The finale of the National Football League season comes next Sunday with the Super Bowl contest between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Kansas City Chiefs at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida, and it marks the end of a season when relatively few fans attended games in person due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions observed by the league’s teams. Attendance at this Super Bowl will be limited to 22,000 fans, in a stadium that can seat over 65,000. For hard core fans used to watching the games in person rather than on television, it must have been a peculiar season.
Crowd in the Polo Grounds grandstand for the final game of the 1908 baseball season, watching the visiting Chicago Cubs play the New York Giants. Library of Congress photo from Bain News Service.
To be at a stadium or ballpark for a game is to experience something beyond the game alone, which really can be viewed more intelligibly on a television screen or computer monitor from the comfort of home. The sports fanatic can spend hundreds of dollars for the experience, counting ticket price, parking, concessions, and other sundry expenses, and still the sports fan prefers bearing those costs instead of staying home to watch the game for free or at very little cost. One hundred years ago, there were no such contrasting choices.
At the beginning of 1921, there was no broadcast medium at all involved in bringing sporting events to the masses. In the United States, radio broadcasts of sports began later that year, with the airing of a boxing match on April 11 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and a baseball game on August 21 from Forbes Field in Pittsburgh. In both cases, the broadcasting station was KDKA in Pittsburgh. On October 8, KDKA broadcast a college football game. The first American television broadcast of sports didn’t occur until May 17, 1939, when NBC covered a college baseball game in New York City. Hard core sports fans didn’t get to listen to a sports talk radio show until New York’s WNBC started airing one in March 1964.
One hundred years ago, people either bought tickets to see sporting events or read about them the next day in a newspaper. Talking about sports was a first hand endeavor limited to friends, family, neighbors, and co-workers. Now there are several options besides buying tickets for vicariously experiencing athletic contests, and with sports talk radio and television shows and social media, there are many options for sports fans to gab on and on about their obsessions to familiars and strangers alike, both near and far.
One of the subplots from a 1995 episode of Seinfeld involving Patrick Warburton as David Puddy, the boyfriend of Elaine Benes, played by Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Michael Richards played Cosmo Kramer, and Jerry Seinfeld played a fictional version of himself.
Social norms of public appearance and behavior loosened after World War II and particularly in the ’60s and ’70s, resulting in sports fans changing over the 50 years from the ’30s to the ’80s from men (they were overwhelmingly men in the stands) who attended the games largely in suits and ties, to people who wore casual clothing, often comprised of the merchandised parts of their favorite team’s uniform. Some went shirtless and painted themselves in their team’s colors. In the 1950s, only little boys and some working class adults wore baseball caps regularly. Now, almost everyone wears one at least occasionally, and many of the caps bear team logos at a price. No one has to grow up anymore (or wants to), and sports merchandisers, who had very little business at all before the 1970s, are counting money in the billions each year now, even without sports fans filling the stands.
Where were you when the Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy on June 6, 1944? Were you only a glimmering in your parents’ brains?
Where were you when the Battle of Khe Sanh began on January 21, 1968? Were you nursing the bone spurs in your heels that would eventually earn you a medical deferment from the draft? Or were you awaiting a pilot’s commission in the Texas Air National Guard?
A drawing made by a refugee child, formerly resident in Pristina, Kosovo, depicting his horrific experiences in the Kosovo War in 1999. The drawing was taped to a wall in the Brazda refugee center in Macedonia. Photo from the U.S. Department of State and NATO.
Where were you when the United States and its allies launched the invasion of Iraq on March 20, 2003, beginning an unnecessary war that would spiral the entire region into chaos? Were you looking under furniture for weapons of mass destruction, something you would joke about later?
Where were you when the world learned in April 2004 that American soldiers had been torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison? Were you throwing a few “bad apples” under the bus, rather than acknowledging a culture of cruelty encouraged from the top down in the chain of command? Or were you busy making the first year of your daytime television talk show a success? Or were you occupied with creating an illusion of yourself as a successful and hard-nosed, but fair, businessman on the first year of your television reality show that was more fiction than reality?
Dire Straits performs “The Man’s Too Strong” in concert at Wembley Arena in London, England in June 1985 during their Brothers in Arms tour.
