Tag Archives: football

Things That Bring Me Joy

Like some of my favorite TV shows, my blog went on hiatus for Thanksgiving week.  It was certainly not planned or intentional.  I just failed to come up with anything to write about or the time to write it.

Truth be told, I’ve been in kind of a deep, dark lethargy these past few weeks.  It’s partially the election and the all-encompassing feeling of dread I have for what’s ahead for this nation.  [On that front, I read  an interesting interview with Robert Reich today that outlines in detail the things we all have to fear from a Trump presidency:  Danny Feingold, “Conversations on Trump’s America: Robert Reich Previews a New Era of Savage Inequality”, Capital and Main website, 11/29/16, http://capitalandmain.com/conversations-on-trumps-america-robert-reich-previews-a-new-era-of-savage-inequality-1129%5D  I avoid the news because I hate having to look at his face, let alone listen to the crap coming out of his mouth (or the mouths of his surrogates – that Kellyanne Conway person in particular gives me the heebie-jeebies, but she may be on her way out, evidently).  I’m just waiting for my call to action, because I know it’s coming.

It might also be the too-early arrival of night since we turned back the clocks a few weeks ago.  Not enough sunlight means not enough energy for Nan.  When it gets dark at like four o’clock in the afternoon, I just want to cuddle up on the sofa with a couple of cats and zone out in front of the TV, but IT’S ONLY FOUR O’CLOCK!!  And of course I can never wake up in a timely enough fashion to take advantage of the earlier arrival of daylight.

But in the midst of these doldrums, I still manage to find little bits of joy to sustain me. Beginning on January 1st of 2016, I’ve been diligently recording, every night before I go to bed, at least one thing that gave me joy that day.  Believe me, some days it isn’t easy, and I do have to admit to writing “No joy today” on a number of occasions.  But I’ve been pretty consistent about it, so I feel like I’m at least making an effort to stay positive even when I feel myself slipping into depression.

My joys fall into four main categories:

(1)  My various companion animals, both at home and at the shelter.  Without question, animal contact has given me more moments of happiness than probably anything else.  There’s nothing better than stroking the cheeks and chin of a cat at creating mutual bliss between the participants.

(2)  Things on TV, like new seasons of my favorite shows, like “Shameless”, “Project Runway”, “Ink Master”, and of course “Game of Thrones”, which I miss terribly.  Seriously?  We have to wait till the summer for its return??  I’ll have to console myself with . . .

(3)  The Rangers and, to a lesser extent, the New York Football Giants.  Like Sunday, for example – no joy on the Ranger front, as they were shut out by an Ottawa Senators team that played ITS game better than the Rangers played THEIRS, but at least the Giants won, pretty convincingly after a slow start, a game they were supposed to win.  Odell Beckham Jr.’s elation when he scores touchdowns (even if it’s called back, like the one he scored on a punt return) is just contagious.  Yesterday, because they were in Cleveland, he had concocted a little Lebron James tribute where he pantomimed the thing that Lebron does where he throws out the powder or fairy dust or whatever it’s supposed to be.  Although I must confess that the Rangers are also responsible for entries like (from April 21), “Not only NO JOY but DESPONDENCY; Rangers were embarrassingly lethargic.  No work = no money, too much food – I didn’t have ANY joy today.”

(4) FOOD.  Yes, I admit it – food gives me joy.  Sometimes it’s the only thing in a day for which I can muster appreciation.  My weekly chicken souvlaki platter with Israeli salad from Abe’s Pitaria is a constant, especially when I can pair it with yummy frozen yogurt (with multiple toppings) from Tutti Frutti.  Desserts of all kinds, Digiornio’s stuffed crust pepperoni pizza, dinners out with friends – some of my greatest moments are comestible-related.

There’s other stuff, too, that doesn’t quite fall into any of those categories.  A magnificent Long Beach sunset during one of my Boardwalk power walks; listening to the perfect song as I’m riding my bike (R.I.P. big blue bicycle – I’ll get a new one when I move back home and can actually store it inside so it doesn’t die from rust rot, like my former bike did); a visit with a good buddy I haven’t seen in a while.  Even something as seemingly insignificant as finding a good parking spot can make it into the Joybook.

Sometimes I can’t evoke “joy” per se, but on those days I record what I think of as “contentedness”, like one day in September when the weather was gorgeous, I kept up with my walking regimen (which, I confess, has fallen by the wayside, another victim of my recent lack of motivation) and I managed to earn $500.

