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.
"Among the things that have long fascinated people about Jesus and explain his enduring appeal is his method of dialogue and teaching. "He asked a lot of questions and told a lot of stories in the form of parables. In fact, parables form about a third of Jesus’ recorded teachings. The Gospels were written decades after he died, so his questions and parables clearly left a deep impression on those who bore testimony to him....
"Some of Jesus’ questions were rhetorical; others were meant to challenge or even provoke. In some cases, Jesus used questions to parry attacks by religious authorities who set traps for him. In others, he used questions to enter more fully into the lives of others and to help people look at the state of their hearts. He asked people about their fears and their faith. Jesus used questions to free a woman caught in adultery from condemnation and to inquire whether people considered him to be the Messiah. He probed deeply into questions not many had asked before him, like “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
---(Peter Wehner, long-time White House consultant and writer, in the NYT last week about Jesus Christ’s method of teaching by asking questions.)
"Would that I could mention all the illuminating details in this biography, for example, why Wells praised Black Americans so highly, saying, 'I took a mighty liking to these gentle, human, dark-skinned people,' and 'Whatever America has to show in heroic living today, I doubt if she can show anything finer than the quality of the resolve, the steadfast efforts hundreds of black and colored men are making today to live blamelessly, honorably and patiently, getting by themselves what scraps of refinement, beauty and learning they may, keeping their hold on a civilization they are grudged and denied.''
-- "How H.G. Wells Predicted the 20th Century," Charles Johnson, NYT Book Review, Nov. 19, 2021. ***".
...the monsters arrive."
"They come in a deafening, surging swarm, blasting from lawn to lawn and filling the air with the stench of gasoline and death. I would call them mechanical locusts, descending upon every patch of gold in the neighborhood the way the grasshoppers of old would arrive, in numbers so great they darkened the sky, to lay bare a cornfield in minutes. But that comparison is unfair to locusts.
"Grasshoppers belong here. Gasoline-powered leaf blowers are invaders, the most maddening of all the maddening, environment-destroying tools of the American lawn-care industry."
---The great Margaret Renkl, from Nashville, one of my favorite NYT bylines, Oct. 26, 2021.
(She describes our Long Island enclave to every decibel, every stink.)