Where were you in 2008 after conservatives had used the wedge issue of gay marriage four years earlier to whip up the ire of homophobic reactionaries and send them to the polls in just enough numbers to make it possible for the Republican candidate to steal another presidential election? Were you getting married? What does your friend, the Republican presidential candidate, have to say about that now? Is he against gay marriage only when it suits political expediency?
Where were youin August 2016 when the Turks made their first incursion into the Kurdish zone of Syria, where the Kurds had been America’s ally in the fight against the Islamic State in Syria (ISIS)? Were you listening to what the Russians had to say about your Democratic opponent in the presidential election, a practice you appear to have made into a habit since then as you extort other countries to get them to investigate your political rivals?
And where were all three of you when the brains were being passed out? It’s nice for people to have friends, but some friends are not worth having, such as a narcissistic sociopath or a war criminal, both of whom have proven time and again they look out only for themselves, and maybe their cronies as well. And in the sense of cronyism, a crony is not a true friend. And a friend may be a “sweet man” in private, but that shouldn’t shut out all the harm he’s caused in the world. Millions of Iraqis and Kurds may reflect on the old saying that “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”
David Gilmour, best known as the lead guitarist for Pink Floyd, performs the Pink Floyd song “Coming Back to Life” with a new band backing him in a concert at Pompeii, Italy in July 2016.
A documentary retrospective called Linda Ronstadt: The Sound of My Voice has been making the rounds of film festivals this summer, most recently at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it was a popular offering. Linda Ronstadt came to prominence in the 1970s covering songs in a style so distinctively her own that listeners could be forgiven for thinking the songs originated with her. Her first big hit, for example, was “Different Drum”, which she recorded in 1967 with the Stone Poneys. The song was first recorded by the Greenbriar Boys in 1966, and it was written in 1965 by Michael Nesmith of the Monkees.
An interesting twist to the story of “Different Drum” being written by Michael Nesmith is that most of the Monkees own hit songs were written by the Brill Building songwriting team of Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. One hit for the Monkees, “Pleasant Valley Sunday”, was written by another Brill Building songwriting team, Carole King and her husband at the time, Gerry Goffin. Those two wrote many hit songs for various artists during the 1960s, and after their divorce in 1969 Ms. King went on to a distinguished solo career singing her own songs.
Carole King at the ceremony to receive her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in December 2012. Photo by Angela George.
Her 1971 album, Tapestry, became an enormous success, enjoyed by both men and women, but it made its greatest connection with women who came of age in the 1960s, and in the 1970s were staking claims to have their voices acknowledged and heard independently of men. The female singer-songwriters of the 1970s enjoyed popular and critical success in a music industry dominated by men, and despite the obstacles, such as male promoters encouraging them to push their sexual allure ahead of their singing and songwriting talents, they persevered and became strong, independent voices.
In this 1974 episode of the television show The Midnight Special, Melissa Manchester performed “Midnight Blue”, a song she co-wrote with Carole Bayer Sager, an alumna of the Brill Building. Ms. Manchester released an album including “Midnight Blue” the following year, and the song became her first hit. It takes skill and artistry to sustain intensity and interest in a slow song, as Ms. Manchester did beautifully in this rendition.
The list of women who made indelible marks in the popular music of the 1970s is long and would inevitably leave out some names. Not all of them wrote the majority of the songs they made famous, but in the song choices they made they exhibited an independent spirit. Linda Ronstadt, for instance, as she expanded her repertoire to include the Great American Songbook, chose songs that reflected character, strength, and respect. Melissa Manchester, who learned songwriting in a course taught in the early 1970s at New York University by another Brill Building alumnus, Paul Simon, had several hits with songs she co-wrote, and has also been a song stylist like Ms. Ronstadt and has followed a similar path since the 1970s and ’80s with distinctive renditions of standards.
Carole King’s Tapestry, with its well-known cover photo of her, barefooted and wild-haired, on a window seat with her cat, started out a decade of great music from female singer-songwriters with songs that eventually became standards themselves, covered dozens of times by other artists, male and female. Incidentally, that famous cover photo was taken by Jim McCrary at Ms. King’s home in Laurel Canyon, outside Los Angeles, and in the 1970s Laurel Canyon became the locus of much musical talent, and especially singer-songwriters.
In a 1993 concert at Bushnell Hall in Hartford, Connecticut, Carole King performed “You’ve Got a Friend”, one of the several hit songs from her 1971 album, Tapestry.