But what this whole exercise has done for me is forced me to appreciate the small moments in life.  Joy doesn’t present itself in big chunks; it comes in little snippets, and if you’re hustling and bustling mindlessly through your days, or solely focused on the downswings, you’ll miss those precious moments.

So the little Celtic Daybook that my friend André gave me way back in 1990, that I’ve been holding on to blankly for all that time, has finally gotten filled (with only one more month to g0).  Even in this awful year, I still managed to find quite a few things that brought me joy.  And now I need to get a new daybook for 2017, because I’m afraid we’re in for a bumpy ride, so joyful moments will come at a premium and must be memorialized and cherished at all costs.

Am I Ready for Some Football?

I used to love football as much as I love hockey. It was another “dad” thing, watching the New York Giants with him in the late ‘60s and 1970s, when the Giants weren’t very good. I’d always need a back up team to root for when the playoffs started.  At different times, it was the Chiefs, the Vikings, even the Cowboys, I reluctantly admit. I mean, they WERE “America’s Team” for a reason, after all. They were a largely likeable lot, with Coach Tom Landry in his fedora and classy ex-Navy QB Roger Staubach and the smooth Tony Dorsett – even Bob Hayes, at one time the fastest man on earth. It was tough not to root for those guys even though they were the Giants’ direct rivals. They only became obnoxious when Jerry Jones became the owner and Jimmy Johnson, with his lacquered helmet of hair, became the coach, and don’t get me started on Tony Romo, one of the few professional athletes whose misfortunes (of which there are many, often self-inflicted) I relish.

In college I graduated from keeping stats for the JV football team – a role which I lobbied for with my freshman advisor, Trinity College’s beloved swimming and JV football coach, Chet McPhee – to working with the “big club”, although the largely clueless head coach Don Miller never quite understood what I was doing hanging around. On the other hand, lovable curmudgeon and unanimously feared equipment manager (and my dear mentor) Frank Marchese fully understood that the only reason I was there was because I wanted to be part of the team. He respected my motives and took me under his wing, which led to my being his proxy equipment caretaker for all the away games. I thoroughly enjoyed two-a-days in August, just me and the players on campus, tooling around in the golf cart, positioning the tackling dummies, filling up and delivering the water bucket and then gathering the discarded paper cups that inevitably missed the trash can, focusing my attention on a different group – the DBs and their tip drills, the linemen pounding the sleds – every day. During the season, down in the trenches, I thrived on getting filthy, spat and bled on, although I knew enough to get out of the way when a large tangle of bodies would come my way. I also kept statistics and was the guardian of the kicking tees (which I had to run on the field to retrieve) and the footballs – both game balls and practice balls, the latter of which were far more vulnerable. The guys always thought they could get one over on me and walk off with a souvenir, but I was as aggressive about reclaiming those footballs as I’ve been about anything in my life, before or since. They were Frank’s footballs, and they had to be protected!

In the years after college, though, there was something about football that changed for me, lessened my enjoyment of it, that didn’t have a parallel with hockey. For a while, I blamed my ex-husband’s violent scissor-throwing fanaticism for turning me off to a game I had previously loved so passionately. But there were clearly other factors at play.

Even before the stomach-turning video of Ray Rice punching and dragging his wife (for which there is NO excuse) and Adrian Peterson’s child abuse charges (for which there may have been an excuse, but the episode was still a harsh reminder of the violence that always underlies the game, even for a charming and seemingly stand-up guy like Adrian Peterson), I think the incident that made me re-think what football is doing to the young men who play it for a living was the 2012 murder-suicide of Jovan Belcher. It was not lost on me that the shooting took place in the parking lot of the team facility, in the figurative shadows of the goalposts. There’s seemingly only the wrong kind of support for football players from their teams and the league, from the time they’re in the pee wee leagues until they’re multi-millionaires, with ready women and drugs and, worst of all, guns. Plaxico Burress, a local hero after winning the Super Bowl with the Giants, shot himself in the leg with a gun in a nightclub. What a completely idiotic move, the death knell of what promised to be an amazing career. But who was there to tell this man that bringing a gun into a club is NEVER a smart move, let alone to carry it in such a way that you could risk shooting your own damn self by accident?

