Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Diesel's awakening

Lately, I've been running at full speed into some really, really good writing. Part of it may be the result of a paradigm shift; that one of my best friends is getting the most prestigious writing fellowship in the country has made me a little more optimistic about the state of the art. Another one of my best friends is in the process of putting together a story that could really launch his career. Even if it doesn't, I'm blown away by the reporting he's done so far. I wish I had 1/3rd of his hustle; I would have been a much better writer myself (it would have helped if I genuinely liked people, as he does, but I didn't [nor do I today {hard to tell, I know}]). And, in general, almost all of my friends are doing really well for themselves, which has placed my cynicism in a (temporary) catatonic state. There will only be goodwill on this virtual page today, chillen'.

If you haven't peeped Joe Posnanski's blog, you're really missing out. Whenever I become convinced that every major sports columnist has taken a secret vow to insult his or her readers at every opportunity, I'll search for Posnanski's latest stuff in the KC Star. It's usually about the Royals or Chiefs, two teams I frankly couldn't give a shit about, but he's always struck me as one of the most reasonable dudes in the entire business. He doesn't get breathless or libelous, like this guy. Nor is he a sycophant, like this guy (especially if the subject is a snakeskin-boot-wearing GM of the Dodgers who hate stats and loves Juan Pierre). He's just someone who loves sports, loves thinking about sports, and loves writing about sports. Luckily for the rest of us, he's also determined that it's not against the law to do all three at the same time.

Then, this morning, while checking out the consistently excellent Free Darko, I ran across this line, which has probably made my day.

I am in the strange position of growing up in Philly, going to school in Boston and putting down about seven years towards being able to call myself a New Yorker. So I'm about as fucked up over Northeast corridor fandom as a Philip Roth protagonist facing down his mother, his sister, his mistress and his doppleganger [sic].

If that doesn't make you laugh out loud, then I don't know you. And considering some of the readership trends of this blog, that's likely the case anyway.

Anyway, the subject of the Free Darko post in question was the upcoming Tournament, which I am excited about, but with nowhere close to the intensity that this month-long orgy of "amateurism" used to inspire. When I was in college, there was simply no better time in my life than the tournament, except for every time I made it home after driving drunk. It helps going to a school like Arizona, I'm sure, but I also think there was a desperate need to retain my fanaticism while I could still support it. Sure, I was a little jaded about college sports, but it was mostly for effect during conversations or my early forays into column writing. At the end of the day, I really wanted to believe that college sports were more "pure," or whatever, than the pros. I wanted to believe that the UA was better off for its basketball team, that I would piss on Coach K's wife if I had the chance, that I wouldn't ever go to Stanford, even if it was free, because I couldn't stand to attend a school with an arena floor built to bounce like a fucking springboard just so the basketball team's palefaces could dunk every so often. I labored over my bracket, got into arguments with people about who the greatest college basketball player ever was, and generally got wasted every Thursday-Sunday. Those were heady, formative days for the Diesel, as he stumbled his way to a 2.5 GPA despite boasting MENSA-like majors Journalism and Communications.

Five or so years later, however, I find myself much less excited for the tournament, and it makes me a little sad. Part of it is work, which means I miss all the day action from Thursdays and Fridays, which was always my favorite (college basketball games, like blowjobs, are best enjoyed in the early afternoon, when it's still late enough to be drinking "morning" coffee but just late enough to start drinking beer without feeling like you're a complete sleazeball). But part of it is that I broke my end of the bargain with college sports about three years ago.

The bargain, for every fan of college athletics, is similar to the one an ugly rich guy has to make with his trophy wife: You can steal my money, fuck every one of my friends, mock me behind my back, plot my untimely (but clearly accidental) death, and make it obvious that when we're actually having sex, you'd rather me sodomize you with a cob of corn, as long as you promise to smile when we're in public and tell all the other broads I have a huge dick. In return, I'll pretend you're really not as much of a cunt as I know you are, and enjoy the fact that I am indeed married to a hot woman, and I do (occasionally) have marital-like relations with this hot woman. Being a dedicated fan of NCAA-sanctioned sports is pretty much the same kind of set up, except it's Myles Brand that's fucking you, and you really are being sodomized by the corn.

Middling analogies aside, I didn't mark my breaking my end of the deal by doing any huge expose on the seedy underworld of college athletics, because it's cliche and meaningless and every time I so much as suggested that something might be wrong with any college team, I felt like there was a chance I might lose my job. The funny thing about people who are still holding up their end of the bargain is that they never deny the truth of what it is you're saying; they simply say it's OK. Other schools are doing the same or worse. Kids will be kids. Coaches will be coaches. Athletic Directors have no choice. Universities need the money, prestige, TV audiences. It's for the fans. It's for the kids. And that you need to shut the fuck up, because your job isn't to ruin the fun for everyone else.

For a while, I argued with these people passionately in person, even if I allowed the pressure they put on my bosses (and, in turn, me) to stop me from trying to dig all the time professionally. I got tired of the coaches cutting off my access for the stories I needed to get done as part of my beat work, got tired of veiled threats from the athletic department, tired of the city's largest auto dealer threatening my "viability" in the town during a charity golf tournament, tired of football players trying to physically intimidate me at bars after writing that one of their teammates got busted for assaulting someone at a bar. Those people managed to spoil whatever willingness I had to look the other way and just enjoy the game. My last year in Pocatello, I probably watched seven games total, and just checked scores the rest of the time to see how my bracket was doing.

A few years out of the business has softened me a little, but not all that much. It doesn't help that this year's Arizona team is about as intimidating as Barry Gibb. But I'm going to at least try to see if I can recapture some of the excitement. It almost seems inappropriate to be so jaundiced toward the NCAA now that I'm no longer a sports writer (if I ever actually could have been considered one). I felt a little pang of jealousy while reading the Free Darko thing; I wouldn't mind getting into it, to be honest.


Reflection: That was a strange post.

Fuck you, St. You are an idiot who clearly has never watched a single minute of any sporting event in your life. Also: Fuck Mike Schmidt, Julius Erving, and short fiction writers as a motherfucking crew.

There ... better.

1 comment:

St said...

I like this. I feel similarly about the tournament, although for different reasons. I'm thinking I'll write a post about it early next week, as soon as I have time. Probably Tuesday.

Yeah, just warning you.

(Yes, I am only jaded because my Cardinal and my Wildcats both shit the bed.)