After Cubs victory, pushing for end to other generational longings

Friday 4 November 2016

Here in Chicago, we’re celebrating. After more than a century of waiting, “Next Year” is finally here; the Chicago Cubs are World Series Champions.

As I watched the post game celebrations with my roommates and girlfriend—none of them sports fans, but all of them swept up in the excitement—they asked me to help them understand the significance of this win for Cubs fans.

I made a few attempts—someone getting a job in their chosen field after years of trying, a young adult being the first of the family to attend college—but none got it quite right. The Cubs’ Game 7 win ended a generational longing, fulfilled a desire to prove we were “good enough,” and provided a feeling of accomplishment and acceptance that had eluded Cubs fans for decades.

There are few among us who were alive the last time the Cubs won the World Series, and most certainly no one who remembers it. But focusing on the living leaves out the countless stories of fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, children, and grandparents who all cheered for the Cubs but never lived to see this moment.

I’m sure most Cubs fans have that huge fan in their lives who is no longer here to join in the excitement. For me, it’s Ron Santo, the former Cub and Hall of Famer who called games on Cubs Radio for 20 years. Ron’s radio antics are legendary, and while I never knew him personally, he’s certainly the biggest Cubs fan I’ve ever known. But having died in 2010, he’s not here to experience the joy of this historic occasion.

In pondering the generational longing of Cubs fans, I couldn’t help but think about the many other groups of people who have endured much more pain and suffering over the course of generations and still yearn for an end to their trials and tribulations. What would it mean for African Americans to be fully accepted and valued in our country, for their generational longing for justice to come true? What would it mean for women to achieve complete agency of their bodies and their lives, to be treated as fully human and not as objects or accessories?

In a city like Chicago, examples of continued injustice seeking recompense abound—lack of police accountability and continued issues of police brutality; gentrification and hyper segregation; and an underfunded school system, to name but a few. Many have died in the fight and the wait for justice, and yet these problems still persist.

We are conditioned to think that change will happen eventually, that if we’re patient enough, it will come. “The Cubs will win, some day, they have to,” we said. But their win was not inevitable; it took the concerted effort over multiple years of Cubs management to create the team that pulled this off.

Similarly, to create a country and world where justice reigns, to fulfill the generational longing of so many, it will take a concerted effort. But so many of us sit back, waiting for some inevitable day of justice that has yet to come. And as the days and years pass, more and more individuals depart us who were never able to experience justice, never able to shake the generational longing that had been plaguing them since their memory began.

Achieving that goal is the work of us all. We must diligently look at how our government, our institutions, and our own selves prolong the longing felt by so many others in the US and beyond. The joy and exuberance that will be felt when that longing has ended will pale in comparison to any joy being felt by Cubs fans today.

With “Next Year” having finally arrived for Cubs fans, we must all join in doing the work to end the generational longing still felt by so many.

The NCAA on The Daily Show

Sunday 21 April 2013

So, as you know, I’ve been railing against the NCAA for multiple blog posts now, so I thought I’d make sure you all saw the piece The Daily Show did about this topic. Enjoy!

The NCAA’s Perfectly Fair Rules

March Madness/Labor Madness

Wednesday 13 March 2013

Read at THE MASH on Wednesday, 6 March 2013 (based on my blog post back in July).

Yesterday may have brought Chicago the largest snowfall since 2011’s snowpocylopse, but it’s officially March, and everybody everywhere knows what that means – March Madness! The Cinderella Stories. The Sweet Sixteen. Bracket Busters. Buzzer Beaters. An amazing avalanche of alliteration everywhere!

Of course there’s the basketball, but even more than that, it’s an educational experience: on Selection Sunday (more alliteration), you learn about the existence of all these colleges you’ve never heard of and which no one gives a fuck about unless they went there – places like Austin Peay, Coppin State, and even some college actually called Stephen F. Austin.

There’s new vocabulary: I mean, who the hell would know what a “bracket” was without March Madness? And of course the math, as you use simple addition to calculate your total points in the office bracket pool.

And while you’re learning about each school’s mascot online—deciding who would win in a fight between a Buccaneer and a Viking (the mascots of Charleston Southern and Cleveland State, respectively)—preparing to make your picks to enter the $5 a pop office pool, a pool that could net you a cool one hundred dollars, there will be significantly larger piles of cash at stake elsewhere.

Last March, Turner Sports and CBS inked a deal with the National Collegiate Athletic Association—the NCAA, the member organization to which any college or university must belong in order to participate in March Madness, the same organization that makes all the rules by which the colleges’ and universities’ sports programs must abide—whereby CBS and Turner Sports agreed to pay the NCAA 10.8 billion, with a B, dollars for exclusive rights to broadcast the NCAA basketball tournament in the US for the next 14 years.

