It all comes back to me now – the disconnect I felt whenever I wandered into big-time college football during my years as sports columnist.
I could deal with the machinations of professional sports. They were who they were -- steroid frolics, owner collusion, ignorance of brain damage. But big-time basketball and football gave me the creeps even worse because they existed under the title of “higher education.”
It comes back to me when I read terrific articles like the one in the Times on Sunday about how the entire power structure of Florida State University and the tolerant community fell into line to produce a football power every weekend, to the point of overlooking complaints about prominent players.
I visited Florida State when I was a columnist. I once talked to a player who lived in a football dormitory and seemed a trifle flustered when asked about classes and contact with students. He knew where the weight room was, though.
Now I learn that the authoritative people parking cars around the huge stadium complex were off-duty police officers, all part of the program.
There was always the temptation to get caught up in the folksy ways of coach Bobby Bowden. He would meet the press early Sunday morning for a review of the latest wide-right kicking fiasco, which he met with decency and humor. He would invite us to attend church with him. Y’all come. It was easy to fall into the familiar world of team ratings that would determine bowl placements.
I wrote about scandals at these schools. I once found some tutors at another powerhouse who admitted they had handed in papers for players. Other schools had legal issues, admission scandals, coaches who jumped ship, programs that hired comely hostesses tI wrote about it all. In the new blogosphere, apologists would generate hundreds of hostile e-mails to me, which was fun.
Football is the worst because it involves huge numbers of players and physical brutality, a Lord of the Flies bullying atmosphere. I read Harvey Araton’s terrific piece in the Sunday Times about Sayreville, N.J. and wonder how many other “programs” have fun traditions like that. How similar are the allegations at Sayreville to the ugly stuff that went on at Penn State?
Even for events I liked, like the good old Big East basketball tournament in the Garden, I always felt that coaches, advisors, tutors, presidents, boosters, recruiters, alums, knew the dirty secrets of getting these athletes into school.
I don’t watch college sports anymore. Don’t have to. I do read -- serious reporting about how the systems work. It all comes back to me.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.