Week of March 5, 2021


The Eyes are on the Eyes of Texas

 

 

If you missed it, University of Texas football players created quite the stir last fall when they began refusing to stay out on the field and sing the school song, Eyes of Texas, as has long been tradition. They did this because the song has roots in racism, and good for them. The reason this is a story again, in March, is because the players correctly are not letting it go. But also because a reporter obtained e-mails sent by boosters to the school complaining about the players, and boy howdy are there some doozies. Before we get to the e-mails I have to add this. I have been to two Texas games in my life – one in Austin, the other in Berkeley. But as I read this article I realized I have no idea how Eyes of Texas sounds, or what the lyrics are. So, as I was reading, I decided to pause and go read the lyrics to the song. And, wow. Not only are they dumb as hell, but I also found out the song is set to the tune of I’ve Been Working on the Railroad! That is so hilariously stupid. Why the hell do these people care about a nursery song with dumb lyrics? I went back to the article and then read this:

Texas is not the only school that would make this choice. But it is the one school that’s in the position of forcing players to go along with this particular song, which if you haven’t heard it, is sung to the tune of “I’ve Been Working On The Railroad.” A banger, it is not.

 

I laughed out loud. A banger, it is not. Many of the emails threatened to pull donations – some of them claiming to have donated over $1,000,000. Again – imagine first loving a football team so much you donate SEVEN FIGURES, and then getting so upset at the idea of a dumb song set to I’VE BEEN WORKING ON THE RAILROAD not being sung by players who don’t want to sing it. The hell?  Two of the emails from boosters, however, lay it all bare

“Less than 6% of our current student body is black,” wrote Larry Wilkinson, a donor who graduated in 1970, quoting a statistic UT-Austin officials have stated they’re working to improve. “The tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog….. and the dog must instead stand up for what is right. Nothing forces those students to attend UT Austin. Encourage them to select an alternate school ….NOW!”
“It’s time for you to put the foot down and make it perfectly clear that the heritage of Texas will not be lost,” wrote another donor who graduated in 1986. Texas also redacted that name. “It is sad that it is offending the blacks. As I said before the blacks are free and it’s time for them to move on to another state where everything is in their favor.”

THE BLACKS. That’s really all you need to know about this story: rich, white assholes want to exercise their power over others. A story as old as time. -TOB

Source: “UT Needs Rich Donors”: Emails Show Wealthy Alumni Supporting “Eyes of Texas” Threatened to Pull Donations,” Kate McGee, The Texas Tribune (03/01/2021); In ‘Eyes of Texas’ Debate, Texas Chooses Donors Over Doing What’s Best for Players,David Ubben, The Athletic (03/01/2021)

PAL: I laughed at that line, too, TOB: “A banger, it is not.” Winning is the most valued tradition, and that comes from talented players competing for your school. It may not feel like it, but the power here lies with the players and students, not with a few boosters who try to bully the school to shape it around their incomplete, childhood memories of the school and its football team from back in the ‘good ol days’. 

If the players, especially good ones, don’t want to stand and sing the song, then they don’t have to, and if the team punishes them, the team will lose more. More games, and more recruits. Fewer big-time recruits will go to Texas – because who wants to play for an average team that prioritizes some booster and his/her obsession with a dumb song? As the anonymous booster points out, there are plenty of other schools where they don’t have to do that, and I’ll add this: plenty of other schools with better football programs. If the school bows down to these boosters, then program will become more insignificant than it already has become. The school is worried about money drying up now? Keep losing and see what happens. 

It’s easier to argue over symbolic traditions than it is to address what U.T. fans and boosters care about most: the team hasn’t been a title contender in over a decade. Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State, and – perhaps most painful – Oklahoma have left Texas behind. There isn’t an easy solution to that problem, so they turn their attention to a song, to preservation in the name of ‘heritage’. 

Again, winning is the most valued tradition, and that comes from players. This situation is a hell of an unfair burden to put on a kid—to choose between what feels wrong (singing an old minstrel song in the name of tradition) and what you love (playing football). And for a few, that fight could lead to the end of their football days (being benched or not having a scholarship renewed). One thing’s for sure: the adults in the room will be no help. The coaches get paid a lot, and they want to keep cashing those checks. Guess who’s behind writing those checks. 


