Meanwhile, on the Mean Sports Pages

The political and economic and cultural news is full of scary developments lately, and the weather around here is damned cold, but on Monday we took a day off from all that to find some warmth in a good news story from the sports pages. The University of Oklahoma Sooners’ quarterback Kyler Murray won the Heisman Trophy for college football’s most outstanding player on Saturday, which we are obliged by family tradition to be happy about, and we were further gladdened to see that the young man is hanging up his football helmet and will instead pursue a career in professional baseball.
This was the second consecutive year that a Sooner won college football’s most prestigious individual honor, the first such back-to-back for any school since the 1945 and ’46 seasons, if you don’t count the Heisman that was taken back for reasons of corrupt rule-breaking from the first of two consecutive University of Southern California players in the 2005 and ’06 seasons, and it’s OU’s sixth Heisman overall, which is second only to those damned Fightin’ Irish of Notre Dame. The Sooners have also won seven national championships, 41 championships in the high-level Big Six and Big Eight and Big XII conferences, and Murray’s Heisman further burnishes the Sooners’ reputation as one of America’s greatest sporting enterprises. God help us, we can’t help but be glad about that.
We grew up in Kansas and like to think ourselves true-blue Bleeding Kansas sorts of Kansans, but all our forbears were Okies from the territorial days and thus we grew up on Sooner football. Our beloved Pop attended OU back during the Bud Wilkinson days, when they set a still-standing win streak record on their way to three national championships during his four years of matriculation, and although he’s a very reserved and cerebral sort of fellow who takes only the usual red-blooded American male’s interest in most of the sporting scene he’s always been somewhat fanatical about Sooner football. In our youth the University of Kansas Jayhawks and Kansas State University Wildcats and Wichita State University Wheatshockers were all infamously bad at football, and although each had some serious bragging rights about basketball we always went with the extended family’s winner through the pigskin season. Along the way we witnessed some memorably extraordinary athletic feats and rousing victories and heart-breaking losses by the Sooners, and we’re grateful for such family traditions.
Even so, we’re glad to see this young Murray fellow is hanging up his football helmet and pursuing a career in baseball. For the past few football seasons we’ve followed the fortunes of the Sooners and the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs, both of which are championship contenders this seasons, but we haven’t been able watch a single down of it. Football’s such a violent game that it leaves an alarming number of its players with debilitating and life-shortening injuries, too many of its players are violent sorts of people such as the fellow that the Chiefs recently kicked off the team for pushing down and kicking a woman, and that takes a lot of fun out of the game for us.
This young Murray fellow is apparently one of those rarely gifted athletes with both the God-given athletic ability and hard-earned-on-his-own talents to play at least two games at the highest level of competition, and although our slow and awkward and wheezy selves can only imagine what that’s like we’re pretty sure he’s right to choose baseball. To its most gifted players baseball offers a longer and more lucrative career than football, and although it entails certain persistent aches and pains they’re far less likely to be debilitating or life-shortening than those from several other sports. Baseball’s a more cerebral and beautiful sport than football, too, and offers such a talented athlete as this Murray fellow at least as much glory on the baseball diamond as he might find on any football gridiron.
The previous Sooner Heisman trophy winner was Baker Mayfield, an arguably even better quarterback who is currently a contender for the National Football League’s rookie of the year award. As the top pick to the last place team in the NFL draft, Baker and his Cleveland Browns have a mediocre record of five wins and seven losses and a tie, but that’s four more wins than the franchise had in the previous three years, and with the NFL’s weird play-off system they’re still in the hunt for a very long-shot championship, so that’s more bragging rights for the Sooners. We wish this Mayfield fellow the best, by which mean we mean hope he has a long career and somehow enjoys his millions without a brain injury.
The season of Kansas’ beautiful game of basketball is well under way, with the Wildcats looking mediocre and the ‘Shockers looking worse and those snooty Jayhawks looking like championship contenders, although we happily note our beloved Wichita Heights High School Falcons are currently leading the City League. Come spring we won’t have any baseball pro baseball around here, as those stupid city father have torn down the venerable old Lawrence-Dumont stadium and won’t have a new up the net summer when they promise a shiny new affiliated Triple-A club to replace lovable Wichita Wingnuts, and until then we won’t mach to cheer about.. Meanwhile the political and economic and cultural news seems unpleasant, and we’ll take our vicarious victories wherever we can, so godspeed to this young Kyler Murray fellow.

