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Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Hanging 'em Up

During the Super Bowl, Seattle Seahawks standout Marshawn Lynch famously announced his retirement with the hood-poignant imagery of cleats over a telephone wire. Around the same time, talk began of retirement from the Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson, and while not yet final, his departure would remove another big name from the game. Both Lynch and Johnson entered in the first round of the 2007 draft, and are retiring relatively young after less than a decade in the league.

I love seeing the best in the world compete, but I sincerely hope players stepping away from the game while they still have their relative health becomes a trend. The dangers of football are increasingly well documented: Football is a sport that takes years from one's life and life from one's years. While we are now coming to a full understanding of CTE, concussions, and other head trauma, the physical toll it takes on players has been common knowledge for a long time: Men who can no longer dress themselves, walk up a flight of stairs, or get a night's rest without the use of painkillers. As much as I love the sport, there is no need for the continued decline of quality of life that comes from years of playing professional football.

While self-preservation is smart, Lynch is also making another example that others would do well to emulate. Beastmode reportedly hasn't touched any of the nearly $50 million he made from the NFL, instead susbsisting on endorsements and other income. We've seen that sometime the fast, big money of professional sports leaves as quickly as it comes. It seems that Lynch has planned against that well, allowing him to get in, have a fulfilling career, and get out to pursue the next passion while he's still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. I hopet o see others follow in his footsteps.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

To Be Young, Gifted, and Black

With all pardons asked for referencing a particular pachyderm in the same sentence as a former Auburn quarterback, race has been the elephant in the room for all of Cam Newton's almost-certain MVP season. It has been the undercurrent, consciously or unconsciously of a lot of the criticism he has received this season, and because his season is longer than all but one other quarterback's, so it continues.

Newton is, of course, far from the only black quarterback in the league, nor is he the only black quarterback to reach this level of success. In an interview on Mike and Mike, Ryan Clark expressed that it's not an issue of race, but of culture. After all Russell Wilson, who earned a Super Bowl ring two years ago and came close this past year, is Cam's contemporary, also a black quarterback, and hasn't gotten the same degree of scrutiny that Newton has. It's worth noting, however, that Wilson's teammate Richard Sherman has. Sherman shares with Newton a certain panache - swag, if you will - that is offputting. It's cultural, certainly, but the fact that it is expressed by a black man is no small part of the equation. It's true: Cam dabs, smiles, and dances; he also gives game balls to children and is a presence in his community. Still, the former is cause enough that there's something "not quite right".

SB Nation's Spencer Hall - one of the finest writers of our time, in my opinion - remarked on a different cultural phenomenon: That of the southern gentleman. He notes that his Super Bowl opponent, Peyton Manning is less his foil and more his kinsman. The parallels of being SEC quarterbacks and number one overall picks are noted, but less often stated is that Cam is southern. This is likely because one definition of being southern - not the only, mind you, but one that tends to stick - may omit the word "white" from its spoken qualifiers but never from the imagination. Newton is southern in a way that's not necessarily thought of as such because the prevailing qualifier - black - never goes unstated.

Put another way: Cam Newton is a black college marching band.

Show style marching, as done at this country's Historically Black Colleges and Universities, is almost exclusively a southern art form. Owing directly to the legacy of their founding, the overwhelming majority of HBCUs are located in the south. Whether you're at Clark Atlanta or Tennessee State, FAMU or the eponymous Southern University itself, the style was innovated and continues to be carried out in the south. And yet, while Jackson State and Jacksonville State are but 4 1/2 hours of I-20 away, the Sonic Boom of the South an the Marching Southerners - note how both carry the region even in their nicknames - are worlds apart with respect to marching.

The styles are different, but different doesn't always come without value judgments. Familiarity may lead to stylistic preferences, but it may also lead some to believe that one is "right" and another "wrong". It's part and parcel with the hoopla when Drumline came out: The style depicted was unlike anything the average corps style marcher had ever seen, and so it had to be wrong. But even when Bethune Cookman's tonal basses are doing Blue Devils-quality runs, or A&T closes with a Cadets-style company front, there is still an unease for some. Score sheets, like standardized tests, are normed on a predominately white experience; so too is Cam's conduct and adherence to the "unwritten rules" of playing the role of quarterback, which is normed similarly. But like the HBCU band, Cam is first and foremost having fun with what he's doing, and largely putting on a show for those who came to see him. It's not just for judges or just for points, though there's no shortage of those. He's here to move the crowd. So when you dab on 'em, Cam, make sure you're hitting 90 degrees.
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