Archive for September, 2014

By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

During the first Sunday of the NFL season, I did a lot of “grown up” chores in the morning: I graded papers, cleaned up my house, did a little yard work, and went grocery shopping. Around 11:00am, I was on my couch doing some more grading with the NFL pregame programs on as white noise, all while having a big kid, low-cal breakfast of Greek yogurt and water.

In nearly all areas of my life, I can identify ways in which I’ve grown and evolved as a person from childhood to where I am now as a 32-year-old. Being disciplined enough to get up and be productive on a Sunday morning is just one example.

Then at 12:00pm, as the NFL season kicked-off, I devolved into a child.

Though I have lived my entire life in Chicago, I have been a huge Miami Dolphins fan since 1991-92. (Just accept that and move on. Explaining it would take a whole separate post.) My emotional investment in Dolphins games takes me from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Tantrum.

From Week 1, here are some of my person highlights:

  • Kick-off: I am on my couch, knees pressed into my chest, and shaking like I’m awaiting terrible news. (Which, as a Dolphins fan, I normally am.)

    A candid picture of me at kick-off.

    A candid picture of me at kick-off.

  • Dolphins up 7-0 early: I jump off my couch and swing my fists like I’m in Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out.
  • Dolphins down 10-20 at halftime: I slump into my couch, mumbling about how it’s the same old Dolphins who are going to break my heart like every other season, and how I’ve lost faith in life, no one loves me, and the sun no longer shines.
  • Dolphins sack Patriots QB Tom Brady and force a fumble: I scream and pump my fist while saying a bunch of words to Tom Brady that he can’t hear and I can’t repeat on the Turtle.
  • Close game in the 4th quarter: I am in a half-squat position with my hands on my knees like I’m playing linebacker for the Dolphins, all with my face about two feet from my 50” TV screen.
  • Dolphins make a defensive stop against Brady: I have more choice words and perhaps a one-fingered salute for Tom, while still acknowledging that he is unfairly handsome, which may be part of why I am giving him the finger.
  • Dolphins win: I walk aimlessly around my house clapping. I begin commenting aloud on the team’s effort as if I’m in their locker room.

This behavior hasn’t changed at all from younger Paul, such as two incidents in 1997 when I was 15:

  • Monday, October 27, 1997: The Chicago Bears (0-7) defeat the Miami Dolphins (5-2) on Monday Night Football in overtime for their first win of their season. I stay up past midnight depressed and skip school to save myself the abuse from Bears fans.
  • Sunday, December 28, 1997: The New England Patriots crush the Dolphins in a Wild Card playoff game. I throw the TV remote across the room and watch batteries fly through the air.

This is all despite me not being a terribly emotive person. Though I am a very emotional person, I (often) exercise great restraint in demonstrating any real highs or lows, which has been noted at work where colleagues comment on how easy-going and even-keeled I seem.

However, the results of any meaningful Dolphins game will turn me inside out, putting all of those meaningless, superficial, game-related emotions out into the world. If the Dolphins win, I’m pleasant and cheerful; I’ll go out, do things, make friends, bake you a cake, whatever. If they lose, I am a grumpy terror, I hate the universe, and I may run over mailboxes with my car just so everyone else can feel some of my pain.

Check your mail for ads, bills, and evidence of my heartbreak.

Check your mail for flyers, bills, and evidence of my heartbreak.

This is all likely why my dad calls me after every Dolphins game. He loves pushing people’s buttons, and it surely delights him that there is at least one topic he knows will always elicit a reaction out of me. Even if the Dolphins play well, he will still poke at me by asking if I left the windows open in my house so “all the kids in the neighborhood could learn a bunch of new words.”

I’m not ashamed to admit any of these behaviors, because I know I am not in the minority. This type of over-invested, over-emotional response to sports is par for the course. If anything, I am one of the tame fans! (Just go look around YouTube or Twitter for all of the evidence of fans from all sports who have had complete, epic meltdowns after their teams lost.)

Why does all of this happen, though? Why do fans get so worked up? So invested?

The truth, I believe, is that the vast majority of us aren’t THAT invested. Sure, I love my Dolphins. Sure, I want them to win. But, in truth, if I was writing a list of the biggest priorities in my life, my seafaring mammals would be well down the list after food, water, shelter, health, family, friends, work, and lots more. Yet, externally, my reactions make it seem as though I’m more concerned with the Dolphins than the rest of the universe.

ESPN talk show personality Mike Greenberg hit on one of the keys reasons for this sort of emotional outpouring in his book Why My Wife Thinks I’m an Idiot: The Life and Times of a Sportscaster Dad. To paraphrase, he comments on the value of sports as a great piece of distraction and fun from reality. During the bulk of our week, we are caring for ourselves and others, working tons of hours, and hearing a never-ending cycle of bad news from around the world.