On Sports, Water Heaters, and the Nation’s Fate

The news has slowed to a trickle at year’s end, as all the newsmakers have safely ensconced themselves in swell warm-weather vacation digs where they can do little harm, but the rest of the world seems to continue turning in its usual ways. Results of the National Football League’s last regular season contests provided plenty of fodder for the headline writers, and around here the big story was our aged water heater announcing its final demise by spewing water into the basement.
These occasional breaks in the news cycle are welcome, even for such politically-attuned sorts as ourselves. They not only provide a needed respite from worries about the country’s wayward direction, but also offer perspective on the political problems that will soon enough confront us.
One tries to imagine the likes of Rep. Nancy Pelosi or President Barack Obama confronting a gushing water heater at 3 a.m., muttering the appropriate curses as they desperately search for the valve that will halt the deluge, but the image does not come readily to mind. All water heaters will eventually betray you, as many of our home-owning friends have sympathetically assured us, but in the case of Pelosi or Obama or almost any other politician the more likely scenario has them delegating the duty of dealing with it to a servant, probably one of those oppressed minorities they always claim to care so much about, and it can be safely assumed that the price of a shiny new replacement will not seem so dear to them as it does it to the likes of us. This is a fundamental flaw in our democratic system as it is currently constituted, we believe, as we think that the more direct experience of dealing a spewing water heater would make the average politician less inclined to think the could manage the country’s health care system and more empathetic about the costs they impose in the effort.
Even the National Football League scores seemed somehow significant on an otherwise news-free weekend. So far as we can tell everyone in the league is a testosterone-raged and overly-tattooed thug or a pretty boy quarterback, but we have our arbitrary preferences about which cities get to brag on their boys. The Philadelphia Eagles vanquished the Dallas Cowboys to win their division and a spot in the playoffs, and our pop lives in Philly and has become a supporter of the team, and the Cowboys don’t have the same cultural significance they did back in the hippie days when a guy named “Tex” owned the team and clean-cut Vietnam veteran Roger Staubach was the quarterback and straight-arrow Tom Landry was prowling the sidelines, so we were pleased with the result. We have a brother who loves living in the Colorado Rockies and has become an avid aficionado of the Denver Broncos, who earned the top seed in the American Football Conference with a win over the hapless Oakland Raiders and will thus be favored to win it all, so we’re also pleased by that outcome. Our own Kansas City Chiefs lost a meaningless game to the San Diego Charters, giving the divisional rivals a spot in the playoffs that will surely please a beloved cousin who’s working for Qualcomm in that temperate city, and after the Chiefs’ past several years of futility we’re happy just for the remote chance of a playoff win.
Sports rooting being a purely personal pastime, we were more energized by the Wichita State University Wheatshockers basketball team running its record to a perfect 13-and-0 by beating a Davidson University squad that is far better than its record would indicate. We trudged through single-digit wind chill temperatures to witness the victory with a cherished old boyhood friend who is mad for “the ‘Shocks,” and who was later treated to a win by his beloved Green Bay Packers that clinched a playoff despite the team’s mere eight wins, and the victory was not only worth the cold but almost worth a new water heater. Throw in a win by the Kansas State University Wildcats’ football team over the once-mighty University of Michigan’s Wolverines, a team favored by an old girlfriend of ours, and it made for an encouraging final weekend of the year.
Sports metaphors are of limited utility, as are sad tales of such quotidian disasters as broken water heaters, but they’re all we’ve got as head into the penultimate day of 2013. Weightier matters await us in 2014, but we will gird ourselves with the lessons learned from the trivial. If the Kansas City Chiefs can turn around a 2=14 season into a playoff spot, if a gritty blue-collar college basketball team from such a gritty blue-collar city as Wichita can be ranked above the traditional elites of the sport, and if such klutzes as ourselves can cope with a basement-flooding water heater catastrophe, then surely there is hope for such a great country as America.

