Friday, August 31, 2018

MGoMix 2018

I can't forget anymore. From about age 10 through my late twenties I could do that, and on Saturdays in the fall nothing would invade that space. The only thing that mattered was what happened between the end zones and the sidelines and it received my whole being. In hindsight, I realize the enormous kind of privilege that requires. I can't go back there, and while I can get nostalgic for it, I don't want to.

When I see people begging to keep politics out of sports, or any other space, I see a hunger for a place where it's acceptable to live with unearned, unchallenged, and unexamined privilege. I think it's the sort of desire that politicians and other authority figures exploit when they proffer endless bad-faith arguments and CYA statements. We want a world where we don't have to examine our failures and how we're complicit in the exploitation of others. It's easier to let someone with power say that everything we like is fine and we should all keep doing exactly what we want to do. Everything that's wrong is the fault of some outside person or group who must be punished.

The Big Ten East has been working overtime the last off-season to prove that institutions don't care about individuals as long as even larger institutions don't levy consequences.

Ohio State was never going to fire Urban Meyer. I entertained that possibility for about 5 minutes, and I hoped it would be true, but his enabling of Zach Smith's abuse and other bad behavior pales next to his 73-8 record. He will serve his 3-game suspension, learn absolutely nothing, and then win a bunch of football games while Very Serious People congratulate him for "rising above adversity." The lesson is clear: Lie, dissemble, and muddy the waters enough and you can survive, because one woman's abuse doesn't matter enough to threaten a winning team. Jimbo Fisher could've told you that. And because it wasn't abuse of a player or recruit, you'll still get the talent you need.

Michigan briefly looked like they were going to join the defaulters' list with a shoe scandal: A lot of player-exclusive Jordan brand gear was showing up for sale online, which is still a violation of NCAA rules. Fortunately for the team's season, the investigation ("investigation"?) didn't turn up any gear from current players. Which just points up how much money is washing through this program and that players see little to none of it. Modern amateurism is a fiction some Europeans came up with to make it easier for "gentlemen" (read: rich white guys) to get Olympic medals. It has no value in a revenue sport other than to keep players working at below-market wages.

And I don't think that means Michigan's clean. In an institution that large, something somewhere is festering, and I can only hope that it isn't too bad, and that we get lucky and have a few key people who do the right thing at the right time. It isn't Michigan's Simon-pure virtue that has let us escape this off-season without major scandal. Even having an administration that takes these matters seriously only gets you so far. When it bumps up against public scandal and threatens revenue, or touches a personal friend, even people who care will still bend on occasion.

Maryland literally worked a player to death. DJ Durkin and his staff made this kid so afraid of disappointing them that he ran until he dropped dead. This wasn't someone with an undiagnosed heart condition: Jordan McNair pushed himself beyond the breaking point because player safety came second to finishing a workout. Durkin may yet face consequences, mostly because he's unproven enough to be expendable, and if they can fire him for cause it would nullify his buyout. Jim Harbaugh's refusal to comment on DJ Durkin's coaching tactics is incredibly disappointing. I understand that coaching omerta is going to keep him from discussing what may or may not have happened at Maryland. What I want to know is what happened at Michigan. "DJ Durkin didn't do anything that made me worried about our players' health." "DJ was passionate about players getting the most out of their talent, and on a couple occasions I asked him to take it down a notch, but I was never worried about player safety." "We rely on our trained medical staff (who are the best in the world) to help us keep our players safe. DJ never questioned their judgment when they thought a player needed rest or water or anything." Those are all acceptable answers that don't mention Maryland at all. "No comment" isn't good enough.

Michigan State's actions to sweep under the rug anything remotely resembling accountability for the decades-long enabling of Larry Nasser is an affront to anything a public university should represent. From the beginning, they've been committed to token investigations designed solely to maintain plausible deniability and to look no further at the rot pervading the university's power structures. John Engler's instincts as a politician are at the forefront here: Instead of an issue of the alumni magazine that at least attempts some soul-searching, he had it replaced with the Everything's Fine Now (Nothing To See Here) issue. The playbook is Deny, Deny, Deny. The last two decades of Republic politics, from climate change to the Russia investigation, suggest that he will get away with it, and the bill will simply be passed on to Michigan taxpayers and MSU students. If enough people want to believe an idea, evidence to the contrary will be ignored. Mark Dantonio will still be their most celebrated coach since Biggie Munn no matter how many "unity councils" let racists back on the team or how many players are reinstated as soon as they walk out of jail, because winning cures everything. Michigan State only has to say enough of the right words in public and then rely on a critical mass of alumni and fans to keep their identities as Spartans ahead of the victims. The university's coffers won't suffer substantially in the long term and only a bare minimum number of egregiously bad actors will lose their titles, but they'll probably get to keep their pensions.

The best thing and the most damning thing about football is that it can make you forget all of this and live in that moments between the ball leaving the quarterback's hand and it landing; between the crease developing and what happens to the runner. Infinite possibilities live there and invite you to surrender your entire being to them, and from there to construct a larger narrative. It's exhilarating and exhausting, and football invites you to pour your whole being into it. But as a human whose conscience requires that I live in the world, I can't do that anymore. Being a functional adult who's worth a damn comes with that obligation.

I've been trying to end this post for four days now, and I can't get there. I don't know. Anyway, here's Wonderwall.