Monday, November 14, 2011

Destroyed by madness

"I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness..." -- from Allen Ginsberg's "Howl"

Sunday, Nov. 13, 2011
2:30 pm

The siren call of sports TV is pretty strong right now. The Steelers are playing the Bengals in another nail-biter. (I just sneaked a peek online at the scores.) Even the Cowboys seem to be having a good day, which means the good people of North Texas will be a better mood than usual.

I was going to weigh on the Penn State child rape scandal earlier this week. But with the instantaneous flood of stories and opinions on the case, I felt it’d be like shouting into a hurricane. I’m also not sure what else I could add.

It all unfolds (unravels?) in a place called Happy Valley, a scandal involving arguably the most revered college football coach in the country: the venerable, old Joe Paterno.
There are so many points of moral failing it’s hard to know where to start. Perhaps the most alarming moment comes in 2002 in the football locker room at Penn State. According to a grand jury report, Mike McQueary, a Penn State graduate assistant, enters the football locker room and sees Jerry Sandusky allegedly performing anal sex on a boy. McQueary doesn’t intervene. Instead he calls his father and then he tells Paterno what he saw the next morning.
Paterno tells the athletic director and never follows up after that. Given the opportunity to act on information that his longtime defensive coach was seen abusing a child, Paterno fumbles the ball.
It’s a wretched case, one of complete moral failure. There is, of course, a criminal side to the case, which means a long and tortuous legal proceeding. But enough is already known that makes this another example of institutional moral failure in a country where the old institutions — civic, religious and financial — are crumbling all around us.
Given the opportunity to act, they didn’t. McQueary, a muscular young former football player, shied away from stopping the assault. Why? Did he fear the repercussions of blowing the whistle on a powerful man? Why didn’t he immediately run to the aid of the child? Why didn’t he immediately call police? Why did he feel the need to call his dad first? And why didn’t his father tell him to call police?
I suspect that as a young man, just out of school, who hoped to go into football coaching, hoped, in fact, to get a full-time job at Penn State, he froze.
Then there’s Paterno, who has always prided himself on his integrity, on the stellar graduation rate of players on his team. Given information that his longtime defensive coach was seen abusing a child, Paterno fumbled the ball. Passed the buck. Why? Was he so consumed by next week’s game that he didn’t have time to follow-up? Why didn’t he go to the police? Was he afraid of sparking a scandal that might ultimately consume him?
The original sin here is the hesitation to act. Did McQueary not believe his own eyes? Did he immediately question what he was seeing? Did he immediately wonder "What if?" What if he blew the whistle on an important man at one of the most important football programs in the nation? What if they didn’t believe him? What if, in fact, he was punished for speaking up?
It’s a classic moral dilemma. But is it, really? He sees a child being raped! How is it that he even stops to think — that he doesn’t immediately come to the rescue of this child?
The second moral failure lies with Paterno. After meeting with McQueary, Paterno is content to simply report the incident up the chain of command. He tells the athletic director, a former quarterback for one of Paterno’s Penn State teams.
And that’s it. That’s all he does. Did Paterno ever wonder whatever happened on the case? Did he ever think about the boy? Did he ever speak up at all? Was he so busy, so consumed with his football duties, that the rape of a child never even crossed his mind after that?
That happened 9 years ago. When the news finally broke last week, Sandusky was arrested. Soon after, Paterno was fired along with the school’s president.
Then came the third moral failure.
Soon after the news of Paterno’s firing, students rioted, fighting with police and overturning a television news truck. Why were they rioting? Was it out of anger that the university had not acted strongly to stop a child predator? No, the students were rioting because they felt Paterno had not been treated with respect, that he had been treated shabbily after a 46-year tenure as Penn State’s head coach.
Come on kids! Are you serious?
My disgust over my own long hobby of following sports over the last five decades mostly has to do with the amount of time I’ve wasted watching millionaires playing for billionaires.
I feel disgusted by how easily I (and millions of others) can be so easily manipulated to care for teams, where the players switch jerseys as easily as flipping a coin. Where the billionaire team owners bully cities into building lavish palaces for their teams, while basic municipal needs like education and infrastructure receive fewer and fewer resources.
I'm disgusted by the way these franchises, owners and players, treat fans as a necessary evil.
I'm disgusted by the insidious degree to which sports journalism (an oxymoron if ever there was one) has been co-opted by the money and business of sports.
I'm disgusted by this codependence that has kept fans from knowing the seamy underbelly and the moral failing of sports business, at the level of big-time college athletics as well as in the pros.
I'm disgusted.

Monday, November 7, 2011

First Sunday without sports -- how did it go?