The decade closed with Linda Ronstadt, another inhabitant of Laurel Canyon in the ’70s, as the most successful female rock and pop singer of the time. Singing out throughout the time in between, and whether coming from the cramped quarters of the Brill Building in New York City or the openness of sunny southern California in Laurel Canyon, were Melissa Manchester and dozens of others every bit as talented, and all with new and interesting statements to make, creating music that expressed their unique times and has lasted beyond, affirmation of their skill and artistry in giving voice to their experience.
A story from a February 2019 edition of the television magazine show CBS Sunday Morning.
Roger Ebert, the great movie critic who worked primarily in Chicago, Illinois, and over the course of his career garnered respect and influence internationally, believed movies were “like a machine that generates empathy”. By that he meant a well-made movie encourages viewers to lose themselves for a time and step into the shoes of others. There were more movies like that being made 50 years ago than there now, in the current era of comic book special effects franchises.
Stanley Kubrick took this photo in 1949 for LOOK magazine. Mr. Kubrick was a staff photographer for the magazine from 1947 to 1950, and he then went on to direct many great movies, becoming a model for other filmmakers of the New Hollywood. The Chicago Theatre was one of many movie palaces built around the country in the 1920s, and after renovations in the 1980s, it remains a popular venue for film exhibitions and live performances.
Mr. Ebert became the film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper in 1967, about the same time as the emergence of New Hollywood filmmaking, an era lasting roughly from 1965 to 1985 when Hollywood studios financed character driven films made by directors like Mike Nichols, Bob Rafelson, and Francis Ford Coppola, who came from backgrounds in theater, television, or film school. Filmmakers in Old Hollywood often came up through the ranks, and many of them were refugees from Europe, escaping the fascist regimes spreading throughout the continent in the 1920s, ’30s, and early ’40s.
Old Hollywood was vertically integrated, meaning the studios controlled production and distribution and held talent under long term contracts. All that started to fall away in the 1950s when the federal government forced the studios to divest themselves of most of their wholly owned distribution channels, which had behaved as a cartel, and as television poached audience share from the movie industry. Some star actors and directors cut themselves loose from the major studio system, forming ad hoc film companies which sought limited input from the big studios. Finally, in order to compete with television, studios more frequently rolled the dice on big budget spectaculars such as Ben-Hur or Cleopatra, and those high stakes gambles either saved financially unstable studios or sank them nearly to insolvency.
By the late 1960s, the movie studios primarily served as film financers and weren’t as heavily involved in production and distribution as they once were. Along with discarding the Hays Code of movie censorship, a relic of Old Hollywood, the changed paradigm of filmmaking allowed greater freedom and creative control for directors, actors, and writers. The result was the flowering of small to medium scale films that became the hallmark of the New Hollywood, films such as The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde, both released in 1967, and continuing with other great films made for adult sensibilities through the 1970s.
Jack Nicholson had a breakout role as an alcoholic civil rights lawyer in the 1969 film Easy Rider, directed by Dennis Hopper, who also starred in the film along with co-writer Peter Fonda. In taking on multiple tasks in the making of Easy Rider, Mr. Hopper and Mr. Fonda were more typical of New Hollywood than they were of Old Hollywood, where vertical integration assigned discrete tasks to different individuals within the studio system, and auteurism was discouraged by studio bosses who were leery of the practice ever since Orson Welles made Citizen Kane in 1941.
Jack Nicholson was the actor who became the face of New Hollywood filmmaking, simply because he was in more hit movies than anyone else during that time. His face, voice, and acting style and choices personified the New Hollywood era. Starting with Easy Rider in 1969, Mr. Nicholson was in one successful movie nearly every year, and in some years more than one, through the 1970s and into the ’80s. He has of course been in many successful films since then, and what is remarkable in retrospect from today’s vantage point when big budget sequels and reboots of franchises are Hollywood’s major output is that he has never repeated himself nor acted in one of those kinds of movies.
Since the demise of New Hollywood filmmaking, Jack Nicholson has chosen to stay with character driven films, though the number available for his participation diminished over the years, as he related in a 1995 interview with Roger Ebert. Even Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, in which Mr. Nicholson played The Joker, can be seen as character driven despite its comic book origins and inclusion of special effects. It was the first film of its kind to take the source material seriously, and it was well-made by some exceptional talents.
In a later scene in Easy Rider, Jack Nicholson’s character, George Hanson, discusses the state of the country with Dennis Hopper’s character, Billy.