In normal circumstances, especially at work, we have to keep our emotions in check. But with our teams, what a relief and joy it is that we can scream, yell, complain, and wear our hearts on our sleeves without any real consequences.

Unless you’re a remote control or mailbox…then there may be some consequences.

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By Jenny Jocks Stelzer, English Faculty. 

I know that I’m most likely overthinking, overreacting, and overstating this, but I find myself constantly on the defensive over my love of football, probably due to the unrelenting pace of my Facebook posts with tiny hearts and hashtags like #lovethenfl #lovecollegefootball, #adrianpetersonissohot, etc., etc., etc.

21spoy1223I’m a woman. I’m a feminist. I’m an annoyingly self-righteous progressive. So, in light of the social, ethical, and safety concerns brought about by the sport, I’m supposed to be a hater. My love of football is oxymoronic. It befuddles some. It irritates others. It appalls a few. So, I love it.

Like any form of entertainment, art, or sport, football creates a cultural and social space. It’s an integral space where men can be “men” in ways that are stereotypical and sometimes repellant, to be sure, but also kind of awesome. Our society expects men to maintain the precarious balance of command and cooperation, strength and tenderness, primal physicality and intelligence. All of this happens on the football field.  The players we talk about most are aggressive, unrelenting, self-aggrandizing, and Superman-tough, and I usually love those guys, so I catch a lot of shit for it. I’m supposed to oppose this kind of hyper-masculinity, because it upsets the social expectations of my feminist-liberal position. Certainly, I’m not supposed to enjoy the muscles and the trash-talk and the brutality. So, I love it.

Not only is it unrealistic to expect men to maintain the difficult primal/social balance of appetite and acceptable behavior, it is simply NO FUN if we demand that they adhere to such a strict social protocol at all times. Football creates a spacepatrick-willis wherein men can growl, pound their chests, and smash into each other with primal aggression, and I get to watch. Now, THAT is fun. They get to channel animal urges toward a common goal and I get to enjoy, unapologetically, watching men with superior physical strength and mental acumen crash their big, strong bodies into one another and out-think their opponents. Then, they do awesomely cute little dances, flex their muscles for the camera, and slap each other’s asses adorably. So (of course), I love it.

Now, I realize that this celebration of hyper-masculinity is not securely contained within the cultural space of football. I know the serious social and interpersonal problems that present when a man is encouraged to be aggressive and self-important, when physical violence is the go-to solution to a problem, when putting one’s health and future at risk is expected toward the aim of winning a superficial game for money and fame and to enrich a few a-hole owners and a grossly flawed system. These are problems, and I know I should be repulsed, but it makes football dangerous. So, I love it.

I know, football promotes many of the negative aspects of stereotypical masculinity, and it subsequently facilitates serious social problems like domestic violence, economic inequities, and mental illness when those aspects creep from the cultural space of the football field into the social space of the actual world. I get that, and it disturbs me. I don’t mean to embrace or forgive any of these social problems, but football is complex enough, and compelling enough, and fun enough, that these dangers create, for me, a conflicted set of feelings. I’m supposed to hate it. So, I love it.

For these dangers, and the sex-appeal of athletic bodies in strenuous battle, come with another level of complexity. All of these “negative” aspects of masculinity bring with them impressive and undeniable displays of camaraderie, cooperation, intellect, and, yes, tenderness. When eleven men are on the field together, on offense or defense, they must operate withNFL: Atlanta Falcons at Detroit Lions absolute connectedness to meet their goal and to protect themselves and their teammates from serious harm. Teamwork is real, and it works: WE win when we work together and protect each other. That connection, and the insanely hard work that teammates do together, makes football a space of intimacy and brotherhood, and THAT is beautiful. Intimacy and cooperation is subtly discouraged among men in our culture, which expects a certain level of rogue individuality to achieve an unrealistic masculine ideal: I win; you lose. Cooperation toward a common goal in football demands a level of intelligence and intellect that is often overlooked in discussions of athletics.  Football players are rarely given props for their intellect, but, in order to reach their common goal, these men have to study, collaborate, and think critically about their own, their teammates’, and their opponents’ strengths, weaknesses, and strategies. Teamwork, hard work, and smarts: now, THAT is sexy. I love it. And you should love it, too.

by Tricia Lunt, English Faculty

Somewhere there is a picture of my 6-year old self wearing an oversize football helmet, listening attentively to the plays called by my brother, my knowledgeable coach.

