Category Archives: current events

#BakerBuilt: NAIA Football & the Lingering Impact of Small College Sports

I shared most of this story in a Tweetstorm on Sunday, but wanted to share it here too, and extend it into paragraphs. My alma mater, Baker University, is playing in the semi-finals of the NAIA Football Playoffs on Saturday. Baker is a small, United Methodist affiliate, liberal arts college that enrolls roughly 1,000 undergraduate students in Baldwin City, KS. This season its football team is 13-0 and has a fun high-powered offense. ESPN3 has streamed several of their games, and including their recent playoff match ups.

Their opponent this weekend is Eastern Oregon University (EOU). I have a slight connection to EOU. Dick Davies‘, my advisor at Nevada, son was their president from 2009 to 2014 (He’s now the president of Murray State, and I got the chance to meet him in 2015). During my two years at Nevada, Dick and I talked about NAIA football regularly. I remember he went to a few games up at EOU and had me guest-lecture in his classes, which were among the first college lectures I ever gave.

Beyond that connection though, after I was admitted to the University of Nevada in April 2009, Davies sent me a personal email welcoming me. In that message he recounted the story of his one interaction with Baker University. It was in October 2005 and the football team traveled to Ashland, OR to play Southern Oregon University. Dick and his wife were spending the Halloween weekend there. They happened to be staying at the same Holiday Inn as the Baker team, and he wrote “I recall how much my wife and I were impressed by their behavior and courteousness. Had a brief chat with the coach and was impressed by his attitude on what college football at that level was all about. I had intended to send a note to the Univ president to that effect and regret that I did not follow through.” It was his one interaction with the team, and probably the only time he had ever heard of Baker University, but it was a good one. I doubt it had anything to do with my admission to the university or his agreeing to work with me, but the positive impression from meeting Coach Grossner and the team in 2005 certainly didn’t hurt. Seeing that I was a graduate of Baker, he connected it to his positive memory. It helped us forge a personal connection early on.

As Baker prepares to play Eastern Oregon in the semi-finals of the NAIA football playoffs, I’m reminded of this story. Of the impression Baker made on Davies. On the ways that football success — at any level — can help boost the image of a university. Of how small personal interactions matter, and can pay it forward for others. I undoubtedly benefited from the Baker football team’s friendliness.

Academics love to ask you where you went to school. Many are aware of random small liberals arts colleges throughout the country, but it’s still rare when they know about Baker. Dick knowing about Baker, put me at ease when as a brand new master’s students 1,500 miles from home. That’s few people know about Baker is not a knock on the school, but a reflection on the lay of the land. The NAIA has done a good job of streaming their games. Maybe people will watch them randomly on ESPN3. Or maybe they will interact with a former Baker athlete, see one of its history majors at the Missouri Valley History Confernece in Omaha (which has become a regular event for them). Whenever they watch or meet a Baker alum, I hope their interactions go like Dick Davies’ did, and I hope they help pay it forward. Small schools are wonderful places, and I hope more people get to know them.

There is some irony in my writing about Baker football and its impact on me. Before this story, I didn’t really care much for football at Baker. I ran cross country and track. They got all of the attention. And because Baker is the second-winningest program in the NAIA, they always had high expectations that they seemed to meet. And then, on the personal level, sometimes they got in our way when we were running on the track (during our season). I had a few football player teammates (including the current head track coach), and I really liked them, but overall I was lukewarm at best on the football program. I doubt that I’m the only xc/track kid that felt that way, That’s just how it seemed to go. Yet, now as alum, I love following the football team. I like seeing when the do well. I take pride in their wins. I feel the same way about volleyball and soccer, and so on. Cross Country is still my top, but I’ve learned and seen how much sports at small colleges matter. I’m lucky they take the role of sports and education seriously. It hard for me not to be speak effusively about my time there, and how it has prepared me for my current career. I’m lucky I got to compete and briefly coach at Baker. And I’m proud of its success. It’s helped me, and I know its helped others.

I know football success will never put Baker on the map. I spent a lot of time studying Baker’s rich sports history, and have seen how its remarkable successes haven’t elevated the school’s reputation. But can claim Emil Liston, Phog Allen, Edward Gallagher, Karl Schlademan, and Charlie Richard, as having coached on its athletic fields. Green Bay Packers head coach Mike McCarthy played there too. The school has immense pride in these figures, which I think is sometimes misplaced. It’s not about the iconic coaches or the win, it is about the people who they’ve mentored. There are hundreds of alums like me, who benefited from the athletic programs and only a handful of iconic coaches. Sure, there would be more if we cared about small time colleges in this country, but the fact that we don’t, in some ways, allows them to do better work without the pressures to win. That being said, I really hope they win Saturday and continue their march towards the national championship.