I did a back 'n' forth all day with Michael Kruse, a friend of mine who works at the St. Pete Times. He was very intrigued by the idea that I was giving up sports for a year -- Am I really doing that? So here's a blow-by-blow account of my day and how I managed to do some other things besides sitting in front of the tube all day watching football:

Sunday, November 06, 2011 10:50 AM

Dave Tarrant: This is my first Sunday in self-imposed exile. I'm taking a year off from watching sports. For about 50 years, I've been your average fan, riding the ups and downs of my teams. In my case, it all started in the early 1960s in Pittsburgh. Bill Mazeroski's dramatic bottom-of-the-9th home run beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the 1960 World Series transformed a city better known for its belching smokestacks and woeful sports teams. The Pirates and Steelers were awful in the 1950s. When I moved to Dallas in my mid-20s, I adopted the colorful weak sisters of the local franchises -- the Texas Rangers and the Dallas Mavericks. No Cowboys for me, thank you. I remained a diehard Steelers fan. Over the years, I followed my four teams -- Pirates, Steelers, Rangers and Mavericks -- through thick and thin. In the late 1980s, when I went to work for a few years in Germany -- I checked the box scores everyday in Stars & Stripes or the International Herald Tribune.

But at the end of the 2011 World Series, especially after watching the wretched collapse of the Rangers in Game 6, I decided I needed a break. I want to see if I can handle a year without my sports teams. Like a guy with a horrible hangover, who swears off beer for a day or two or three or more. That's where I'm at right now, trying to see if I can spend a year without sports -- one day at a time. This is an especially dangerous Sunday for me. Tonight the hated Baltimore Ravens are playing the Steelers in Sunday Night Football. It's the best rivalry in the NFL by far. The games usually leave both teams bruised and battered. The Ravens slaughtered the Steelers earlier this year, and the men in black and gold will be out for blood. In years past, I've watched the game with my friend Seth and a few other guys from Pittsburgh either at Seth's house or in a sports bar. I faithfully wear my black and gold Rod Woodson jersey -- No. 26! Needless to say, Seth and the guys think I'm nuts. I'll miss their camaraderie. The Neanderthal from Baltimore I work with called me a pussy. Witty guy, huh?

So....what am I going to do with all this free time, anyway? I'll keep y'all, or should I say yins, posted.


Sunday, Nov. 6, 12:00 pm:

Michael Kruse: I'm so interested in what you're doing here because I think with this experiment you're asking an important question. Do we spend too much time watching sports? Let's say you sleep eight hours a day. Let's say a football game lasts something like three and a half hours. That's basically a full FIFTH of your day. Judging from the NFL's ratings, most people aren't watching just one, either, so let's say they're watching games even in both slots on Sunday afternoon, and then the Sunday night game, and then the Monday night game. My wife Lauren works for the St. Pete coffee company Kahwa and today she's manning the Kahwa booth at a local arts festival. This morning I watched my 4-year-old stepdaughter and her friend who had spent the night, and for the most part they played nice, which let me read my St. Pete Times and my New York Times. The friend's mother picked up the girls at noon, at which point I got in the car to make a quick reporting trip down to Sarasota, where I am now. This evening, my St. Pete Times colleague Will Hobson is coming over to talk some shop about a story he's working on, and somewhere in there dinner needs to be made and the dog should be walked. All of which is to say: Where do people find all this time to watch all these games? People are of course free to do what they want, and clearly a lot of people are getting from watching sports a lot of things they like or need or want, but I can't help but wonder: What's not getting done?
So: What are you, Dave Tarrant, cold-turkey non-watcher of sports, doing this Sunday afternoon that you weren't last Sunday afternoon?


Sunday, Nov. 6, 12:03 pm

Dave Tarrant: Natalie, my 13-year-old, and I are going hiking. We're going to the Cedar Hill Preserve, in southwest Dallas County, which bills itself as the closest thing to the Hill Country in aircraft carrier-flat Dallas. My plan is to spend as little time as possible at home, where I'll be tempted to turn on the television. Sharon suggested I might want to go grocery shopping with her when the Cowboys were playing because the stores are always nearly empty at that time. But the whole point of this is to not just trade teams, so to speak. I don't want to give up watching sports just so I can spend more time shopping. I don't like to shop. I don't even like to say the word "shop." It makes me feel claustrophobic. When it comes to shopping, I'm definitely more of a hunter than a gatherer. Get in, get what you need and get out. Nope. I don't think I'll be spending the day at Kroger's or the Parks Mall. I'm heading to the great outdoors. Who knows what I'll see? Natalie: "Hey Dad, before we go hiking, can we stop at Starbucks?" That's my girl!


Sunday, Nov. 6, 1:11 pm

Michael Kruse: So is it fair to say your daughter is a fan of you not being a fan?