So what happens to this money? Well, it goes directly to the NCAA, which then divvies it up to its member schools in some complicated and likely inequitable way that we don’t have time to discuss tonight. And while CBS and Turner obviously had to dish out a significant chunk of change, in return they get all the billions of dollars in ad revenue generated by so many people watching these young, amateur basketball players—“student athletes,” as they’re so affectionately called—giving it their all to win the glory of a national championship. And what do the players get?

These men and boys—and let’s be honest with ourselves here: like it or not, no one is filling out brackets in your office for the women’s tournament or packing sports bars to watch women’s basketball—these young men and boys in their late teens and early 20s, playing a sport that, especially when you pair it with college football, generates millions and millions and millions of dollars for their universities in the form of things like ticket sales, merchandise sales, television revenue, and increased alumni giving, what do these athletes receive? If they’re lucky, they receive a full scholarship to take free college classes, get free books, and have a place to live while doing so, a scholarship that some studies estimate still falls short about $3500 each year of the true price of attending college.

But the coaches – the coaches are a different story. For example, last fall, the new football coach for THE Ohio State University signed a contract that gave him at least four million dollars a year. And even the coach of a shitty basketball team—say, for example, Chicago’s Big Ten Team, Northwestern University, Bill Carmody—makes over one million dollars a year for the work he does ordering around teens and 20-somethings.

But really, this is all par for the course in our current age of worker exploitation. It’s easy to think about—and easy to ignore—all those factory workers in Asian and South American countries, getting paid pennies an hour to make electronics and clothing and pretty much anything you can make out of plastic, items which are then sold here in the US at astronomical mark ups, with all that extra profit going to executives and stock holders.

But worker exploitation is not exclusive to far away lands. You have people paying 3, 4, 5 dollars for their venti mocha chocolate latte at Starbucks, sold to you by someone earning $9 an hour—about $18,000 a year—while the CEO of Starbucks, when you add up salary, stocks, and other incentives, earned over $65 million dollars in 2011. Here in Chicago, you have workers on Michigan Avenue earning less than $10 an hour, selling shirts that cost them the equivalent of what they make in a week.

In college sports, there is a growing movement to give the students a piece of the pie, but it’s been slow going. For a month or so last winter, there was a plan floating around to pay some student athletes a $2,000 stipend, hoping to at least close the scholarship/actual cost of college gap, but after over 100 college athletic directors and commissions signed letters of protest, the plan was rescinded.

In an age where income inequality and economic oppression are hot topics of the day, it’s important for sports fans everywhere to recognize their own place in the problem and to think twice—or four, or eight, or 64 times—while supporting student athlete exploitation with their time and money. And if it’s really the basketball that you love, why not check out  some high school basketball games, or even join a league of your own? God knows you need the exercise. You might even save some money that you could use to help pay down your massive college debt that you incurred attending your exploitative alma mater in the first place.


(And if you like reading about college basketball, check out another blog I wrote in 2012 on the topic: In Defense of 64)

In Defense of 64

Thursday 15 March 2012

Today’s the first day of the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship! Hooray!

No, well, actually today’s not the first day. You might think it was today, because that’s when your brackets were due to the office pool manager or on the website you’ve created 5 or 10 or more brackets on. No, since 2001 there has been at least one game played prior to the Thursday start everyone is used to, when 16 games are played by 32 teams and office efficiency slumps significantly.

Thursday isn’t even the “first round” of games any more. Since last year, when the tournament expanded to 68 teams, the 4 “play-in” games (affectionately called the First Four, officially) are now the first round, with Thursday/Friday games deemed the second round and Saturday/Sunday games the third round. Apparently it’s one of those crazy tournaments where almost everyone gets a first round bye because the number of entrants was uneven, something I’d expect to see in a local horseshoe tournament, not a multi-million dollar industry like college basketball.

I am often told I am too nostalgic for the days of my youth, and seeing as there were 64 teams from 1985-2000, my formative years of sport (age 3-18), it’s understandable I would beckon those days to return again. For a 7 or 8 year stretch in the 90s, I would spend the 3 days between Sunday and Thursday meticulously measuring and drawing a 64-team bracket on a large poster board so I could keep up with the games throughout the tournament. (I’m pretty sure those old poster boards still live under the bed at my parents’ house.) The commitment faded out before the 65th team was added, but I wonder now, “What would I have done on my poster board with those extra teams?”

But it doesn’t have to be this way. There’s really no need for all these extra teams. Every Division I men’s basketball team, except those in the Ivy League, play in a conference tournament, where they have the ability to earn–and this is the USA, after all, and we’re all about earning things–earn their way in to the tournament. Every team has the opportunity–again, a very USA, USA kind of word–the opportunity to make it. So why did they have to mess with the perfection that was the 64-team bracket?

