"You'll never get ahead if you don't take care of what you have." - Doris Waddell, RIP

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn

A historic building on our U of M-Morris campus - morris mn
The multi-ethnic building was the original home of the music department at UMM. (B.W. photo)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

The fragile Jerry Kill in Darwinian game

Jerry Kill, U of M football coach
We are into the new fall of football and the lure seems great as ever.
Perhaps it's ever greater because of how the media feed us. Sports channels on TV whet our palate. What escapism.
As a kid my generation couldn't have imagined such a lavish world of sports entertainment. We would just hope for a "doubleheader" of NFL games on a Sunday, not just the "regional games" which, translated, meant we'd just get to see one game. In the daytime we had soap operas and game shows. In the evening, vapid variety shows or cop dramas. We have perhaps forgotten.
Football intoxicates us. The big story out of the University of Minnesota this week is the revived questions about Jerry Kill and his health. Our conscience tugs at us as we assess this situation. There's a line of political correctness we feel we ought not cross as we judge.
Jim Souhan of the Star Tribune crossed it in a column where he comes across as sort of a bull in a China closet. But I'm not pointing fingers at him. He's being honest in his thoughts in a way that most of us would consider. He was a little glib and callous.
But if we're really all so sensitive, why don't we give more consideration to what this barbaric game of football does to its young participants? It's not a game that is compatible with compassion and sensitivity to begin with. Aren't you all feeling this sort of dilemma inside?
Look at that awful injury that afflicted that Dassel-Cokato young man. Based on what we are learning about football, damage is done to a great many men in an incremental way over time and with symptoms that don't all reveal themselves soon. At the same time we practice denial about these obvious realities, many of us will scream at critics who suggest coach Kill must step aside because of his health limitations.
This is hardly a typical case of "handicapped opportunity" where we insist the door be left open. Head coach in NCAA Division I is about the most atypical job there is. George Will has written about "coach centrism." George pines for the days when football was simple and more of a fundamental athletic test between two squads of student athletes. Those were the days when most of the non-big name programs were pretty laid back and conservative, not thinking about TV deals etc.
Today I would suggest college football has become a many-headed hydra. Mike McFeely of KFGO Radio says "all the teams are on TV now." Many of the traditionally obscure programs, programs that once might have been satisfied going through the motions - and, what's really wrong with going through the motions? - are today involved in all the promotional and fundraising stuff.
The pressure accelerates. Everyone is in a fishbowl. We have an ever-increasing appetite for it.
We hear the news reports about the terrible toll taken on the players. Perhaps we choose to be in denial. We seek the best entertainment in our free time. We find football fills the bill. The media and advertisers respond.
We see coach Kill carted off the field at halftime. It's a scene that has happened before. There's a rational element in all of us that tells us this is unacceptable - a head coach with such a limitation.
A more civilized element says that in the year 2013, we shouldn't have such thoughts. A chorus of criticism has grown over Souhan and others like him.
But I really don't blame Souhan at all. He's thinking in the real world of football. He knows the "coach centric" nature of the game and how these men are expected to be genius chessmasters. They are paid obscene salaries to manage incredibly complex organizations. There are many layers. There's recruiting.
Your "product" is to win. By definition, only 50 percent of teams on a given weekend can win.
People plead for compassion and understanding in connection to coach Kill and his problem with epileptic seizures. That's fine on its own terms. We live in an age of tremendous enlightenment in regard to these things.
But "enlightenment" and "football" do not go together. Football was almost outlawed early in the 20th Century. Maybe it should have been. Football is a game that is testosterone-fueled and incredibly Darwinian.
People who supervise the sport have been trying to suppress the testosterone part. After all, football seeks to make money, and women make up half our population.
I remember when Andy Rooney of CBS said women had no place as sideline reporters. They just didn't understand the game, he pleaded. The underlying message was that football is a men's sanctuary.
On a superficial level this understanding has been modified. No one questions female football reporters today. They are not a novelty and they feel no special pressure to prove themselves. Andy was a throwback and we gave him a pass. He has gone to that typewriter in the sky now.
Women are encouraged to feel no inhibitions joining the world of football enthusiasm now. But on the field, where all the dangers of the game present themselves, there are no women. Maybe a game that is too dangerous for women should be considered too dangerous for everyone. The facts are out there. They're in the back of all our minds.
And yet on weekends, football is this weird sort of alter we go to and pay homage - irresistible. We sense that everything else on TV on weekends is garbage or filler. Football is the "real deal." Which is fine if we can judge the entertainment to be something less than barbaric. And with football we just cannot do this.
Should coach Jerry Kill depart? Yes, and it's because he's in an atypical occupation that demands almost superhuman qualities. Is there any bigger fishbowl than NCAA Division I football?
Kill deserves compassion and he should avail himself of programs helping him deal with his symptoms. However, NCAA Division I coaches are in a world where there's no room for any such "safety net."
Football is Darwinian. That seems regressive. But isn't it really a microcosm for the kind of world we live in today? A world marked by competition and a quest for optimal possession of material things? A world where Wall Street is central to our ethos?
NCAA Division I coaches are little Napoleons who craft systems designed to "beat" other such systems.
We relax in our couches and consume ESPN Sportscenter. We sip our Pepsis. At the same time, young men who have developed huge and fast bodies are crashing into each other.
Was the young man from Dassel-Cokato lured by a desire to hear those cheers cascading down at him, at a stadium developed with community resources? We gather at such places to bestow praise and adulation if our young men win. Compare this barbaric model to the wholly healthy activity of being in band or choir.
Just think about it, if you're not afraid of the truth.
Update: I see where columnist Souhan is excoriated in today's (9/17) Strib. I totally expected that. So, why did the Strib go to press with his column? Was it total negligence? I would say not. I figure the Strib knew full well that many fans on a private, i.e. non-politically correct level had the same thoughts as Souhan.
Those thoughts have bubbled in my own mind while at the same time I try to tamp them down. It's not nice to pick on someone who James Watt, Ronald Reagan's old Interior secretary - remember? - would describe as a "cripple." 
The Strib's Jim Souhan is a fall guy of sorts. There has been quite the backlash vs. him. But now I'm waiting for the backlash against the backlash. I'm waiting for people to start saying "Hey, it isn't all about the coach."
This is what George Will has been trying to tell us.
In the end, of course, all that matters is whether the Gophers win.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

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