Sunday, February 6, 2011

Gimme That Internet

For awhile, I was planning on trying to tote up all the words I wrote during the week before the Super Bowl. Why I was going to do this was a question that didn't occur to me until later than it probably should've, but it did occur to me. Not only would it not be much of a conversation starter -- especially when I'd have to later allow that, averaged out, I got something like seven cents per word -- but it would also probably be something of a bummer. More so to me than to the poor human stuck listening to me talk about it, but probably to both of us.

Luckily for me, though, some of those words were kind of a big deal for me. Over the last half of the week, I crashed through a story for the Wall Street Journal that was pretty easily the biggest thing I've yet done for them, and definitely the biggest journalistic "get" of a career essentially devoid of them. Which is fine, since that's not really what I do -- I compare athletes to deli meats, first and foremost. But I can see what's cool about this sort of thing, now. The piece is about the rediscovery -- after 44 years of being presumed lost -- of the network broadcast of the first Super Bowl. That one's here, and I'm pretty proud of it.

I also wrote what will probably be my last Kicked Off column for The Awl, and it is -- spoiler alert -- about the Super Bowl, and also has some more description of Super Bowl I (and more profanity, and more adjectives) than I was allowed at the Journal. I'm probably prouder of it, because my affection for my own voice overshadows my desire to be a scoopy newspaper dude. I also think I came closer to saying what I've been trying to say all year in this one than I previously have.

It's not a failure of taste that leads NFL owners—all of them owners of profitable teams, all of them beneficiaries of a television deal that pays the league $4 billion per annum—to boldly demand massive concessions from the players union because Of These Difficult Economic Times. Or that leads Sports Illustrated's NFL hagiographist/coffee-critic Peter King to write a tone-deaf piece fretting over the prospect that commissioner Roger Goodell—"sandy-haired and fit at 51," recipient of nearly $10 million in annual pay, point man on the owners' plan to extract those concessions and add two regular season games (which fans don't necessarily want) to the NFL's already brutal schedule—might be working too hard, according to friends. Or, at the most distant pole, that led Chuck Klosterman to get up at the Varsity Letters reading series on Thursday night and extemporize to the effect that the prospect of a NFL player dying on the field is something he likes most about the game. "Think about it," Klosterman said, tipsy off his own contrarianism, "they're putting their lives on the line out there." Klosterman seemed, beneath his grin and that beard and at the distance from which I regarded him, to be moved by how moved he was at the prospect, and amused at how amusing he found it.

That is all rotten, of course. But while the above are not in good taste, they are failures of perspective first and foremost. They reflect an inability or unwillingness to see beyond the self-flattery of dumb comforts and acknowledge complicated circumstances and context. Or, if you prefer, those distinct idiocies are different symptomatic presentations of the same disorder—a terminal inability to give a shit. The NFL, as it presently exists, is built to elicit this response in people—it makes emotion cheaper and easier to digest, it takes the laziest arms-length cruelties and ignorance and processes them until they are rich and filling. But the bigger the NFL makes itself—the more it gorges on synergies and succumbs to the distorting, obliterating appetites of irresponsible wealth—the more obese it becomes. The reason why the long march to the Super Bowl is exhausting—and why the entire NFL experience is increasingly obscene in an increasing number of ways—is that the NFL is not presently in shape to make a journey this long. It is too big, and getting bigger.

So, after what was certainly the busiest week of my professional life -- I even did a Sunday Daily Fix this morning -- I feel mostly physical sensations. I fell on the ice in New Haven this morning, so I've got this shame/ache cocktail going on there, and I've some of the expected carpal tunnel/brain issues. But feeling even a little bit of pride is nice, and sort of a surprise. I look forward to resting, whenever I'll get to do that, but I didn't expect all this to feel as worth-it as it currently does. This could all be undone by another slip on the ice, though. Young septuagenarian over here. Jeez.

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