painting of Thomas Hardy by William Strang, in the public domain via WikipediaIn place of a preview
This football season I really keep coming back to Thomas Hardy's poem "Hap." In the poem, Hardy says that if he knew there was a cosmic reason for his suffering, then he would brace himself and bear it. But that's not the case for Hardy: it's random chance that makes him miserable, and what's particularly galling is that happenstance could have just as easily made him happy instead (the will-less elements of chance "had as readily strown/ Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain").
When I teach this poem at essentially a Wisconsin-Minnesota border school (if you live in the metro you've probably seen our ads on buses and billboards), I bring up football. Many of my students are Packer fans, and that means that they get to root for a team that is always in playoff contention and sometimes wins the Super Bowl. Some of the other students and I root for the Vikings, and that means we root for a team that, when it isn't abjectly terrible and frustrating, regularly disappoints us when we get our hopes up (I point out they have never won the Super Bowl and haven't been there in my lifetime). And why? Are the Packer fans in the room somehow more deserving, more entitled to this? Of course not: it's luck. They mostly root for the Packers because they were born on one side of a river to parents who root for the Packers, and I was born on the other side of that river to parents who root for the Vikings. As becomes clear in much of the other works we read (Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake, for instance), you don't get any say at all in where you're born, what your parents name you, or any number of other factors that are really a matter of family and geography and chance.
As a Minnesota sports fan, I've recently thought about just giving up hope on sports. I root for the Timberwolves and Vikings, and if I could just accept that there's no championship joy to come, I could probably bear it. But alas, the Packers are right there, and plenty of my friends current and old root for that team, and I see Packer shirts and jerseys and hats from joyful people regularly. They get to be happy! They get joy out of sports! That's what's so galling: it's not that sports will only offer disappointment (as it has for me). For other people, right there (right over there!) sports are a joyful experience and they watch a team with a great quarterback regularly contending for the playoffs and sometimes winning the Super Bowl.
I've decided to give up reading Bill Simmons for a while. I just don't want to hear the football fan experience of a guy whose favorite team regularly wins 12+ games and regularly goes to the AFC Championship game and sometimes goes to the Super Bowl and sometimes wins it. And if you've read Simmons regularly, you know he's made it clear that he feels entitled to this success (a recent example: Simmons justifies identifying with the team as "we" "because I have loved this team since I was 4 years old and Randy Vataha and Mack Herron were scurrying around, so if you have a problem with that, I don’t care."). That's fine, whatever. Use "we." But I don't know why I want to subject myself to the joyful ravings of somebody whose sports fan experience over the past 14 years has been pretty close to the opposite of mine, and whose sports fan experience I would desperately love to have, and who obviously feels entitled to the experience he's having. The purblind Doomsters have strown blisses on Boston fans' pilgrimage over that time, and good for them, but I sure don't care to watch them celebrate it anymore.
And so I'm approaching yet another Viking-Packer game with cold dread. It's not the hot, pit in the stomach, emotionally disturbing dread; the Vikes have torn that out of me and if I'm lucky someday they'll be good enough to bring it back. It's the mental experience of dread without the physical effects, and where emotionally I'll still just go about my week and day. But man, I don't want to hear about it afterward. Just leave me to my ne'er-do-well football team and let me turn my attention to the other things in life that do regularly provide joy (art! running! Batman!).
Three Contradicting Thoughts on Adrian Peterson
Personally, I'm not ready to root for Adrian Peterson again, not yet anyway. I belong to a religion that puts forgiveness pretty close to its center, and so I'm inclined to do so. But from what has come public of Peterson's actions and words after the fact, he really does not seem to have taken responsibility for his actions. He's expressed regret about the consequences of his actions, but he's defended it as a matter of discipline, and doesn't seem to have taken the actions themselves seriously enough to show real repentance (and I'm not in the habit of assessing the sincerity of others' repentance either, for what that's worth). He beat a child with an object until that child was bloody and bruised. Does he think he did a legitimate thing that unfortunately, accidentally, unintentionally caused harm? Or does he realize that the thing he did was a thing to cause harm? I don't know, and as a matter of watching football on Sundays, it's easier for me to sit and watch games if he's not out there for me to think about these things.
Yet it's also disturbing at some point what sort of control we're willing to grant employers over employees. Peterson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor, and for this his employer can suspend him without pay? For actions not at the workplace, but at home? I fret of a society that seems willing to grant corporations and businesses and moneyed interests more and more control over individuals' lives, that pushes peoples' personal lives into tighter and tighter corners, that makes of the market The Market to rule us all (side note on an article I'm teaching this week: according to Eric Schlosser in "Kid Kustomers," 1) marketers are specifically targeting children to get them to nag their parents to buy them things, 2) that marketers study, among other things, children's dreams to understand how to appeal to them, and 3) that young children are not developmentally capable of telling the difference between a commercial and other kinds of entertainment. Is it fair to call marketers, then, my adversaries, entities that I have to contend with that are trying to get me and my kids to buy unnecessary and perhaps unhealthy things, and I have to teach my kids how to successfully navigate the world of such adversaries? I think so. Is this even remotely relevant to the NFL suspending Adrian Peterson? I don't know). A man pleads guilty to a misdemeanor, and his employer appears to treat the crime with more seriousness than the state that charged him. It's...just a little worrisome. I never asked the NFL to be a moral arbiter of its players at-home behavior.
And yet, of course, Peterson works in the entertainment industry, for businesses (the Minnesota Vikings and the NFL) that make money by providing entertainment to a paying public. Those businesses rely on public goodwill, positive media relationships, and peoples' interest and money to thrive. Nike sure terminated the hell out of Peterson's contract when it was evident that he was no longer a good public endorser for a business's products. That's advertising, and frankly, for the entertainment industry, it's all sort of advertising--they're trying to get people to pay to watch something happen, after all. They've got to keep on and keep on and keep on selling that spectator experience. When there's something that damages that experience, the particular entertainment business has to measure how to fix that. Sometimes that means that one particular performer, for whatever reason, can no longer be counted on to get public goodwill or positive media relationships.
Other Interesting Games
Week 12 Games
Lions (7-3) v. Patriots (8-2)
Bengals (6-3-1) v. Texans (5-5)
Cardinals (9-1) v. Seahawks (6-4)
Dolphins (6-4) v. Broncos (7-3)
Indianapolis Colt Griff Whalen has a kick-ass name, and he's vegan (Indy Star). So is Oakland Raider David Carter, though he has a more conventional name (Ecorazzi).
"How the NFL Exploited a Child Abuser to Restore Its Brand" (Deadspin).
Have a good one, suckers.