Sunday, Nov. 6, 1:30 pm:

Dave Tarrant: Just started the hike. The ride here took us past Cowboys Stadium, that spaceship-shaped palace of sports just 2 miles from home. More later.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 1:44 pm:

Dave Tarrant (text message): Natalie making dove calls with cupped hands. Looking for fossils (with) fern imprints on limestone. Place is chalk-full of them.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 2:14 pm:

Dave Tarrant (text message) Somehow we started talking politics. Natalie feels the parties need to talk more to each other. She even used a sports metaphor: can’t be like two teams that hate each other.

Michael Kruse (text message) Leaving the Chalk Festival in Sarasota. Tons of people here who aren’t watching football. (In response to Natalie’s metaphor about sports and politics) I’d say the guys on the opposite sides of a field are really on the same team and they know it. Different outfits is all. Doesn’t feel that way in politics.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 2:30 pm:

Dave Tarrant: (text message) I’m finding it’s really hard to type and hike at the same tim- - whoops!

Sunday, Nov. 6, 3 pm:

Dave Tarrant: (text message) We’ve arrived at our destination, Cattail Pond. What a great hike, and hardly anyone on the trail. Great Daddy-daughter time. I’m so glad we did this. Sent yins a picture.

Michael Kruse (text message) Got it. Looks like a nice spot.

Dave Tarrant (text message) Be back home in 30 m.

Michael Kruse (text message) Good hike?

Natalie Tarrant (texting while Dad driving): Yah, it had a great view. Natalie lost her phone and her foot fell in some mud. We found the phone, but her (leg from the) knee down was covered in mud the whole way back.

Sunday, November 06, 4:39 pm

Dave Tarrant (back home) Michael, we spent two hours in the woods, hiking the Cedar Hill Preserve. It's run by the Audubon Society and it's most definitely a gem in the backyard of Dallas. We walked the Cattail Trail, which looped around about 3 miles, twisting and turning through ash and cedar and juniper. At one point, Natalie began talking politics, which was a surprise. I don't recall ever having a conversation with her about politics and I can't even remember how we got on the topic. But she went on for at least 20 minutes, talking about how the politicians take these "drastic" positions and won’t compromise with each other. There was even a sports analogy tossed into the mix: She said that people adopted political parties like sports teams and they hate anybody on the other team. That, she said, was no way to run a country. Wow, what a great conversation -- even though she gave my generation a beating. "You guys are really screwing it up for us, Dad!"

I emailed you a photo of our destination, Cattail Pond. As I was doing that, I looked up to see Natalie walking around the pond. At some point, she took a step and sank her whole foot into the mud. In the confusion of trying to wipe the mud off her shoe, we left her cell phone on the observation deck overlooking the pond. We got about 1,500 feet up the trail before she realized it. We half-ran, half-walked back toward the pond and came upon a mother and her daughter. "You lose a phone?" the mom said. People are nice on trails. I learned one other thing today. As we were driving back home, Natalie asked me to listen to a song on her iPod. It was a song by Weezer. It’s called “I’m the greatest man that ever lived!” She told me the song gave her an “ego boost” and that it was currently her favorite song. That counts for something, huh?

Sunday, Nov. 6, 5:17 pm

Dave Tarrant (in response to the earlier question “What’s not getting done?”): What's not getting done? A lot of the little, seemingly inconsequential, things that add up to a life. A walk with the dogs. A hike with a child. Practicing a jump shot at the elementary school b-ball court. Dinner and movie with the wife. Reading. Listening to a music station, instead of sports talk. Spending enough time with a daughter that she'll let you know her favorite song.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 5:30 pm

Dave Tarrant: As I mentioned earlier, the Steelers are on Sunday Night Football. I don't really want to be in the house around a TV, and Sharon and I haven't been on a date in a while. So we're going out to see a movie. It's one I've been wanting to see for a long time. It's gotten excellent reviews. I can't wait to see it.

You've probably heard of it: Moneyball.

Sunday, Nov. 6, 8:45 pm

What I'm hearing from you is that you've spent an afternoon with your daughter and an evening with your wife. So what are you missing? What if anything is lacking in that Sunday? Here I'm going to quote from a book I've pulled off my shelf. It's called The Meaning of Sports, by Michael Mandelbaum, written in 2004, and I'm paging through my previously highlighted passages.

Here's one:

Sports and organized religion share several important features. Both address the needs of the spirit and the psyche rather than those of the flesh. Neither bears directly on what is necessary for physical survival: food and shelter. Both stand outside the working world. And team sports provide three satisfactions of life to twenty-first-century Americans that, before the modern age, only religion offered: a welcome diversion from the routines of daily life; a model of coherence and clarity; and heroic examples to admire and emulate.

Question: What do you get from watching sports? And what are you not getting today?

Sunday, Nov 6, 9:36 pm

Dave Tarrant: That's a great question Michael. The only thing I can say, and there's a spoiler alert in here for anyone who hasn't seen Moneyball, is that I really admire Billy Beane's decision at the end of the movie. He clearly made it with his daughter in mind. Who knows how things would have turned out in Boston? Would they still have won the World Series two years later with him as GM? That's the wonderful thing about sports, and baseball in particular: there's an infinite amount of 'what ifs' involved in the game.

