And just like that… it’s the beginning of the end of the 2010-11 NFL season

Posted on January 14, 2011

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Watching, wondering.

Sorry about that. I disappeared for three months. From here, anyway. Life happens. There was so much going on I had to choose between writing about sports and watching sports in my free time, and I opted for the latter. Hopefully I can continue to do both from now on.

In the meantime, the long middle chunk of my favorite sports season — the NFL’s — happened. We’ve gone from 32 teams to 8 left standing; and within three days there will be only 4. But I don’t really see my role here as punditry, so I won’t be registering picks.

The last quarter of 2010 yielded numerous stories in the sporting world worthy of chewing over in a philosophy-of-sport blog like this.

  • New mid-season NFL rule-changes to reduce the number and severity of brain injuries, and to punish defenders who feast on their rivals’ brains and spinal columns. Rule-change debates are always incredibly revealing about what various “stakeholders” value in a sport, and this particular debate reveals interesting facts about the (quite possibly slightly damaged) brains of players themselves.
  • The “redemption” of Michael Vick, complete with a Sports Illustrated cover story on “What Michael Vick Tells Us About Ourselves.”
  • A surprisingly terrific little HBO behind-the-seasons documentary series on the NHL.
  • More shenanigans from the gnomes who run world soccer (football), upholding traditions when it comes to rules and officiating, but bending over backwards to hold a World Cup in the desert in air-conditioned stadiums.
  • A potentially revealing ESPN documentary by noted director John Singleton called Marion Jones: Press Pause, in which the subject recounts many of the steps in her rags-to-riches-to-jail-to-somewhere-between-rags-and-riches story, but somehow never manages to tell us why exactly (and when) she decided to take steroids, and what exactly she now thinks was wrong about that.
  • This blog is all about taking the sport spectator’s experience seriously. And about 99.9-something percent of the sporting events I have watched in my life have been on TV. But in recent weeks I have been to college and pro football games, an NHL game, and a college basketball game. (I was in London just as the deep-freeze set in, and must confess that I lacked the fortitude to sit in the terraces to see Fulham FC — the only Premiership match in the capital that weekend.) I think it is worth seriously reflecting on the “experience” constructed for live spectators in various North American sports, and how this differs from what TV viewers are offered. Hint: much of it ain’t pretty.
  • Perennial, and I think mostly misguided, debates about whether there should be a play-off to decide the “national champion” in NCAA (college) football.
  • Perennial, and mostly weird, if courageous, attempts by the NCAA to enforce a Maginot-line-like conception of amateurism in college athletics; which could yet strip this year’s consensus Heisman winner (for top football player) and football national champions of their trophies.
  • Finally, I ran a marathon in December. But it never occurred to me at the time that this was a “sporting event;” that it was part of this sporting life. It was technically a “race,” and when I finished they strung a medal around my neck. But neither I nor anyone around me seemed to be racing against anyone else. (In fact, most of us were listening to special inspirational playlists we built for our iPods.) Is it not a sport if I’m not in a seat watching it?

I’ll get to some of these stories in the coming days, in order to clear the decks for new stories. If there’s anything else I’m forgetting, let me know in the comment space below.

In general, from this point forward, I will aim for posts that are more blog-length than essay-length. The blog is about a year old now, so I have had the chance to discover, highlight, and ponder a sports-calendar’s worth of issues. Further long reflections will mostly be reserved for a book and academic articles.

Previous readers will also note a new “theme” or “template.” Let me know what you think of it. I’m open to changing again in the near future if there’s something better for this type of blog.

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