Unfortunately the endless variations on Batman in the 30 years since its release have grown wearisome. But the movie that started the push for a return to blockbuster filmmaking came out 14 years earlier, in 1975, when Steven Spielberg’s film Jaws appeared in theaters that summer and set box office records. Jaws was followed in the summer of 1977 by Star Wars, a film created and directed by George Lucas that started a media franchise which continues to this day. Those films, too, were well-made by exceptional talents. In the years since their release, however, those kind of films and their lesser cousins have increasingly crowded out the kind of smaller, character driven movies Jack Nicholson and the New Hollywood were known for, the kind Roger Ebert described as generators of empathy. In times when we are in need of empathy generators perhaps more than ever, we are largely left to project ourselves onto special effects beclouded superheroes.
An ABC television publicity photo of Stan Freberg and a gong. This photo promoted a February 1962 special, Stan Freberg Presents the Chun King Chow Mein Hour: Salute to the Chinese New Year.
Stan Freberg ( 1926-2015) was an innovator in radio production in the 1950s and later in television advertisements, and his achievements were in technique as well as in content. He wrote, produced, and acted in his own works and contributed to those of others. His radio skits in particular were well designed soundscapes which were ahead of their time at the same time that they were the last of their kind. With his short-lived radio show of the late 1950s, Mr. Freberg rang out the end of radio’s golden age of original programming.
The technical limitations of most radio playback equipment of the 1950s probably did not do justice to the skill of Mr. Freberg and his colleagues at evoking an ambience capable of putting listeners in an imaginary, but convincing place. The care Mr. Freberg and crew took in production helped set up the listener for off kilter and absurdist content, making it all the funnier. Where their professionalism truly shined was in the stereophonic comedy albums they produced, which stood a much better chance of being played back on equipment capable of faithfully reproducing every nuance of sound effects and comic voice acting than the radio shows.
Had Stan Freberg been in his prime during the current age of podcasting he no doubt would have found the new medium well suited to his comic and technical skills. Similar limitations would apply for playback equipment, however, in that listeners using a smartphone without stereo ear pieces would not get the full effect of his satirical skits. Be that as it may, we are fortunate to have Mr. Freberg’s original recordings, and now with more ways than ever of listening to them. His brilliant satire shines through any medium, and his spirit of poking fun at our pretensions and reminding us not to take ourselves too seriously is the true Spirit of ’76, not any of the militaristic nonsense currently going on in the nation’s capital.
An animation of “Yankee Doodle Go Home (Spirit of ’76)”, from Stan Freberg Presents the United States of America Volume One: The Early Years. Stan Freberg as Yankee Doodle and as Bix, the Hip Fife Player, Walter Tetley as the Young Second Drummer, and Shepard Menken as the Officer. Paul Frees was the Narrator.
“And the Lord said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother’s keeper?” — Genesis 4:9, from the King James Version of the Bible.
Imagine a television game show in which the announcer calls four contestants from the studio audience to the foot of the stage, a stage that is a mock up of a pharmacy, with a counter behind which stands the host, looking like a pharmacist in a white smock. The host directs everyone’s attention to one side of the stage, where an assistant – also in a white smock – presents a year’s worth of a popular prescription drug, let’s say insulin. The host then asks the four contestants to guess the price of the insulin without going over the amount, and the contestant with the closest guess gets to come up on stage for the opportunity to win prizes.
A lithograph promoting James Morison’s alternative medicines, showing a skeletal figure surveying three doctors around a cauldron in a parody of Macbeth and the three witches. From the Wellcome Collection gallery, London, England.
The remaining contestants try again on the next round, and some of them go home empty handed. Almost all the studio audience in attendance go home without even having been invited to participate. The few winners in each episode get to take home expensive prizes such as the year’s worth of insulin, valued at thousands of dollars, but the majority of those attending a taping of the game show go home with nothing or with a cheap consolation prize, such as a bottle of gummy vitamins. This game show analogy is not far off how Americans seem to prefer having their health care system operate, particularly drug pricing.
