Michael Smerconish used the word "sissification" on MSNBC last Tuesday. He used it in connection with the tempest over head injuries in football.
I should inject here that Smerconish is quite the "good guy" in cable TV news, a guy fundamentally from the right politically but who can engage in civilized, respectful conversation with those on the left. He won't get into the foxhole with the ultra righties.
I'll also inject here that Smerconish was the first guy to go on the air as a replacement for Don Imus when Imus created that firestorm. Imus couldn't escape the volley of criticism.
Imus is a satirist and that's an art form that can push the envelope pretty far. At the time of his downfall he was often called a "shock jock." No, a satirist he was. In came Smerconish to calm the early-morning waters on MSNBC.
Smerconish may have calmed the waters but he apparently didn't get good ratings. Neither did another "experiment" in that time slot, with Stephanie Miller. I rather liked Stephanie but sometimes she talked too fast.
We ended up with Joe Scarborough whose associates are the lovely Mika Brzezinski, the affable Willie Geist and the sage Mike Barnicle. These have been my early-morning companions ever since falling into unemployment.
"Sissification" is a variant on "sissy."
I doubt seriously that "sissy" is still an acceptable putdown among adolescent males. It belongs on "Leave it to Beaver" reruns.
Over a short ime this word has gone from adolescent/mainstream to a total museum relic. Like "dunce," a word that still has descriptive value even though such a thing is long dead. (Why am I thinking about George W. Bush?)
"Nerd" has gone from a putdown word to sort of a compliment to the point where it has pretty much disappeared. The "nerds" prevailed. They're normal, upstanding people.
The other part of the old dichotomy was the "jocks." The jocks were the cool partiers who, as they used to say, "could end up with a girl on each arm." That seems quite the revolting sexist observation today.
But there is a more serious trend to look at here.
How are these cultural changes, which seem so refreshing and enlightened, going to affect the future sports universe for kids?
We have gone from a culture where sports, especially football, were "manly" to a world in which women have equal footing. But women seem blessed: They are under no pressure to play a sport (football) that in many ways destroys the body and now we learn, the brain.
Michael Smerconish was suggesting that one way to discourage helmet-to-helmet contact in the NFL was to have one pre-season game in which facemasks aren't used. Players would be more likely to refrain from the dangerous kind of contact.
There is a bigger trend hovering over all this talk. We may be seeing a cultural drift away from football. People won't come right out and admit it. No one wants to be that drastic.
But in their behavior we'll slowly see that drift: People will say they still enjoy watching football on TV, which is really just kind of a dream world anyway.
But they'll discourage their own kids from playing it.
Participation numbers will droop. Boys will decide it's better to come home after school, relax and perhaps go on Facebook, than to bash heads and risk limbs and joints playing an old "manly" sport.
On Sunday night there was another sickening scene in the NFL where a lengthy pause was necessitated while a dazed player lay supine until he was carted off. The players gather around and look so concerned. And then they go back to their business of launching themselves like missiles.
Being unemployed I watch more cable TV than I should, and of late there has been a Toyota commercial that should give football promoters pause. It's not a commercial promoting car sales. It's a promo spot where Toyota's research into head injuries is lauded. So, this mother/actor in the commercial can "worry less."
This actress is so relieved about Toyota's research, "I can enjoy my son playing football more."
Really? Is it so essential for your son to play a sport that might have him become a borderline dementia case when he's close to 60?
Wouldn't it be more worry-free to just skip this male rite of passage?
Well, it would be, and in terms of their behavior I think we'll see parents and their sons begin to depart.
Maybe a lessen here is that it's odd to have a sport in the year 2010 that is so confined to one gender. Couldn't boys play volleyball in the fall? You wouldn't even need to worry about the weather.
But what would become of Big Cat Stadium here in Morris? It might end up like the Donnelly school building. (Let's invite one of those ghost-search TV crews.)
I remember when Dick Siebert came to Morris in the mid 1960s to put on a baseball clinic for boys. Siebert was the famous U of M Gopher baseball coach. He was also a product of his generation.
Siebert was speaking to us on technique and had reason to illustrate a point by making reference to softball. He couldn't stop at the mere comparison though. He referred to "softball, which is a sissy game."
I was just a kid but I could realize this was kind of a disturbing comment.
Try running this past Mark Ekren of Morris.
Siebert had us all start running across the baseball field - it was called Eagles rather than Chizek then - and he'd yell "slide!" Whereupon we could all ruin a perfectly good pair of pants.
It was a fun day but the "sissy" comment stayed lodged in my mind.
Here was this pillar of a coach associated with the august U and he went around using the word "sissy."
If he thought us little boomers would let this word go in one ear and out the other, he was mistaken.
"Sissies" would end up like the "nerds" i.e. with the last laugh.
-Brian Williams - morris mn Minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org