Hustler

I know very little about pool. Billiards. We played in the basement growing up, and I like to play at a bar. Pool is a great conversation starter. Other than that, and Minnesota Fats, I know very little. Some guys like to wear a vest when they play, right? What’s that about? Efren Reyes is a pool legend. He’s considered the best pool player in history in the same way Wayne Gretzky is considered the best hockey player – it’s not really up for debate, and no one is looking for one. Reading his story from the perspective of someone who knows very little about the game only made this story from Eric Nusbaum and Adam Vllacin even better.  The opening is fantastic: 

Efren Reyes would rather not have become the most famous and universally praised pool player in the history of the world. Would rather not have gone pro or been the subject of a million YouTube highlight reels or won every single pool tournament known to man. Would rather not have become so successful, so universally admired that there is a literal X-Men character based on him. 

Going pro, getting famous—this was all a last resort. Because what Efren Reyes really wanted to do was hustle.  

He was born in a town called Mexico, in the Filipino province of Pampanga, about 40 miles up the highway from Manila. When he was a kid, the family moved down the highway and into the capital. Efren had an uncle there who ran a pool hall called Lucky 13. Efren started hanging around the pool hall, watching the older men—the good players and the bad ones—while working as an attendant, and goofing around at the empty tables. 

Who among you is not reading a story about a Filipino from the town of Mexico who would go on to become the best pool player ever and the inspiration of a comic book character?  I am thinking about what else to add to this story to convince you to read it. What other details, what other quotes. The more I think about it, what else do you need that’s not in that opening? OK, here’s Reyes dominating: 

Go read the story already! – PAL Source: The Greatest Pool Player In History Just Wanted To Hustle”, Eric Nusbaum and Adam Vllacin, Sports Stories, ℅ Defector (03/02/21) TOB: I had never even heard of this guy, but now I love him. If for no other reason than this anecdote relayed in the story:

At the inaugural Derby City Classic in 1999, he won the “Master of the Table” award for best all-around player. At the ceremony he refused his trophy. “I play for money,” he said as he accepted his $25,000 check.

CTC. Cut that check, baby!


Succeed?

Well, this is interesting – two businessmen, working closely with female athletes, are trying to turn the existing concept of a sports league on its head. Or, at least, re-invent it from scratch. They wondered why women’s sports, in particular, don’t seem to have huge professional followings in the U.S. So, they did some research:

In their research, four trend lines in fan behavior stood out: 1) Supporters were more likely to exhibit passion about individual players than they were about entire teams. 2) They were engaging with sports on a variety of platforms, just as likely to play in a fantasy league or consume highlights on Instagram as they were to watch actual games. 3) They were increasingly interested in athletes’ personalities and off-field lives. And 4) They took close notice of “values orientation,” the standards and ideals that a league and its athletes center on.

In other words, the existing model of professional sports has been difficult to navigate for any upstart league, particularly for women’s leagues, which tended to be shut out of mainstream media coverage. But if you were building something new—if you weren’t necessarily worried about filling stadiums in a dozen different markets or landing a major cable deal; if, instead, you marketed directly to an existing segment of fans—you could make it work.

Ok, so – a league in a bubble, with fandom not centered on regional ties? This doesn’t sound all that revolutionary so far. But the devil is in the details, and when they say they are throwing out the 20th Century American Sports model, they are not kidding:

At the start of each season, a small number of players would be named as captains. Those captains would draft teams in a live-streamed event, promoted as much as any game, which would mix personality (Who’s picking whom?) with strategy (How are they approaching the intricacies of roster construction?). These teams would then play one another over the course of the next week. But while each game would look and feel familiar, with a winner and a loser, what really mattered would be the individual stats, kept with a unique scoring system, tailored to the sport, that accounted for offensive and defensive performance. These individual numbers would be tracked on a leaderboard, and at the end of each week team captains would draft anew, remaking their rosters to form completely new teams. Finally, at the end of the season, rather than a championship squad, there would be one woman atop the leaderboard. Your fill-in-the-blank-sport champion.