If you’re lucky, if you win the lottery (another gamed system Americans seem to prefer over taxing the rich), then you’re good as gold. The majority, however, may run into problems and tough choices, such as paying the rent or buying insulin; paying utility bills or buying any of the number of the life preserving medications people depend on, particularly as they get older. Prescription drugs are every bit as crucial to survival for some people as food and shelter, and yet Americans seem to prefer to let the drug industry operate like any other capitalist endeavor. Profits for drug manufacturers are more important than a decent life for an unfortunate number of citizens who can’t afford the high prices those manufacturers demand simply because they can, and the people principally to blame for this awful situation are some cretins in Congress.
“Someday Never Comes”, by Creedence Clearwater Revival from their 1972 album Mardi Gras.
Who are the people responsible for putting those cretins in Congress and in positions where they can run cover for the drug companies? Why, they are in large part the same people who struggle to buy overpriced prescription drugs. Why do they do this to themselves? Ah, that is the question bedeviling America’s sickness today. The unfortunate part is that while some voters are caught up in Congressional posturing and not paying attention to substance, there are many voters who don’t share their ignorant love of machismo and capitalist lotteries and yet are forced to share the results of the bad policies ensuing from all that greed and childishness. They have to scramble for the scraps left over from the game, while a few wealthy grifters laugh at how they have duped enough voters to go along with their rigged game to keep it going, dangling prizes before the willing saps. Instead of gambling on a rigged capitalist lottery, sensible adults take measures, even – horrors! – socialist measures, to ensure decent results everyday for everybody when it comes to matters of survival like food, shelter, education, and medical care, including drugs.
Instant replay started in 1963 as a way of enhancing television viewing of sports contests when the initial action might have been too quick for sports fans watching at home to catch, or if they had been called away from the television momentarily. In the 1980s the National Football League (NFL), always the most technocratic of the major sports organizations, adapted the technology of instant replay to the sidelines of games, where referees could review controversial plays and possibly overturn the call on the field. It seemed like a good idea at the time because fans had always enjoyed second guessing the calls of officials in all sports, and since fans had access to instant replay and the ability to validate their second guessing, it seemed only natural and right to make the technology available to officials in order to set things right on the field.
30 or more years and many thousands of humdrum hours later, has all the insistence on exactitude done anything to improve sports over what it was before the intrusion of technology? The officials are given the opportunity to rectify calls, but at the cost of slowing athletic contests down to a crawl and boring the casual viewer to the point of changing the channel or not attending a game in person ever again. Some percentage of viewers, perhaps a minority (it’s hard to say, since statistics aren’t available), are satisfied that the official calls are correct, and everyone else could not care less. Meanwhile, the progression appears to be for adoption of instant replay in the officiating of more sports.
In a 2012 minor league baseball game, Jeff Isom, then the manager of the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers, argues with an umpire over a close call. He was later thrown out of the game. Photo by Wisconsin Timber Rattlers team photographer.
“I Wish”, by Stevie Wonder, from his 1976 album Songs in the Key of Life, is about his childhood in the 1950s and early ’60s.
Video technology is a useful tool in areas that really matter in people’s lives, such as the interactions between police and citizens, but it’s overuse for trivialities like sports shows a lack of perspective in our society. Most people are casual fans and do not live and breathe on the outcome of an official’s call in a sporting contest that ultimately means nothing in their lives. For the sake of satisfying the fanatic interest of a minority of die-hard enthusiasts, the major sports leagues are choking off the interest of casual fans. The leagues seem to understand this, but are determined to milk as much merchandising income from their devout followers as possible and that means keeping them happy at the expense of losing peripheral fans. Major League Baseball (MLB), the most traditional of the sports leagues, must have known this when it discarded almost all daytime playoff games a generation ago, and with that decision discarded cultivating the interest of youngsters who couldn’t stay up until midnight to watch a game stretched out to three or four hours. Arguing with parents about bedtimes has for many young sports fans replaced arguing about the minutiae of the games with their peers.
Viewers of American television shows from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s might have noticed that the families on shows of that era seemed to have lamb chops for dinner rather often, or certainly more frequently than most Americans eat lamb or mutton now. This doesn’t approach anything like a scientific proof of declining consumption of lamb and mutton since the mid-twentieth century, and at that it would only prove a decline among the demographic of the white Anglo-Saxon Protestants who were the main representatives of Americans on television then, but there it is nonetheless. On old shows like Father Knows Best and Leave it to Beaver, the characters were eating lamb chops regularly, but after the 1970s hardly anyone ate lamb chops anymore.