Books Worth (re)Reading to Understand Trump’s America

I’ve been chatting with my brother, Malcolm McGregor (who studied politics and public policy at the University of Virginia), recently about books and ideas that have helped us understand and diagnose the current state of American politics and culture following Trump’s election. We keep coming back to a handful of foundational ideas and perspectives, centered on notions of neoliberalism, postermodernity, truth, and, of course, race and class. We created a short list that is not exhaustive list by any means, but we think that they help get at important concepts. With a few exceptions, most of the books are accessible and easy to read.

Here is our list [in no particular order]:

  1. Daniel T. Rogers, Age of Fracture, (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011). — This is by far the best primer on understanding the intellectual developments that shape our culture post-1975.
  2. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 20th Anniversary Edition (New York: Penguin Books, 2005).  — Originally published in 1985 as somewhat of a polemic against TV, many of its ideas remain relevant.
  3. David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity: An Enquiry into the Origins of Cultural Change, (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1999).  — This is not an easy read, but I think it is foundational for wrestling with notions of postmodernity and changes to the capitalist structure throughout the 20th century.
  4. Thomas Frank, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2016). — Frank anticipated and understood many of the issues within the Democratic Party that led to Clinton’s loss.
  5. Ibram X. Kendi, Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America, (New York: Nation Books, 2016). — This is a long book, but easily read in small sections.
  6. George Lipsitz, The Possessive Investment in Whiteness: How White People Profit from Identity Politics, (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1998). — This book peels back notions of colorblindness and highlights what privilege looks like and how it operates through public policies and cultural ideas.
  7. Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the world and me. (New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2015). — A great account why people of color are probably not surprised about Trump but also fucked?
  8. James Baldwin,Giovanni’s Room, (New York: Random House, 1956). — Humanizes the gay rights movement and makes one aware of the challenges they face in the coming years.
  9. Junot Díaz, The brief wondrous life of Oscar Wao, (New York: Penguin, 2007). Similar to seven and eight but from the perspective of the Dominican community.
  10. Vladimir Nabokov, Bend sinister. (New York: Vintage, 1947). A novel about the rise of a scary authoritarian government and a philosopher’s refusal to aid it.
  11. Tyler Cowen, Average is over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation. (New York: Penguin, 2013) and Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee. Race Against the Machine, (Lexington, MA: Digital Frontier, 2011). (read together). Economic/policy background on the state of the economy that set the conditions for a Trump presidency.
  12. David Farber, The Rise and Fall of Modern American Conservatism: A Short History, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008).  — A useful primer that charts the trajectory and development of the modern GOP from Goldwater to George W. Bush through a series of biographical chapters.

Have something to add? Need to rant? Let us know what you think in the comments!

 

There is No Winning Team

Every time I scroll Facebook or Twitter, I am reminded of the election. I don’t want to think about it right now. I still have a bit of a numb feeling. It reminds me a lot of when my Kansas City Royals lost the 2014 World Series. I’ve been a rabid Royals fan all of my life, and after losing Game 7, I felt disappointed and like the build up that gave me so much hope that October had been taken away.

After that game, I stopped reading about the Royals for a long time. I didn’t obsess over them that offseason. I couldn’t read the think-pieces about why Alex Gordon didn’t try to score from third on a shallow fly ball. Sure it would have been risky, but it could have been the difference. I hated the Giants for a long time after that too. Madison Bumgarner’s name still irritates me.

Then came 2015. They played more games. They won a lot of them. We returned to the World Series and won. It was magical. Not quite the same after losing the year before, and experiencing that disappointment, but still incredible. I grew up dreaming of that moment, and to fall short really hurt me, but winning in 2015 helped heal that.

Politics are a lot like sports. We treat our candidates and our parties like opposing teams. This is unhealthy, by most accounts, and has likely contributed to the polarization in our society. There are some fans who love a good story, who enjoy the game, and then there are some who are provincial, loyal to their core, and haters of those not like them. What kind of sports fan are you? I’m a little embarrassed to admit I am the latter. I love my hometown team. I’m loyal to them. I want them to win. And I’m a hater otherwise. What type of fan are you?

Is this how I am politically? I don’t think so, or at least I don’t want to think so. It’s no secret I am liberal. Yet, I, like many of my friends who grew up in middle America, have always been reluctant to embrace or take on the Democrat label. Indeed, I find myself critiquing the DNC quite often. As I kid, I leaned right. It was mostly because of my surrounding, the influence of my family, and lack of education about the world and the people in it. I’ve never felt particularly tied or represented by either party. Yet, last night I was clearly on team blue. I don’t really care for Clinton and I disapprove of her style of politics and many of her policies (she is so easy to critique) but she was the clear choice. So too were some local Democratic candidates (that also lost). They best fit my views.

