04 December 2010

Man Versus Man and Man Versus Himself

When I took my first fiction writing course many years ago, on the first day our teacher explained the three basic plot lines: 1.) man versus man; 2.) man versus nature; 3.) man versus himself. Every story requires the creation, development, and resolution of a conflict. The story in my post today is how I became a fan of the Oakland Raiders and the Oakland Athletics and the Golden State Warriors and gradually grew out of that into something else. I became a fan of these teams by birth. My birthplace was Oakland. These were the teams that were always on the television; on the occasions I got to a ballgame these were the home town teams to root for.

It is an altered state of consciousness to be enraptured by a group of athletes on the playing field or on the television set. For a couple of hours it is possible to submerge one's identity as an individual into the group identity of the hundreds of thousands who identify with the greatness of the team or the greatness of the stars of the team--Ken Stabler, Reggie Jackson, or Rick Barry. This is not what sports is about to me any more. The turning point in my story was when I moved to New Orleans, and was immersed in a very different culture and experience. There was only one team in that town, the New Orleans Saints, and that one team did not win very often.

My initial reaction was that the experience of watching the games and cheering for the team was a ridiculous waste of time. Gradually I discovered something new, that the post-game talk radio was far more entertaining after the Saints lost than it was when the Saints won. People would call up the hosts--first there was Hap Glaudi; then after Hap died it was Buddy Diliberto; now Buddy is passed on and it is Bobby Hebert--and the callers would moan on and on half-drunkenly about all the years they have supported the team and all the years they had owned season tickets and the team never wins. And how many more years is this going to continue?

That is a rhetorical question, as the host of the radio show is not God and he cannot foretell the future. Also in retrospect it is clear to see that it would continue until February of 2010 when the team finally won the championship at long last after 44 years of failing, and often failing in the most spectacular heart-wrenching fashion possible. The pity and the pathos and the passion on all those years of post-game talk radio was as real as anything I have ever seen or heard. Those folks were deeply submerged into an altered state of identity with their team, and what it created was a story. This is what sports is to me now: a bunch of stories.

With all of the attention and with all of the money, sports in our culture present compelling and ongoing stories. This is why my interest has survived the passing of my previous idolizing of the heroes of my youth. And right now there is no story in the world which has captured me as much as the story of Michael Vick. This past Thursday he had another great performance; this time it was against my new hometown team, so I got a detailed update on the Michael Vick story. It was astonishing to me how generous the accolades were.

This story includes some ugly morality. Michael Vick is now the world's most celebrated dog-killer. (To be accurate, he is celebrated for running with and throwing a football, not killing dogs.) But he has served his prison sentence. He is making restitution and showing contrition. He is following all the directions which the public relations professionals of the league and of the team have set for him. Some people want to know: is it fake? What is really going on inside Michael Vick's head and heart here? Has this monster been truly rehabilitated, or is he conning us all by going through all these formalities to make all the profit dollars he is going to get for himself by behaving in this manner?

The only person who knows the answer to this question is Vick, and the only way you could know the answer would be to be him. So this question is ultimately stupid. Just about everybody would like to be in his pay grade, but nobody (possibly including himself) wants to be Michael Vick. This example is the purest major modern sports figure who is nobody's hero. At least nobody who has an ounce of common sense would look to him as a hero. In this case there is nothing here but the story. In spite of the ugly baggage, many of us are fascinated by the Michael Vick story. It has man versus man (Julius Peppers and Ray Lewis and all those guys are out to crush his limbs and smash his brain), but really it is man versus himself.

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About Craig

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Houston, Texas, United States
I have been living in the lovely neighborhood of Spring Branch in the great city of Houston since late in 2005. I started out with the idea of making this blog about my life in this neighborhood. That did not last long. Right now I am posting every five days on the alternating topics of literature, philosophy, psychology, and metaphysics. This project has been ongoing since July 27, 2010 and I believe it will continue for at least a few more months.