The other thing I have come to hate about football are the injuries. It seems like every play ends with a player limping or being helped off the field. The Giants in particular have lost an insane number of man-games to injury over the past few years and, probably not coincidentally, they haven’t made the playoffs, either. But those visible injuries – even those involving the dreaded cart coming on to the field – pale in comparison to the ongoing tragedy of chronic traumatic encepholapathy (CTE).

Not surprisingly, CTE was originally detected in boxers. There was a short time in my life when I enjoyed boxing, probably climaxing with the 1984 Olympics, when the U.S. boxing team won gold in nine weight classes (plus a silver and a bronze), but extending to the early careers of people like Sugar Ray Leonard and Oscar de la Hoya, who somehow retained their gorgeous faces despite the barbarity of their profession. But I can’t bring myself to watch boxing now, or even the more edgy MMA (despite the impressive pulchritude of Ronda Rousey), because I find myself cringing with every landed punch.

A few years ago, a writer named Jeanne Marie Laskas wrote a powerful piece in GQ [“Game Brain” GQ (Sept. 14, 2009), http://www.gq.com/story/nfl-players-brain-dementia-study-memory-concussions%5D describing the work of a Pittsburgh doctor named Bennet Omalu to solve the mystery of why ex-footballers like popular Steeler Mike Webster and others (and later many more, including household names Dave Duerson and Junior Seau) literally lost their minds, often ending their lives in some form of suicide (whether it was officially called that or not). What he found in all of their brains was CTE, a degenerative brain disease caused by multiple concussions. (CTE has likewise been discovered in the brains of hockey players who had also died horribly young, whether at their own hands or otherwise, like Bob Probert and Derek Boogard, who also happened to be fighters who had a tendency to get frequently punched in the head.) So fascinating is Dr. Omalu’s story – as well as the utter rejection and denial he and his findings have suffered at the hands of the NFL – that it has been made into a movie called “Concussion”, due out in December, starring Will Smith. (The trailer looks fantastic.)

As far as I’m concerned, the only conclusion to be drawn is this: The constant head battering of football players – both in spite of and because of their state-of-the-art protective gear (and perhaps, it has been surmised, in combination with performance-enhancing steroids) – from the time they’re ten years old till the sport has taken its final toll on their still-young but preternaturally aged bodies, is giving them all irreparable brain damage.

Author Steve Almond has eloquently captured the reasons for my failing love affair with football in his recent interview with Ramon Ramirez [“Why You Should Quit Watching Football,” THE KERNEL (Aug. 30, 2015), http://kernelmag.dailydot.com/issue-sections/features-issue-sections/14165/case-against-football-steve-almond%5D: “It is insanely beautiful. It is balladic. It is the miracle of the body at play. It is Barry Sanders absolutely making a shatteringly beautiful move and breaking free in the open. It is your team rising up and wining against great odds. It’s the strategic density of the game. It’s the primal oomph of seeing a really good hit laid on the other team’s quarterback. . . . But if you’re gonna have that, then you also have to realize it is this other thing, too – this insanely greedy, cynical industry. It is absolutely sanitizing and normalizing violence and misogyny. It’s making you see the world through a really distorted racial lens. And it’s valuing people under very limited conditions and causing you to suppress your empathy all the time.” Almond has also written a book called Against Football: One Fan’s Reluctant Manifesto [Melville House, 2014]. Full disclosure – I have not read it yet but I definitely plan to, because it promises to address a lot of my concerns.

Almond actually gave up watching his beloved Oakland Raiders cold turkey. I don’t know that I am ready to completely stop watching football (although I may be after reading his book). Whereas just a few years ago, I would immerse myself in football every Sunday, from ESPN’s Chris Berman-led panel show Sunday NFL Countdown, to the early game on CBS and the late game (usually involving the Giants) on FOX, then of course (especially if the Giants won) the 11 p.m. local news highlights, followed by the Sports Extra – it was pigskin, pigskin, pigskin, all day long – now I can barely sit and watch an entire Giant game, kickoff to 0:00, especially if the running game is going nowhere and then Eli throws a bunch of needless interceptions. I’m almost tempted to scream at the TV, “BORING!!”

Much like with my mixed feelings for hockey (see my blog post “Hockey: An Obsession”, April 21, 2015), there are still things I enjoy about football, although I certainly have no interest in the fantasy aspect, which I believe has become a bigger driver in football viewership these days than any pure love of the game. But I may be able to content myself with having it on in the background on autumn Sunday afternoons and just watching the four or five big plays from each game on a continuous replay loop and be satisfied with that.