The start of March Madness. It’s a day when millions of Americans abandon their posts to revel in the wonderful triviality of sports. It’s a day of passion, heartache and unbridled joy, which makes it so easy to forget that athletics don’t exist in a vacuum. They are part of the fabric of our culture, and yes, the TV is on in the room somewhere behind me, but the sound is down, so I’d like to take the opportunity to elevate the conversation a little bit.
There are so many fundamental issues shaking sports these days: concussions… race and gender equality… assimilation of gay teammates… concussions and other health issues… amateurism within a profit-centered college system… and I’m noticing that this dude Ford playing for Northeastern has a pretty good skill set for a 6-8 guy. Does he translate to the NBA game?
And where is Northeastern again?
As I was saying, March Madness is a perfect diversion for three weeks, but it’s really no more than that: a diversion. Yeah, CBS and its solar system of broadcast partners would like you to think the NCAA tournament is full of deeper meaning. Don’t be fooled. We can look at the bigger picture even as we fixate on the Upset Alerts and the buzzer beaters, and the fact that we are deep into the Notre Dame, Iowa State and Baylor games, and the COMBINED point differential in the three games is a measly three points. Honestly, I want a TV that allows me to divide the monitor into three separate images, so I don’t have to look away from any of these games. A question: Does TruTV exist when the tournament isn’t underway?
But sorry, I digress. This isn’t about TV ratings or how the No. 14 seeds are doing against the No. 3s (which is pretty damn good!). This is about the way sports help to shape, and are shaped by, the world we live in. All of the things going on out there, good and bad, exist in microcosm on the basketball court – discrimination and acceptance, violence, love, politics. Good lord, is that Jerod Haase? Jerod Haase who played for Cal at one time? He’s the coach UAB now? He looks like Jerod Haase in a fat suit. Jerod is pre-Subway Jared.
OK, focus. We can do this. Follow me here. Major sports exist not as an organic, naturally occurring display of bravery, but purely as a form of entertainment. As a diversion, a distraction. It’s OK to enjoy them, even celebrate them. But we can’t forget for one minute that THE COACH IS ON THE FLOOR!!! Did you see it?! Dude’s on the floor! His kid hit the game-winning shot for little Georgia State, and the coach was already hobbled from tearing his Achilles’ tendon while celebrating his conference championship, so he was in one those rolling hurt-person chairs, and HE FELL RIGHT TO THE FLOOR when his boy nailed the shot. Oh, man.
Ahem. Sorry. I guess I’m as susceptible as anyone. But that just reinforces my point. Economic analysts complain about all the lost work during March Madness, but this whole tournament might be designed expressly for capitalism. We sit there sucking it all in, watching the commercials for Bud and Geico and Butler. Butler. Have you noticed that it doesn’t matter whether Butler is a prohibitive favorite or heavy underdog, Bulldogs games always seem to come down to a few final plays?
I mean, the game is still pure. But nothing around it is. The colleges are exploitative. The coaches are corrupt. The fan bases are uncivil, the advertisers contemptible. It’s like when I was at UCLA, which I now notice is in the midst of letting a 10-point second-half lead dissolve into a nine-point deficit. That’s a 19-0 run for SMU for those of you too busy stabbing your eyes with a fork to do the math.
I’m so glad John Wooden isn’t here to see this. Wooden had to deal with slimy boosters and entitled fans, of course, but he coached at a time when you could keep the unsavory aspects of college basketball at bay and focus on teaching the game. Because GOALTENDING! THAT WAS TOTALLY GOALTENDING! AM I RIGHT? YES, I’M RIGHT! The Bruins gave away a 19-0 run, and Normal Powell kicked a ball off his foot and right to a Mustang at a crucial moment, but they found a way to win on a controversial call. This is amazing. I love this. I live for this.
Let’s get back to the commercialization of sports, though. In a few minutes. Apparently there’s a Vine of the coach falling off the chair.