Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Randy Moss (and a bit about the election)

I was going to write more about the election but, honestly, I don't feel qualified.  Mostly because I live in Massachusetts.  When I watched the results last night with my family, it felt like there were two elections in two mostly separate worlds going on at once.  The local news announced and analyzed Democratic victories across the board.  Democratic incumbents won their races and the open seats were filled with Democrats, too.  Then we would flip to another (yet nearby) "bizarro world" (that's a Superman reference, not necessarily a value judgement) and Katie Couric et. al. spoke breathlessly about the demise of the Democrats, the rise of the Tea Party and so on.  Our regional cable station (New England Cable Network) was much more like the local report.  New Hampshire returned to the New Hampshire of my youth.  Otherwise, lots of "blue".

Even Barney Frank was Barney Frank.

So I am going to write about something strange that did happen in these parts.  It is the ongoing saga of Randy Moss, Wide Receiver-at-Large.  Most of the sports press--and virtually all of the league executives--like to buy into a very sanitized, 1950's-styled story of life in the NFL.  Team owners are jocular, well-fed older men who look benignly down from their heated boxes on Sunday and cheer on the happy employees of their business venture.  The coaches, Lombardi-like, guide their faithful charges, teaching them about the sanctity of the game and the occasional life-lesson like "There's no 'I' in 'Team'".  The fact that these employees are adults pounding the living snot out of each other, that they will suffer lasting effects from this pounding, that they have struggles and opinions, loves and losses that don't always fit into this story is unfortunate for the narrative arc, but not something that seems to move the NFL Public Relations minds all that much.  Owners who do not fit the detached elder image (Al Davis of the Raiders) are also painted unpleasant exceptions.

Players and owners--or at least some of them--feed into this.  The Quarterback who thanks Jesus for guiding his football to its intended target, and the awe-shucks attitude of the big time playmaker in the press conference after the important win are a couple of examples.  So too is the attempt to read tremendous (even divine?) symbolism into the Patriot's post-9/11 Super Bowl win.  Parents think they have found  role models for their children and they rejoice.  However, there are others, and we are told quite clearly that we should not love them.  Many of these players are Wide Receivers.  T.O. and his friend Chad Ochocinco, Ocho's old college roommate Steve Smith who plays for the hapless Panthers and, of course, Randy Moss.  Randy's crime was wanting to get paid for being one of the best at what he does.  So he complained in a press conference after his team (the Patriot's) had scored a big win. 

Shortly thereafter he was traded, by most accounts not because of his press conference but because he didn't fit in the new offense.  This is true, by the way.  The Pat's wanted to get back to a shorter passing game.  It won them three Super Bowls.  Former Patriot (and Super Bowl MVP) Deion Branch  returned to his original team after hitting pay dirt in Seattle because his skill set fit the new/old offense better.  Then Randy went to the Vikings, somewhat symmetrically his original team.

Now (about a month later) even the most casual observer has noted that Moss is no longer a Viking.  He didn't like it there.  The Vikings are melting down.  They have a formerly-brilliant QB (Bret Favre) who is literally falling apart on the field.  Off the field, this prototypical awe-shucks ironman is caught in a "sexting" scandal.  Their coach is a bit weird himself.  The players are depressed.  Moss reconsidered his love for Minnesota, said some things they didn't like (implying that the 6-1 Patriots are better than the 2-5 Vikes, for example, and that the Pat's have a better coach), and got fired.

To many people, Moss doesn't fit the mold of what a "good athlete" is supposed to be like today.  They aren't supposed to think for themselves.  They aren't supposed to be showboaters.  They are supposed to be grateful for the opportunity to play.  No doubt Randy is grateful.  But he doesn't want to do it for free.  It hurts.  He wants respect for what he has done in the past and what he still can do.

The fact is, the world doesn't fit into the tidy narratives that some folks wish it would.  What doesn't fit the narrative causes discomfort.  So Randy and "T.Ocho" and others like them are trivialized and put down.  What if they were dancers or rock stars? Would we complain about them then?  I think we would not.  The narrative for brilliant artists is different.  We do not expect them to embody some sort of traditional view of America like we do with our athletes.  They are allowed to be prima donnas.

Some athletes (like some other sorts of people) love the molds we put them in and some do not.  Just as there are non-conformists in the rest of our nation, they exist in sport as well.  During this time of "returning to our core values" and "taking back America" from other Americans, maybe it is worth a moment to lift up our non-conformists.  Celebrate the "different" people in our lives.   Our diversity is our strength, after all, and the story of these loud, entertaining, funny, and often obnoxious sports heroes present a different story from the packaged one.  They tell a different story both for the NFL and--since the NFL wants to be "America's Game"--the country itself.

Randy Moss will be picked up by someone soon, perhaps the Dolphins, maybe the Titans, probably not the Pat's (though they all seem quite fond of him).  I am looking forward to watching him play again.  He brings something important to the game.

Barney Frank will be appearing on a TV near you as he is very much alive and well politically.  Here is a link to his acceptance speech.

Update:  It was the Titans.  This is a good fit.  The coach (Jeff Fisher) is the longest tenured coach in the NFL (he is the only coach they have had since moving with him from Houston).  Fisher will be someone Moss respects.  Also, the Titans are contenders...  Here is the story from the NFL's official mouthpiece.

PS I know these are pictures of Fenway and not Foxboro, but I work Sundays and the Pat's used to play there oh so long ago...

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