A British shepherd with a lamb and his Border Collie in the 1890s. Photo from the National Media Museum of the United Kingdom.
Ham has always been more popular in Middle America than lamb, and Easter dinner was no different. It was in immigrant communities in the cities of the east and west coasts that lamb was popular, at Easter or anytime. Nevertheless, through the middle years of the twentieth century lamb and mutton were widely available throughout the country and competitively priced with other meats at supermarkets and butcher shops. Much has been made of the learned distaste for canned mutton among service members returning from overseas duty in World War II for the eventual decline in popularity of sheep meat in America, but statistics and anecdotal evidence of the popular culture as represented on television programs discount the impact of that one factor.
The increased use of synthetic fabrics over wool contributed to the drop in sheep herding, but that also is overemphasized, considering that synthetic fabrics gained ground in other countries as well, places like Australia and New Zealand where sheep herding remains a large part of the agricultural economy. What separates American sheep raising culture most from the rest of animal husbandry is the difficulty of conforming it to the needs of large scale agribusiness. In the generations after World War II, when family farms were swallowed up in large numbers by agribusiness concerns which consolidated the raising of chickens, beef cattle, and pigs into factory farms, the raising of sheep, and particularly lambs, resisted conforming to factory farm standards. As a result, American lamb and mutton became more expensive than comparable weights of chicken, beef, or pork.
American sheep herdingdeclined to a cottage industry, which had the ironic effect of insulating it further from the factory farming practices which had taken over other areas of animal husbandry by the end of the twentieth century. The mutton and lamb available in Middle American supermarkets in the same period was likely as not imported from Australia or New Zealand. The imported meat was cheaper than American raised mutton and lamb despite the long shipping distances because of the economies of scale in those countries, where sheep were still raised in the tens of millions. Americans generally did not favor the imported meat over beef, chicken, and pork, however, because of the “gaminess” they noted in it, a product of the types of sheep raised in Australia and New Zealand and the pasture they were raised on. Americans had gotten so used to the blandness of meat produced by grain diets for factory farmed animals that they started rejecting anything stronger.
From The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show of the 1950s, the two performers reenact one of their vaudeville routines for announcer Harry Von Zell. As Americans begin to reject factory farming out of both the inhumane nature of it and the unhealthy food it produces, prospects for sheep herders in this country are improving. Considering the practices most, but certainly not all, of them have adhered to over the last half century through some bad times, it’s not that they ever went anywhere, but that the rest of us did and are now drifting back to them in dribs and drabs. If it weren’t for the support of the immigrant population and their preference for American lamb and mutton, the sheep herders here would not likely have survived the lean times in sufficient numbers to crank up operations again with the promise of supplying more Easter dinners. Of the lambs the best that can be said is that unlike many of their unfortunate cousins on the factory farms their lives, however brief, may be more natural and even peaceful.
“I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. No Viet Cong ever called me Nigger.”
― Muhammad Ali (1942-2016), speaking in 1966 in protest of the military draft.
Nearing the end of another NFL season, it’s easy to see how important a quality backup quarterback can be to a team’s fortunes in making it into the playoffs. Sixteen games, some of them on short rest on Thursdays, takes a toll on starting quarterbacks, especially since teams have become pass oriented in the past thirty or more years. When teams ran more than they passed, which was generally the case until about 1980, quarterbacks didn’t take as much of a beating as they do now. The NFL, as it has too often done, tinkered with the rule book at about that time, changing it to favor the passing game and increase scoring. No more low scoring defensive slug fests, if they could help it. Air Coryell, named for Don Coryell, the head coach of the San Diego Chargers from 1978 to 1986, became the model for a new style of NFL play.
The NFL has allowed greed to take the upper hand and has over saturated the market. Player protests against police brutality are the least of its problems, much as league officials would like to blame the protests for all its problems. Slipping in the television ratings started several years ago, before the protests began. The league’s real problems begin with a rule book as complicated as the Talmud, and the rigorous application of all its tenets can slow games to a crawl, along with all the artificial television timeouts taken to cram in over an hour’s worth of commercials into each game. The game has become a technocratic bore.
Johnny Unitas signing an autograph at the Baltimore Colts’ Westminster, Maryland training camp in the summer of 1964. Unitas, the starting quarterback for the Colts from the late 1950s to the early 1970s, was often hurt, but his backup many of those years, Earl Morrall, was probably the best in NFL history. Photo by Joel Kaufman.
