Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday Suckers

On Superbowl Sunday (XX) in January of 1986, the Chicago Bears won their last NFL championship, soundly defeating the Patriots in New Orleans. My friends and I were watching the game on a magical snowy day in the Chicago suburbs. Or maybe it wasn't snowing at all. You see, my memory is a little fuzzy: I previously had suffered a mild concussion playing "touch" football, when the back of my head landed solidly on the frozen ground during Thanksgiving Break from college.

According to National Public Radio's On the Media (OTM), "In the past two years, seven former NFL players [most recently Jovan Belcher] have killed themselves, and in each case, many argued that depression and dementia brought on by job-related concussions were to blame." Given that self- and media-based diagnoses of mental conditions are a flawed enterprise, I still think it's significant that the NFL has embarked upon a PR campaign to demonstrate what the organization is doing "to make the game safer", as seen in this staged exchange between Tom Brady and the mother of Ray Lewis.

Ok, I get it: it's supposed to be a humorous, light-hearted response to a serious issue even though I don't have a clue who these players are. Why? To be perfectly honest, that 1986 Bears Superbowl was the last football game I ever watched purposefully. Although I played football (informally) growing up, attended Illinois games with my dormmates, I've never really seen the attraction, apart from the social aspects of the stadium culture or the camaraderie of watching with friends.

I know I am an American anomaly: most Sunday afternoons I actually spend at the grocery store, and I am always wondering where the heck everybody else is. So this post is directed at you NFL fans: tell me why this violent game shouldn't be banned or significantly modified. Is is the money? Is it too sacred for Americans to consider changing?

P.S. Here is the OTM interview just in case you wanted to listen. I could go on about this, too, but purposely held back (hint, hint)...

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

What is your Columbian Orator?

Three years ago, historian Howard Zinn died of a heart attack at the age of 87. I was surprised how emotionally affected I was by his passing -- I certainly didn't know him, but saw him speak on several occasions, most notably at Northwestern University, days before the Iraq War.

I believe Zinn's death had such an impact on me because his writings and life were so formative in how I began to finally think for myself. Although most of us are familiar with Zinn's seminal A People's History of the United States, the book I always reference is the lesser-known Declarations of Independence, which has been since renamed.

This work always reminds me of a passage from Frederick Douglass' Narrative, in which he had secretly obtained a book, The Columbian Orator while in the depths of despair about being a slave for life. He wrote: "Every opportunity I got, I used to read this book....[It] gave tongue to interesting thoughts of my own soul, which had frequently flashed through my mind, and died away for want of utterance"(23-24). That's what Declarations was for me: an affirmation of my deepest-held beliefs, and a model for expressing them openly. Zinn had subtitled his book, "Cross-examining American Ideology", and challenged every one of the assumptions listed below.

‘Be realistic; this is the way things are; there’s no point thinking about how things should be.’

‘People who teach or write or report the news should be objective; they should not try to advance their own opinions.’

‘There are unjust wars, but also just wars.’

‘If you work hard enough, you’ll make a good living. If you are poor, you only have yourself to blame.’

‘Freedom of speech is desirable, but not when it threatens national security.’

‘Racial equality is desirable, but we’ve gone far enough in that direction.’

‘Our Constitution is the greatest guarantee of liberty and justice.’

‘The United States must intervene from time to time in various parts of the world with military power...[to] promote democracy.’

‘If you want to get things changed, the only way is to go through the proper channels.’

‘There is much injustice in the world but there is nothing that ordinary people, without wealth or power, can do about it.’

What/Who is your Columbian Orator?