If you mentioned, a year ago, the name 'Joe Paterno', I would have given you a tossup between a basketball or a football coach. Don't ask me which school or even if he was NBA or NFC West. I just know he was some legendary dude for some sports reason. It's not that I don't like sports, but that other, more adult things occupy my mind. I am often skeptical of any activity that is improved by beer.
It turns out that Paterno is, like his name suggests, a father figure to any number of alumni and members of Penn State University, and under his heretofore unimpeachable authority and leadership, a whole lot of nasty business transpired. Nasty as in news at six gut wrenching scandal. I try, as I write this, to not sound dismissive of such events as destroy families and neighborhoods. At the same time, the misplaced trust in the institution of football is something that deserves our best mockery.
I am finding it more convenient and appropriate for me to push towards a stripping away of all pretenses of honor that any number of activities provide for the common man. Which is not to say that I wouldn't want it to be there - loyalty to an ideal is very important. And quite frankly I think people will be loyal at any rate. However, when it comes to the business of erecting statues and other awards of virtue, I think we should be quite wary of what it is that sport should represent. I think perhaps the Olympic standard is more appropriate - or even the motto for ABC's Wide World of Sport. We span the globe to witness the thrill of victory; the agony of defeat; the human drama of athletic competition. That's it. That's plenty. We should not be looking for heroes, role-models, or patriotic leadership. We should admire that people wear colors and look good in parades, but not take those parades too seriously.
Just last week, the chatting class was all atwitter about the fact that designer Ralph Lauren's uniforms for the American Olympians were manufactured in China. I believe a particular Senator made deroggatory gestures while wearing an Italian designer suit.
But I want you to imagine, if you could, how ridiculous it would seem to have in the center of your downtown, a marble statue of Travis Pastrana. In case you didn't know, Travis was the first human being to perform a double back somersault with a motorcycle. There are fewer death-defying athletic achievements than that - climbing Everest perhaps. But there will be no statue. Pastrana's tributes come in the form of YouTube videos of the actual stunt. Nobody sends their young men to go serve under the tutelage of Pastrana. In fact, for all of the X-Games sports there are, both summer and winter, there are no colleges I know that pay for facilities, faculty and staff for skateboard, bmx or snowboard strivings. There is no august governing body. There is no Commissioner of Vert Ramp. There is only the pure athleticism of those who participate and the vicarious thrills of those who watch. These are our purest sports.
I learned recently that the political origins of the Tour de France had much to do with getting manly men prepared for the rigors of war in anticipation of France's vengeance upon Germany after their Franco-Prussian defeat. And so many tropes about its honorees were conformed to such martial glory.
My angle in this originates from the claim of the ancients that men are motivated by three primary forces, greed, fear and glory. It is the seduction of glory that most often concerns me in my Peasant Theory. You see, I am convinced that we sell ourselves short for the glory made possible to those of us not born of nobility. We become, like King Lear, easily flattered into madness thinking ourselves glorious.
What true honor can we have not knowing the deceits of those we honor from our distance?
You may have heard me tell the story of the Dread King Mandingo, an American Studies professor at a prestigious East Coast university. He held the party at Spike Lee's in Brooklyn at attention when he told the story, oh so deliciously, of how he turned the tables on those rich white kids. Their parents told them all their lives that they must have an education and they put a life savings into getting their offspring to matriculate. But here stands the Black Man with the power to deny!
Oh the dread power of college, they snipe and spit out arrows of knowlege.
To peirce the gut and mind at once, suffer foolish little dunce!
For through our ivied private hell, we well but scold and mold you well.
With colors, letters, papers, song, to prove cetera maters wrong.
Here's your new daddy. His name is Paterno. He is great. Suffer unto him through the discipline of... of football. They say it builds character. I don't know anything about Joe Paterno, and that should be obvious from my lack of deference. But whatever he was aside from the actual material coach, the teacher of moves that atheletes adopted and made successful on the field of virtual battle - all of that is lost. Honor and glory are fleeting and even more fleeting is the association with it. They are like blessings of the air. How can you bless the air that is sweet one day and putrid the next? It should serve as a warning to those who put on airs or seek the rarification of 'be' rather than of 'do'.
The NCAA will take a lumping from various quarters. It should. There are other institutions better suited for the maintenance of sporting youth, and the XGames prove that can be done with the mere corporate sponsorship of Mountain Dew, DC Shoes and Go Pro cameras. I remember quite fondly that my AAU number was 33528662. But in the meantime, there will be sanctions and recriminations and the inherent conflict between the missions of higher education, athletic excellence, patriotic honor and actual virtue will destroy such things as they stand. You obvioiusly cannot mix those combinations in today's universities for much longer.
A toast to creative destruction.