Speaking of the protests, it seems there is no one around in the media to speak up for the players the way Howard Cosell spoke up for controversial athletes in his day. Mr. Cosell lent a real world perspective to sports that is missing today. Yes, he was bombastic, but the bombast was always mere showmanship, and most people understood that. Some were so irritated by Mr. Cosell that they couldn’t see past his bombast and arrogance, all of it done with a sly wink, and therefore they tuned him out, missing his points about keeping a realistic, adult perspective on sports in the larger world.
Comedian Billy Crystal tells a story about Howard Cosell in this 2013 appearance on David Letterman’s late night talk show. Howard Cosell was a good backup for his viewers against the more real and destructive bombast and arrogance of NFL owners and marketers, as well as other authority figures in sports and in the politics surrounding it. He would have backed up the players protesting police brutality now similarly to the way he backed up Muhammad Ali when Ali refused to comply with the draft. The league doesn’t always look out for the players’ best interests when they make rules changes and schedule expansions out of greed, and it appears no one in the current media has the stature and integrity Howard Cosell had in the late twentieth century, and will as he did back up athletes when they exercise their constitutional rights as citizens.
Howard Cosell guest starred as himself on a 1972 episode of the television situation comedy The Odd Couple, with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. Ironically, Mr. Cosell was at the height of his fame then largely because of his broadcasting duties on Monday Night Football, which started in 1970, inaugurating the bloat of the NFL into the ubiquitous bore it has become today.
Some people have an inordinately difficult time shutting off their smartphones and putting them away. Several entertainers have tried over the past few years to ban the use of phones for recording their concerts, to the point of enlisting the help of a company that makes locking pouches for smartphones. People check their phones into the locking pouches at the door and continue inside with their phones still with them, but unusable. To use their phones during the concert, they must return to the lobby to have the pouch unlocked, and then when they’re done using their phone they repeat the procedure of locking it in the pouch before going back into the theater.
Ignoring each other, two women check their smartphones. Photo by Michael Coghlan from Adelaide, Australia.
It’s a shame adults have to be treated that way, like children who can’t be relied upon to control selfish behavior even for the few hours of attending a concert where they should recognize the rights of the entertainer giving a performance, as well as their fellow audience members. Experience has shown, however, that simple requests to put away phones are not effective, at least not for an oblivious, thoughtless few. Once those few flout the rules, others are emboldened to do the same. The result is a diminished experience of the concert for some attendees because they are forced to view it through a forest of smartphones held over the heads of others in front of them.
Besides public venues where obsessive use of smartphones can get in the way, there are semi-public areas like classrooms, and private areas such as home dining tables, where phone use diminishes experience. Since some people simply won’t heed the call to shut their phone off, perhaps the locking pouch will be the best answer in those private and semi-public settings as well. Imagine attending a family gathering this holiday season where the various family members actually get together with each other and catch up on news and views. For some families, staring into their respective phones is preferable to talking to each other, but in their cases the phones are not the problem, but a way of ignoring the problem.
A woman in Japan checks her smartphone. Photo by francisco.castro.
People can use television in a similar way, though it’s more difficult because everyone can view what’s on television, thereby making cause for discussion. Some television viewers try to forestall discussion by turning the volume up to ear-splitting level, making conversation practically impossible. Even at that level of discouragement, television viewing at a family gathering doesn’t entirely isolate individuals to the extent of generalized smartphone use. Add an earpiece attached by a wire or wirelessly, and that person or persons might as well have not attended the gathering at all. Or the family dining table. Or the classroom.
Like the western TV shows and movies where a town institutes a rule that everyone coming into town must leave their guns at the sheriff’s office, conduct their business, and then retrieve their guns upon leaving town, perhaps in the near future it will become standard practice to insist smartphone users check their devices into locking pouches before interacting with others in planned settings like concerts, classrooms, and even family gatherings. When the itch strikes the afflicted smartphone user and he or she simply can’t resist any longer the urge to scratch, that person will have to exit to the lobby or to the outside of the building and, after unlocking their device from its pouch at the door, enjoy a few minutes of sweet relief away from others, like a smoker huddled in a designated area. Those locking pouches could offer the boost that’s needed to bump pervasive, impolite smartphone use into the same territory of social disapproval as smoking in a theater, a classroom, or at the dinner table.