Politics, to me, are not about morality or conscious. It’s all about compromise. It’s about understanding you may view the world one way privately but also recognize subjecting everyone to the limitations or your views is unfair. It’s about seeing others and trying to accommodate both views. What type of political behavior do you engage in? Is it inclusive?

Team politics blur this, I think. It creates a myopic and oppositional view of your team versus their team. It dehumanizes the other side acting as a barrier to understanding. As a sports fan, this is OK. Rivalry is fun and important to sporing traditions. Narratives of us versus them are inspiring and amusing because it is just a game; it’s just entertainment. Sure, sometimes fans get violent and unruly, but that is rare. The other great thing about sports is that there is always next year. My team may lose, but we’ll have another chance to win before too long.

The pain many Americans are feeling is not just because their candidate lost and the opposition scares them. It’s the the realization that there is no next year. Instead, the next “big” election is four years away. The build up and excitement crashed down into disappointment because we’re left with an oppositional winner that we fear because the narratives of the game have told us to. I’m not saying Donald Trump and his election rhetoric is not scary, but the overwhelming fear and dumbfounded feeling we have is, at least in part, a product of the Team Narrative, which encourages us to imagine our opponents as sick and vile, and see their fans in a certain derogatory way. We’ve been conditioned to operate this way. And when we lose, we’ve been told there’s another game tomorrow night, next week, or next year. The next game helps us get over the last. It gives us a new opponent, new hope for winning, and a reason to keep improving.

Although I didn’t follow the Royals too closely during the offseason between 2014 and 2015, I stayed abreast of their moves. The front office analyzed its weaknesses and worked to improve the team. They signed new players, drafted young talent, and rebuilt their roster for the new season. In 2015, we won the most games in the American League, and used our experience from 2014 to march through the playoffs and into the World Series. And we won.

For some, the “next year” in politics is the 2020 presidential election. For others it is 2018 midterms. This means the next two to four years are our offseason. What do we do to make our “team” better? I hope that step one is to think beyond our “team.” We need to try to better understand our country, all of it. We also need to work to make sure our country — and everyone in it — better understand us. How well do you know the other side? How well do they know you? The answers to those questions point to, I think, the disunity of the country. Unlike sports, politics are not entertainment (even if the media treats them that way), there is no us versus them, it is all about us.

On Kaepernick

I’ve kept most of my commentary about Colin Kaepernick confined to Twitter, and “clicking like” on people’s posts on Facebook. As many of you know, I was an MA student at Nevada while he was the quarterback for the Wolf Pack. During that time I became a fan of his, and I have been following his career with interest ever since. What’s more, I teach an African American Studies course here at Purdue called “The Black Athlete.” So the story is relevant to me as both a fan and a scholar.

First, I think it is important to take note of the evolution of Kaepernick’s image. When I was a student at Nevada he was a community hero, a beloved figure to almost everyone. At Nevada he was a hero, but people also recognized he had a complex identity. They respected that and sought to understand him. The media did countless profiles on him and his background, revealing the nuance to his identity.

That treatment and that understanding did not follow him to the NFL. Once he went to the league, few people were aware of who he was, his complex identity, or personality. The national media did not dig up or rely on the Nevada narratives. Instead, while they liked his play, they also saw his tattoos and celebrations, making their own narratives. Quickly he became labeled a “thug,” immature, etc. He was caricatured along the lines of most black athletes, and became stripped of the complex nuances in his life; turned into a stereotype not a man. This representation held no matter his success. In fact, I witnessed many of my own colleagues openly rooting against him in Super Bowl XLVII because they didn’t like his image, attitude, etc., buying into the new and revised narratives.

Of course, the difference between local, college media and national media is important here. But what has struck me, and I have only been able to fully recognized what troubled me for so long in the last year after teaching my course, is that in watching the revision of the Kaepernick narrative from college to the NFL I have been watching how racism works in America. We are capable and even willing to understand and appreciate certain athletes, behaviors, images, in a local, friendly, (and perhaps possessive) setting, but when they become unfamiliar, when they are the enemy, have a larger stage, etc. we care less, take less time, to dig deeper. Nationally, we are OK and comfortable with the caricatures and stereotypes that we would never tolerate in other contexts.

