I am here in Dallas for Poseur's impending nuptials. I am at a hotel with WiFi. The family is asleep. I know it's been a long time. I swear that we were supposed to have high speed internet at our house months ago, and again weeks ago, but we still don't have it available. Anyway, here are some bullet points for those of you wondering what's been up:
- For those of you wondering how I've been filling my time, I am actually running for office. I am running for a spot on the Board of Education for Bibb County, Alabama, my new home. The election is in November.
- I haven't had much access to the internet since I moved, and I spend a lot less time on the internet and a lot more time reading printed materials. I've read a lot in this time.
- With my attention away from football and other sports (thankfully, the stuff I've missed has been a horrid basketball season and a very disappointing baseball season) I have had a lot of time to think and reflect on matters football, and I haven't liked what I've seen. Probably the story that has most troubled me in this time is the sad and sobering news that the late Chris Henry suffered from chronic traumatic encephalitis at the time of his death. To me, this is news that should rock the world of football. We've known for a while that old linemen are crippled in their knees and joints. We've thought it was sad, but we've taken comfort in knowing that these were generally long-careered people who traded their knees for lots of money. We could live with it. We've known for some time that a number of former professional football players suffered the lingering effects of concussions, and this definitely worried us. Knees are fine and all, but everyone lives in their brains, and it's a lot harder to live a normal life if your brain isn't working. Then we found out that high-impact positions like linebacker or running back, with lots of high-speed collisions and helmet-hits led to slow-developing but permanent brain injury (chronic traumatic encephalitis) that could lead to depression, drug addiction, suicide, and all sorts of bad things that we definitely need to avoid as a society. This was hard to ignore or rationalize as a football fan. Now, we find out that this condition is not limited to the high-impact positions, and it's not limited to long-time veterans. Chris Henry played wide receiver, a position that is relatively low-impact (at least on the head) compared to some others on the football field, and he was still in the early stages of his career. Nevertheless, autopsy revealed that he was already showing signs of chronic brain injury, the kind that leads to antisocial and self-destructive behavior or depression later in life. Or is it even limited to later in life? Who knows at this point. I know this. If a guy like Chris Henry was suffering permanent damage from the hits he was taking, I can't watch a typical football game without wondering if I am witnessing player shave significant time off of their lives. It's made me re-evaluate what I think about football, and it should lead (very quickly) to rules changes and/or equipment changes to make the sport safer. If this doesn't happen, I am not sure decent, moral people can justify watching a sport we are slowly coming to find out is truly a bloodsport.
- Onto a slightly happier topic: conference re-alignment. Hooray for Texas A&M! Congratulations Aggies, you forestalled the end of college football conferences as we know them. It was a terrific power play to make noise about going to the SEC, which is the only thing that preserved the Big XII, a rump Vichy-Big XII it might be, but at least it still exists. All thanks to TAMU. I am not naive enough to believe that money doesn't drive college football, but I appreciate that college football at least sometimes likes to pretend it's about competition, rivalry, competitive spirit, and the like. The re-alignment talk really laid it all out bare. Schools were perfectly willing to jettison traditional rivalries for the promise of a few more bucks. They were perfectly willing to align themselves in ways that made no geographic sense in order to secure better TV deals. Number of TV sets was a much more attractive variable than quality of program, and basketball was revealed to be meaningless. Well-done, conference vampires.
- And now we have Miami-party-agent-gate, in which the very same entities that were chasing filthy lucre just a month or so ago are condemning the young student-athletes who are doing the same thing, even just a little bit. If chasing money is against the rules, why isn't the University of Texas kicked out of the NCAA?
- OK, let's get off of the subject of what a cynical old curmudgeon I've become lately. Let's talk about LSU football. LSU fans seem to be split between those who have given up on Les Miles (some of whom never liked him in the first place) and those who think he will get this thing turned around. I am firmly in the middle. I like Les Miles. I think he is, as far as character goes, probably in the upper percentiles among head coaches at big-time athletic programs, a job which seems to have a high correlation with controlling, angry, vindictive personality types. Les Miles seems like a genuinely alright guy in a profession in which it is hard to prosper if you're nice. I would love to see him turn in a great year and get himself off the hotseat for a bit. I applaud him for the job he did in 2005 (which he never gets due credit for) and in the next two years. I am forced to conclude, however, that 2008 and 2009 were unsatisfactory and that they were unsatisfactory in part because of decisions he made that did not work out well. Last year's record was OK, but I think it's fair to say we never looked good at all, and there were games we won in which we were outplayed. Mississippi State and Louisiana Tech come to mind. We ended up with a nice record, but we could have and perhaps should have been a 6-6 or 7-5 type team. We were saved by the fact that the SEC was weak outside of the top 2, so we ended up playing a Georgia team that was not as good as it had been in previous seasons, and we got a couple wins we really didn't earn. However, all is not lost for Les Miles. We have a young team this year, and a tough schedule, but we seem to have the nucleus of a terrific team. The O-line couldn't possibly be worse than it was last year, and if we discover a playmaker or two on the defensive line we could be better on defense than we were last year (and we were pretty solid in that department anyway). Then if Jordan Jefferson simply develops along a normal learning curve, we are in business. Or Jefferson could flounder, the offensive line could collapse, and we could have a second straight year with insufficient pass rushing and tank to a miserable 5-7 record, with the obvious result of a house-cleaning in the coaches' offices.
- Tomorrow, I go see Poseur get married. I am 36 years old, and I've known that guy since I was 19. In that time, I have only lived in the same geographic region of the country as he has for about 4 years, but he's still one of my very best friends in the world. I'm glad to be here for this.