1981teamAll of my earliest football experiences involve my big brothers. I recall Cleveland Browns games during the “Kardiac Kids” era, watching with Bobby and Ralph, learning early in life the bittersweet responsibility of championing the underdog. My brothers also played football, an important part of their high school experience at Walsh Jesuit. From the age twelve, my brothers were steadily employed. Working tirelessly to pay for the tuition at the private school they attended and contribute to the household income, they took time off work to play football, signalling an enormously important commitment to the game. My brothers love football, as do I.

In high school, my friends and I attended every home game, probably because it was one of the only social options available, possibly because we were adept at sneaking beers in to the stadium. Why we thought it wise to smuggle beer into a high school function escapes my recollection.

After high school, I attended Ohio State University. I was eager to experience the thrilling Big Ten games, and bought a season ticket my freshman year. Regrettably, I only went to one game in “The Shoe,” shoebecause selling OSU football tickets is an excellent way for college student to make a little extra money. Besides, I attended OSU during Coach Cooper years, the low point of the program. And, I’d scored a job with exceptional pay, but it required I work every weekend, two back-to-back 12-hour shifts Saturday and Sunday. Consequently, with wistful longing I’d ride my bike past the early tailgate set-ups at 6:30 in the morning, and return at 7:30 in the evening to see the remnants of football fun strewn across campus. Alas, college is not a four year party, at least not in my experience. Nevertheless, I still “bleed scarlet and gray,” and I did get to tailgate for an OSU football game once, the year after my college graduation.

LarryAfter undergrad, I moved back to Cleveland, rekindling my connection with the Browns and beginning “Loser Bowl,” a yearly tradition of attending the Browns game on or near Christmas Day with my hometown buddy, Larry, and the occasional company of our friends Adam or Bryn. We dubbed this outing “Loser Bowl” because the Browns aren’t exactly winners, and neither were we. Otherwise, we’d have invitations to celebrate the holiday with loved ones; instead, we had the freezing cold, and a heartrendingly bad football team.

Chicago has become my home, so my weekly football ritual now entails Chicago Bears games at my local bar, my extended living room. Kicked off at the beginning of the season by the bar’s incredibly generous owner, every Sunday, local devotees of the Whirlaway prepare food for the entire bar full of Bears fans. The food preparation grows more competitive each year, home cooks looking to out-perform one another. Those who don’t cook have the party catered. We watch and feast and unabashedly sing the old-timey Bears fight song every time our team scores: a picture fan devotion at its finest.BearDown

As the football season wears on, it becomes increasingly  pleasant to stay inside in front of the television, eating well, drinking liberally, cheering madly and using a football game as an excellent excuse to spend the day in good company.

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

Ah, yes….Fall is in the air.  Though the weather doesn’t really say so (I HATE 90 degrees in September!), the television screams Autumn.  This past weekend marked the beginning of our yearly national obsession: Football season.  College football kicked off a week ago, and the NFL gets going tonight. Like millions of other Americans, my wife and I can’t wait. 

But, I try not to be simply an unthinking fanatic; I cannot ignore the sport’s troubling aspects.  As it is so popular, and influential, football as a cultural phenomenon must be closely read.  During the season though, it is easy to lose yourself in the action. The spectacle takes over, and analysis of said spectacle falls by the wayside.  These games are intended to be Heinz Fielddistractions. We inevitably pay attention to what happens on the field, and not off. 

The physicality of the game enraptures the viewer, providing us with the ‘circuses’ that makes him/her forget about real world issues. But this distraction has another layer, since most spectators of the game may be thousands of miles away from the action. The majority of fans sit at home, or at a bar, and watch the game on television. In this, we depend upon the commentators and play-by-play color men to describe, and explicate what occurs on the gridiron.   The Keith Jacksons, Al Michaels, Gus Johnsons and Mike Tiricos give meaning to the events on the field. Their voices are as much a part of the game, as the play itsefl. These men and women ‘talk the NBCs-Sunday-Night-Football-team-of-Cris-Collinsworth-Al-Michaels-and-Michele-Tafoya-not-pictured-picked-up-their-sixth-straight-Emmy-Award.game’; they make language central to our viewing experience.

Football, perhaps more than any other sport, is marked by language. Repeated metaphors, analogies and euphemisms are utilized by football announcers to make the game and players more human; more understandable.  But, language manipulates, as well as explicates. Metaphors, analogies and euphemisms have the ability to deceive, as well as simplify. There is a dark side to the football lexicon, though it can be hard to catch.

Here is a necessary, and necessarily quick, primer for the upcoming football season.