Following Friday’s demonstrations, the stereotypes continue for most. Entitled, ungrateful, prima donna, anti-American, etc. Others yet seemed baffled that an alleged “thug” could also be an activist, retreating to the commonly held stereotype that athletic ability and intellectual depth are mutually exclusive. The perpetuation of these stereotypes are indicative of the exact culture and treatment that Kaepernick is speaking out against.

Second, the analysis of Kaepernick’s demonstration and activism that I have read, has largely ignored the connections to W.E.B. Du Bois. As I learned today, Friday, when he refused to stand for the national anthem, was also the anniversary of Du Bois’ death. Du Bois, of course, coined the term “double consciousness” referring to how African Americans are both black and Americans, a twin identity that is often hard to reconcile given the history of this country and its relationship to race. Indeed, this likely was not lost on Kaepernick. As my friends at Nevada know, each student is required to take “Core Humanities” courses, one of which covers the American Experience. These courses are about perspectives and include discussion sections. DuBois is almost certainly a topic covered.

Additionally, Kaepernick joins a long tradition of black athletes engaging in activism. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar famously refused to play in the 1968 Olympics, saying “It’s not my country” about being unpersuaded by a patriotic duty to compete. Ali, of course, refused induction in the Army. They too invoked Du Bois’ concept, explicating their black identity from larger American nationalist and imperialistic goals that they could not reconcile with their realities. There are several other examples that I wont list here.

I offer these two points to help us understand the historic context of Kaepernick’s actions. The present context is equally complex. A flawed criminal justice system has given rise to the Black Lives Matters moment, Donald Trump has incited a resurgence in white supremacist ideals, and the NFL continues to be the “no fun league” with a major image problem. All of these issues continue to unfold, while Kaepernick pledges to continue “demonstrating” until some sort of real, substantive change happens. Some will say that regardless of the outcome, Kaepernick has been successful redirecting our attention and starting conversations. This is true, but like our awareness of nuance and complexity at the personal level, it can too easily be ignored and written off from a distance. As the story continues, I hope that the narratives surrounding Kaepernick will help us rethink and reevaluate national stereotypes and policies, help us better empathize with pain of living with racism in America, and inspire us to work together to not nostalgically “make American great again” but instead progressively make America a great place for all of us.

A New Kind of Hope

12901406_10153671420364094_5243042037392153871_oWhat’s the right optimism-anxiety ratio for Opening Day after your team just won the World Series? Seriously. This is all really new to me. And I feel like I actually paid less attention to the Royals this past offseason than anytime in the previous two decades. Usually spring training and opening day are exciting. I look forward to them because there’s a chance to move on from disappointment — something the Royals have often over supplied.For years the mantra of Royals fans has been “hope dies hard.” Blogs and Twitter proliferated with overanalyzing Kansas City fans. We were glued to every move, hoping, waiting, believing, that progress, improvement, winning, was just over the horizon. After years of yearning for a winner, years of renewed hope for a better season, and “trusting the process,” I’m forced to face a new season where my team may not improve.This year Spring Training and Opening Day represent the brevity of success and the possibility that the Royals reign could soon be over. It is a possibility I haven’t wanted to face and have prevent myself from facing this offseason. As the season opens, I’m forced to conure up a new kind of hope; a hope I have never needed before. It is no longer a hope for something I have never experience, it’s not a hope for improvement, but a hope for continuation. So, while I’m extremely excited that baseball is back, I’m also extremely anxious. It’s a new feeling for me, one that could be alleviated by a Kansas City dynasty.

Image from YouTube.

Image from YouTube.

CBS has a James Corden Carpool Karaoke Special on tonight at 10. My first thought was couldn’t I watch 20 minutes of YouTube for the same content? After all, the Late Late Show which Corden hosts on CBS at 12:37 a.m. posts them to YouTube where they have become very popular. That’s why it’s so ironic to me.

The show is following the same model as American Funniest Home Videos, which seemed to anticipate the vitality of YouTube. The survival of AFV, and similar shows (like CBS “best super bowl commercials” special and classic 3 a.m. standby “wacked out sports”), are an indicator of mainstream media’s reluctance to change and misunderstanding of how people consume this kind of content. At the same time, the show also indicates an awareness of the popularity of this type of content (after all they post it online), but misguided hopes of either bringing viewers back to traditional their TV sets or perhaps an unrelated goal of spreading the content to less technoliterate viewers. They seem to be trying to double dip. 

This irony, of course, is not limited to CBS. A staple of most local news broadcasts is some sort of reporting about funny or odd things that have happened on the Internet — as if the internet is a foreign place that none of us go. I wonder how long this will continue? If it hasn’t already, when or does online culture become so ubiquitous that it won’t be reported about on the local news or replicated on network TV?