Uh, wow. That is certainly different. But they’re not done:

Every player would earn the same base salary but could activate performance-based bonuses that doubled or even tripled that takeaway. They’d all play in one city (Rosemont, Ill., for softball; Dallas for volleyball…) to cut out the costs of traveling and operating multiple stadiums, and to facilitate the creation of media content around the players, who’d be living and spending time together, getting drafted by their fellow athletes each week. They’d all have ownership stakes in the league. And they’d make decisions together, on the rulebook and on marketing strategy, all the way down the line.

Officially wild. Baccellieri, long one of my favorite writers and Twitter follows, succinctly explains the rationale:

Fans can follow individual athletes they already know from college or, say, from Instagram, rather than try to embrace brand-new teams with whom they have no history, no local connection.

This makes some sense. Two of my favorite Cal players of all time are Aaron Rodgers and Marshawn Lynch. When they got to the NFL, I rooted for them, but with some reservation – though I have my issues with the 49ers, they are still the team I grew up rooting for and rooting for Rodgers or Lynch often meant rooting against the Niners, usually indirectly, but often very directly, including in the playoffs. If the NFL followed this model, instead, I could unabashedly root for those two guys . I could root for Ozzie Albies or Fernando Tatis, Jr., because I like to watch them play, without worrying about what their good performances doe to my team’s playoff chances. Because I’d have no team. I’d just have My Guys. And we all know I love My Guys. That’s not to say that I want MLB to change to this model – hell no. But I see the logic for a niche sport, like women’s softball. The fanbase is small but devoted, and most start following players in college. After college it becomes difficult to follow the players – the teams, and even the leagues, are forming and folding all the time, and it becomes hard to invest in emotionally, as three of the sport’s best players all agree:

The existing model for professional softball was untenable. The average annual salary in NPF was around $5,000. The number of viable teams fluctuated each season. As much as they loved the game, they’d never banked on softball as a serious career. Almost no one could. 

This is true of a lot of sports, for men and women. Even Women’s Soccer – I have lost count of how many teams Alex Morgan has been on (I just looked it up and it’s 7 in 10 years, geeze).  If, instead, I could follow her on Twitter, see her highlights, and be able to see she is kicking butt on the “leaderboard”? I dunno – I think I really would pay more attention. And that’s what Athletes Unlimited hopes. They don’t just want to reach diehards. By focusing on national (“all 30 softball games ran on TV or were streamed by ESPN and CBS; 22 of the 30 upcoming volleyball matches will be on CBS or Fox subsidiaries”) and social media, they hope to reach everyone:

“There’s going to be your volleyball fans, your lacrosse fans—those are the people who are always watching, it doesn’t matter the format, right?” says Jessica Mendoza, a softball player turned ESPN analyst and now an Athletes Unlimited board member. “But now there’s going to be a guy who likes to gamble! Now he’s going to watch a women’s lacrosse game and notice stuff he never would have noticed. … And it’s not just one guy like that. There are hundreds and thousands, and they absorb sports for different reasons. I think, ultimately, a lot of them are going to walk away and be like, I like watching women’s volleyball. I like watching women’s softball. Not all of them, but I think a lot of them—and that makes me happy.”

This is an interesting concept, and a really good read. -TOB Source: Welcome to the Grand Softball Experiment,” Emma Baccellieri, Sports Illustrated (02/26/2021)


Winter Surfing Looks Awesome and Miserable

I love a good photo essay, and the NY Times has this cool thing going during the pandemic where they feature a photojournalist taking the viewers to places in the world a bit harder to get to these days. In this most recent installment, Ryan Carter captures winter surfers on Lake Huron.  Per Carter: 

In recent years there’s been a significant increase in the popularity of lake surfing in North America. Unlike ocean surfers, who often depend partly on tides, lake surfers rely solely on strong, sustained winds. The stormy winter months often bring the biggest waves — and therefore the best surfing conditions.

The photos are surreal. The snow, the ice, the flurries, and the surfboard. It’s like surfers found the last place on earth – a deserted lake town. It all feels a bit apocalyptic.  Check out all of the photos in the link below. – PAL 

Source:Surf’s Up. The Temperature Isn’t.”, Ryan Carter, The New York Times (03/01/21)


Video of the Week: A couple excellent jomboy breakdowns.


Tweet of the Week:


Song of the Week: Anderson .Paak, Feat. Rick Ross – “CUT EM IN”


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I gotta focus. I’m shifting into soup mode. 

-George Costanza