It’s all about money and sports (a common rant of mine). More games means more money for TV stations and the NCAA. Even though the First Four games were on some TV station called truTV, it must be good for someone. And not only is there the NCAA Championship tournament, you have the NCAA NIT–this year celebrating it’s 75th anniversary– and two tournaments you’ve probably never heard of, the CBI and CIT, both created in the past 5 years. In total, 148 of the 345 Div. 1 men’s basketball teams make the “post season.” That’s 43% of all the teams. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much, though, because in the money-hungry NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS), a whopping 57% of teams (70 of 122) last year found themselves playing in a bowl game (including UCLA, who finished the season 6-8). Only 2 “bowl eligible” teams didn’t find themselves in a bowl. (And UCLA had to actually get a waiver to play in their bowl game.)

We talk about corruption by money and greed of so many of our institutions these days. Sports, in many ways, are getting there for me (if not all the way there already). The public funding of sports complexes has already gotten its backlash. If you have a satellite or cable subscription, you’re already paying over $100 for sports programming, whether you watch or not. And ticket prices to live sporting events (professional and college alike) have risen astronomically, such that it’s been a few years now since I paid to see one in person.

I still filled out a bracket this year, and I visit pretty much every day, though more so because I feel it’s my duty to keep up with the news everyone is thinking and talking about. But if greed and money continue to push the sports agenda, how long will it take until that becomes the topic of conversation instead of who won last night’s game? 

(On a related note, the NY Times ran a great Room for Debate piece this week about the connection (or disconnect) of the NCAA, money, and “student” athletes. Take a look.)

big money sports

Sunday 7 December 2008

I was half watching the BCS and bowl game selection show coverage on ESPN, thinking about why Northwestern (my alma mater) got passed over by certain games and why Ohio State again gets to attend one of the lucrative BCS games while someone like Boise State, one of only two undefeated teams eligible for bowl games, will instead be playing in a bowl game sponsored by — get this — the San Diego County Credit Union!  It’s easy to see why, really, and most people, even those involved in the system, don’t try to hide the reason: it’s all ’bout the benjamins, baby (or the money, for those not up on their slang the past decade or so).

Bowl games, for the most part, have the right to choose who they will select to attend their games, so why not bring the teams to town that will sell the most amount of tickets and bring the most number of fans to the city to spend money and get excited.  Oh, and the TV stations, of course, want to get the most amount of people to watch the games to sell ads at higher prices.  Because Iowa would bring more fans than Northwestern, the Wildcats were passed over by a bowl with earlier pick of the crop to select Iowa, who had lost to Northwestern during the season.

It got me thinking about some words of Noam Chomsky shared, which can be viewed in the documentary movie “Manufacturing Consent,” which I highly recommend.  And while Chomsky’s words aren’t directly related to money, there is wrapped up in “big money sports,” be it college football or anything else, the idea of getting fans wrapped up in a frenzy and committing their time to sports instead of other things.  Here’s what he had to say:

“Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it’s diversion. There’s the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack — that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people’s brains.  This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them… Get them away from things that matter. And for that it’s important to reduce their capacity to think.

Take, say, sports — that’s another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it — you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that’s of no importance. [audience laughs] That keeps them from worrying about — [applause] keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it’s striking to see the intelligence that’s used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in — they have the most exotic information [more laughter] and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.

You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? [laugbter] I mean, I don’t know anybody on the team, you know? [audience roars] I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn’t mean any — it doesn’t make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it’s a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements — in fact, it’s training in irrational jingoism. That’s also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that’s why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on.”
(Excepted from, where commenters obviously don’t agree with Chomsky’s point.)

Now, I think there is likely some middle ground here to be had, but I do find Chomsky’s point intriguing and thought-provoking.  I’ll confess that I’ve played some fantasy baseball in the past few summers, spending time picking people for my team and assigning them to starting line-ups for certain days and such — and I think it’s important for all of us to have hobbies.  However (and now my point opens up to more than sports), when something begins to take up so much of our time and energy and interest that we allow ourselves to become oblivious to what’s going on in the worlds of government and economics and war and science and religion, areas that affect us whether we like it or not — when we forget about these areas to deal with things that have no personal relationship with us, we do ourselves and others a disservice.

It’s important that we prioritze our lives and recognize when things like sports or entertainment or other such areas of life can take over our time so much that we loose connection to the rest of the world around us.  We need to have the knowledge to make informed decisions about things like elections and investing our money, and if we spend too much of our time in other areas (even overwork can lead to this), it can become problematic for all involved.  So take some time to examine your time choices and make any adjustments you need to.  I’ll be doing the same for myself.