— Bud Norman

Shirts and ‘Skins

All this talk of government shutdowns and debt ceilings and Obamacare and so forth has become as boring as it is depressing, so we set out on Tuesday in search of something else to write about. Despite our best efforts we caught just enough of the latest Washington news to learn that the apocalypse is scheduled for Thursday, when the passing of the phony-baloney default deadline lets loose the four horsemen and those darned Republicans at long last realize their Luciferian dreams of Armageddon, but in the meantime we chose to catch up on the sporting scene.
Alas, even the sports pages can no longer provide refuge from annoying political controversies. With hopes of finding out how our locally-beloved but long-beleaguered Kansas City Chiefs have remained unbeaten after six games we turned to news of the National Football League, but found the coverage dominated by arguments about the Washington Redskins squad’s moniker. Apparently some people find it offensive, and some small minority of them are of a copper hue, so there’s the predictable movement afoot to demand a more culturally sensitive name. This has been an occasionally recurring controversy for as long as we can remember, and hasn’t yet forced a new name on the stubborn football franchise, but this time around seems a bit more ferocious than usual and has enlisted the support of luminaries ranging from President Barack Obama to NBC sportscaster Bob Costas. The combined self-righteousness of Obama and Costa alone is sufficient to browbeat most sports moguls into submission, but thus far the Redskins’ ownership has remained defiant.
We wish the franchise well. This more-sensitive-than-thou sort of bossiness is a most bothersome feature of modern American life, and should be resisted at every opportunity.
Perhaps because sports is the last bastion of pure meritocracy left in America, the radical egalitarians seem especially intent on imposing their exquisite sensitivities on the country’s athletics. Sometimes the cause is sexism or animal cruelty or the exploitation of college athletes who get nothing in return for the recreations other than an outrageously over-priced higher education, but the egalitarians seem especially upset by certain nomenclature. Any names pertaining to Native Americans is particularly irksome to modern sensibilities, and several teams have been forced to stop using specific tribal identities even when the specific tribes were honored rather than offended by the team’s mascots. The aforementioned Kansas City Chiefs have also been criticized for an alleged anti-Indian bias despite the intriguing fact the team was named in honor of Roe “Chief” Bartle, the mayor who concocted the stadium-subsidy deal that brought the franchise from Dallas, and could have just easily been called the Kansas City Political Machine Bosses, which would have surely given offense to Democrats in big cities around the country. Any sons or daughters of Ireland offended by Notre Dames’ pugnacious stereotype of the “Fightin’ Irish” or Swedes offended by the violent imagery of the Minnesota Vikings’ helmet logo will get less sympathy from the egalitarians, and other similarly pale-faced ethnicities will likewise have to endure the insult, but any mascot of a swarthier complexion will continue to spark protests.
Perhaps “Fightin’ Irish” and “Vikings” and the like aren’t racial slurs, but here on the Plains where Indians are commonly encountered the word “redskin” isn’t considered much of a pejorative. In our very diverse town of Wichita, Kansas, there is an occasional hubbub about North High’s teams calling themselves Redskins, but so far it has always faltered when the sizeable local community of Native Americans has expressed its collective lack of concern about the matter. Most Indians have more pressing concerns than the longstanding nicknames of sporting teams, and many of those problems are the result of the well-intentioned efforts of exquisitely culturally sensitive liberals, and it is hard to see what tangible benefits they would realize from a change in the Washington pro football team’s name.

— Bud Norman