrolling in any summer classes this year. I transferred (along with the whole leadership team from my old location) to a brand new Chick-fil-A which is opening next Thursday, so managing that restaurant will be plenty for me to occupy myself with this summer. A good friend and I coined the term #powerchilling to describe what we’ll be doing when we are not at work. Power Chilling is basically Resting Like You Mean It and Not Feeling Bad About It At All.

Classes I took this past semester:

-Civil Liberties (Constitutional law, focusing on Bill of Rights and 14th amendment issues)

-Graduate Seminar: Tocqueville

-History of Liberal Arts Education (One of the best classes I have ever taken anywhere).

-Hobbes and Rousseau

Important birthdays

I have friends who are approaching their 30th birthdays, and they are somewhat understandably a little apprehensive. 30 is a big number, and it’s a new decade. But to my mind, the more important time is the year after you turn 36. I started thinking about this when a Chick-fil-A owner told me that she’s 36 and doing what she wants to be doing for the rest of her life, right after I found out that Lin-Manuel Miranda was 36 when Hamilton made it big.

Add that to my frederick-law-olmsted-1895most recent discovery: Frederick Law Olmsted was 36 when his plan for Central Park was accepted.

I haven’t seen a lot of Central Park (I always end up in NYC when the weather is mediocre at best), but he also designed the grounds at the Biltmore estate in North Carolina which I visited a few years ago. It’s marvelous – and most of the plan involved re-foresting thousands of acres. When you visit now you would never imagine that the estate was built on a denuded landscape; it feels like the forest has been there forever.

You can read more about Olmsted in this First Things article. The end is mildly devastating.

 

Maybe it’s just your late 30s: Dante was 37 when he was exiled from Florence. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was 38 when he burst onto the European intellectual scene. TS Eliot was 39 when he converted. Anyway, don’t fear turning 30. Just look forward to whatever happens when you’re 36.

Pieper Paper

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I posted this picture, and several people have asked me if they could read the paper for which I was referencing these books. With the caveat that I might have to take it down later because I don’t know what my professional future might hold etc. etc. copyright intellectual property etc. etc., here you are.

Pieper is the star; the paper is focused on how he views the relationship between theology and philosophy. All the other texts were just cited in passing.

Is Christian Philosophy the Best Philosophy?

Reading list: Speaking Freely

In an interesting little piece on First Things that I just got around to reading, Carl Trueman relates a story from Speaking Freely by Nat Hentoff about a politician who was very pro-life until he decided to run for president and abruptly switched sides. I won’t spoil the name of the politician – you can go read the story yourself.

Trueman’s praise for the book, though, makes me want to read it myself. Trueman says

I first came across his work when I emigrated in 2001 and bought on a whim a remaindered copy of his autobiography, Speaking Freely. Little did I know that his love (and mine) of freedom of speech in the civic sphere would soon be jeopardized by those who fail to understand—or perhaps who understand just too well—that free speech means the right of my bitterest opponents to articulate their most reprehensible views in the public square.

Of course, my to-read list is miles long and I might never get to this one. So I’m starting a new category of blog posts, where I tell you about a book I want to read (along with maybe a little bit of why I want to read it) and then if you read it you can tell me if it’s worth it. Deal? Deal.

The soft underbelly of knowledge

In the reading a few weeks ago for one of my classes, I came across this tidbit on gossip:

All gossip has an element of curiosity in it, of wonderment, and that means some quest, however infinitesimal, however distorted, for knowledge. If we were to adopt the metaphor “body of knowledge,” we might perhaps say, using a famous phrase from recent political and military history, that gossip constitutes the soft underbelly of knowledge. Gossip is the small tribute that our passionate and appetitive life pays – in very, very small coins – to intellectual life.

Jacob Klein, “The Idea of Liberal Education” in The Essays and Lectures of Jacob Klein, p. 159-160.

I post this quotation to justify the two links which follow, because they are a couple of guilty-pleasure reads. 

The first is a profile of Jenny Slate. You surely know her as Mona Lisa Saperstein, and as the voice of Marcel the Shell. If you are in the loop, you also know that she dated Chris Evans (turns out grad school puts you out of the loop…I learned it by reading this profile). Anyway, part of the fun of reading this profile is getting the inside scoop on Mister “I Don’t Wike It“: “I first really liked Chris as a person because he is so unpretentious,” she says. “He is a straight-up 35-year-old man who wants to play games. That’s it. I was like, ‘I’d better not discount this, because this is purity.’ ” So you kinda get two-for-one with this profile. That’s nice. {Warning: she’s a liberal comedian with all the endemic vulgarity—not just swearing but also graphic descriptions of bodies. Read at your own risk.}

And the second is…. well….

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By most definitions, Tom Hiddleston is…uncool. His vulnerability, his enthusiasm, his Bolognese, these are not trademarks of a dashing movie star. And yet here he is, a sweet-natured bookworm trapped in the second act of a movie where the overlooked geek has been given the face and body of the only man who should ever be allowed to wear a suit (or jeans, or that long-sleeve navy T-shirt he wore when we had dinner).

Good Friday

Every year on Good Friday I find myself revisiting these two homilies, which are among the best I have ever known. If you have 20 minutes, it is worth it to listen to the audio of Sumpter’s homily. It is devastating, appropriate for a devastating day.

Toby Sumpter: My Song is Love Unknown Audio || Text

And do you remember that day when our God stood in our place? Do you remember that day when our husband received their taunts and blows? Do you remember when He stood there for us? Do you remember when they lifted Him up, when they drove stakes into His hands and feet, when then crowned our King with thorns? When He hung there looking at us like a knight, like a hero, like a bridegroom watching His bride come down the aisle?

And we beheld Him, despised and rejected, and we hid our faces, hating Him. Surely He carried our sorrows. He was wounded for us. He was afflicted for us. And He did not open His mouth. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.

Peter Leithart: Christ and Him Crucified

Paul determined to know nothing but Jesus and the cross. Was that enough? What is the cross? Is it big enough to fill the universe?

The cross is the work of the Father, who gave His Son in love for the world; the cross is the work of the Son, who did not cling to equality with God but gave Himself to shameful death; the cross is the work of the Spirit, through whom the Son offers Himself to the Father and who is poured out from the pierced side of the glorified Son. The cross displays the height and the depth and the breadth of eternal Triune love.