  • Racial codes:

 Racial profiling and stereotypes are commonly coded into commentator speech. Perhaps the most obvious example occurs when announcers compare one player to another, either of the same era, or a previous one.  Very rarely, if ever, do white players get compared to black players, or vice versa.  This is especially the case when discussing players at positions that have been traditionally composed of a different racial group  So, for instance, Russell Wilson is compared, not to Tom Brady, but to Michael Vick. Wes Welker is not compared to possession receivers such as Marvin Harrison, but guys like Steve Largent. The list goes on.

Such comparisons may be natural.  We inherently look for similarities between groups and people. But, commentators’ racialized understanding of the game goes beyond player comparisons. Coded racial language is also commonly utilized to describe players and their abilities. The obvious example of this is the term ‘athletic’ being constantly used as a descriptor for black players.  Similar and related terms, such as ‘explosive’, ‘physical specimen’ and ‘natural ability’, are simply different versions of ‘athletic’  Rarely will you hear white football players being described in this way.  Instead, white players will often be labelled as ‘hard-workers’, ‘intelligent’, and ‘dedicated to the game’.  If white players ever get the ‘athletic’ moniker, it usually comes with a disclaimer: the white player in question is ‘surprisingly’, or ‘sneakily’ athletic. On the other hand, if black players ever get the ‘intelligent’ moniker, it too comes with disclaimers: the black player has ‘football intelligence’.

  • Euphemisms for criminal activity

Arguably, the most common code word used during football broadcasts is ‘off the field issues’.  Watch any football game this year, and you will be sure to hear that common refrain.  Of course, this is not the same as the racial code words; those are terms that have been utilized for years, based upon very old racial stereotypes. Racial codes play upon the audiences’ subconscious racial absolutism.  ‘Off the field issues’, on the other hand, is simply a euphemism.  It is used to make the viewer forget many of the horrible things the players have done. Such euphemisms ensure that the ‘real world’ is pushed further afield for the viewer. The ‘off the field issues’ (ie. what is happening in real life) seems to occur in a foreign dimension.  During the game, the viewer is meant to forget about what is happening ‘off the field’.  The term itself is extremely broad ranging.  It can, and has been used when discussing a player’s divorce, or sick child. Most commonly though, it is a euphemism reserved for a player’s criminal, or immoral conduct. 

For example, the other night I watched the Florida State/Oklahoma State game.  FSU is led by Heisman Trophy winner Florida State v PittsburghQuarterback Jameis Winston.  The announcers mentioned that Winston ‘looked excited’ to be playing football again; being in the huddle would allow him to forget about his ‘off the field issues’.  What are these issues? Did he fail a class?  Did he get a little too drunk at a Tallahassee party?  No, his ‘issues’ that he wanted to forget about (and that we should forget about too) were petty theft, and more disturbingly, being accused of rape.  ‘Off the field issues’? Yes, I would say so. 

The NFL is by no means free of ‘off the field issues.’ This euphemism will undoubtedly rear its’ ugly head starting tonight, when the Seahawks take on the Packers.  If not tonight, then on Sunday, when the Baltimore Ravens play their opening game.  If you watch that contest, I will bet that ‘off the field issues’ will be mentioned in the same breath as Baltimore Running Back Ray Rice. Rice’s ‘off the field issue’ that made the news recently happened when he punched his girlfriend (soon to be wife) in the face, and dragged her unconscious into their apartment. Unfortunately, Rice is not the only player with this ‘off the field issue’.

  • The Language of Injury

 Football’s most controversial topic over the last decade has been the prevalence of concussions during the games, and footballwhat this may do to players’ long term neurological health.  With this in mind, I heard a disturbing euphemism during a college game last week that is extremely prevalent.  After a player got knocked out the game, and was on the sideline being checked for concussion type symptoms, the sideline sports reporter relayed the ‘good’ news that the player would be coming back in the game soon.  Evidently, the 20 year old was fine, and simply got ‘his bell rung’.  What a dangerous term!  I have never had a concussion, but I assume the term ‘bell rung’ means that you are confused, and perhaps, literally, ‘hearing a ringing sound’, as though you were inside a bell.  Using such terminology does two things. First, it covers up with folk language what could be a serious medical injury. Second, by using the ‘bell rung’ term as euphemism, it allows us to judge the player.  If he ‘only’ got his ‘bell rung’, then why is he not back out on the field?  He needs to keep going, as getting your ‘bell rung’ is simply a common part of the game.  If a player sits out for too long after getting his ‘bell rung’, the announcers and the audience often start to question the player’s toughness.   Is he a true football player?

Unfortunately, that is what we really want to know. Everything else is secondary.