On the way home after the movie, we drove past the Colossus of Arlington, and it occurred to me that I still didn't know the score of the Cowboys game. I felt a slight bit of panic -- like I'd been given a pop quiz and hadn't read the book. I looked at the radio and, without thinking, I punched in the button set for 103.3 FM, the local ESPN station. I figured they'd be carrying the Steelers game. There was a commercial for a sports show called "The Herd," and, realizing what I was doing, I turned off the radio. I'm not ruling out the possibility of checking scores, but I liked the fact that I'd made it through the day without needing to sit in front of the tube and watch a game. And I liked the fact that I had some bit of control over my day — that I wasn't, in fact, just part of "The Herd."

Sunday, Nov. 6, 10:02 pm

Michael Kruse: What do you miss more? Watching football or playing fantasy?

Dave Tarrant: I missed the enjoyment of sitting on the couch and watching the Steelers. I love that team and whenever I get to see them, it helps me reconnect with the city where I grew up. It's a romantic thing of course. To paraphrase what some wag somewhere once said: In this age of free agents, I'm really just rooting for jerseys. But I do think it's more than that. Last year, when the Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, I made a big batch of perogies, basically dumplings that are a big deal in Pittsburgh. I'm sure my kids thought I was a little weird wearing a Rod Woodson jersey and serving them up a platter of perogies. But it helped me reconnect with the city of my youth, with friends I'd grown up with and moved away from, and with a kind of gritty authenticity that I've always associated with Pittsburgh that can't be found in these newer cities in the South and Southwest. I don't know -- maybe that's a lot of horseshit. But that's a glimpse of what I associate with the Steelers. On the other hand, all that nostalgia and romance is nothing but the downy pod of a dried-up. old dandelion compared to a walk in the woods with my daughter and a night at the movies with my wife. If you want authenticity, if your want something real, that's it for damn sure.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

First weekend without sports

4:10 pm: So far, so good. It helps that the weather couldn't be more beautiful. Texas weather can be summed up thusly: summer's intense heat and winter's bone-chilling cold, bracketed by tornado and hurricane seasons. That leaves only a half-dozen weeks in October and part of November to enjoy, and this is one of those rare days you don't want to waste. I spent part of the time working in the yard, mowing the grass one last time (hopefully). I bought a 16 oz cup of beef stew for Jackson, who's nursing a bad cold, at Whole Foods, which has really hearty soups. Then I drove to Lake Arlington to scout out the possibility of spending Sunday kayaking with Natalie. I've heard you can rent kayaks there, but I couldn't find any evidence of that and the Lake Arlington office was closed. Must be only a weekday deal -- I'm glad I checked. It looks like we'll have to drive into Dallas and head to White Rock Lake, where they do rent kayaks and canoes. So that's the plan for now.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Seven Days

Someday, Eric Nadel, the voice of the Texas Rangers, is going to do one of his signature broadcast stories "A Page From Baseball's Past," about Game 6 of the 2011 World Series. He'll be describing with his uncanny eye for detail what happened on the field. What he'll miss is what was happening in homes and sports bars, in offices and warehouses, anywhere Rangers fans were gathered to watch the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Rangers up 7-5 and the Cards up for their last at-bat. I was at home and earlier had moved from the den to my bedroom, where I felt the mojo was better. Earlier in the game when the Rangers went up 7-4, I was on the bed and had noticed that my right foot was resting against my left leg. Ahh, I thought. That's my lucky position. So I stayed in that position, only taking breaks in between innings. Bear in mind, I'm 56 years old. I'm a college graduate. And I'm reduced to this magical thinking. And you know I'm not alone on this. It's sheer madness. The mojo wore off and the Cards tied the game, by which point my right leg had fallen asleep anyway. So I stood up a few feet from the TV to watch the Rangers bat in the top of the 10th. Bang-blast. A base hit and a magnificent home run by Josh and the Rangers have a two-run lead again! Wow. Divine intervention. Or was it the fact that I discovered a new lucky spot? I froze. I didn't move. I gulped when I saw Darren Oliver come out in the bottom of the 10th to pitch. But the Cards had two light-hitting lefties coming up, followed by their pitcher. And they had no pinch-hitters left to hit for the pitcher. Even with Oliver on the mound, we had this one in the bag. I just had to stay put in my lucky position....

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Will, you're my first real commenter. I don't count Marvel because he's an old friend, who's trying to cheer me up. Irony, huh? Well, you gotta point. There is a certain irony in keeping a blog about giving up sports. How else am I supposed to vent? Organize an Occupy Ballpark in Arlington (OBA) protest?