Caught in the college basketball net

Another college hoops season has begun, bringing joy to millions of fans (myself included).

But there’s a seamy underbelly to sport, and the kids that play are merely pawns in a high stakes game that reaps billions for the NCAA. Yes, they get a scholarship, but that’s chump change compared to the money in play. Check out this New York Times article from a few months ago to read about one kid’s sad saga.

Brian Bowen Jr.  (Photo: Gregory Payan/Associated Press) 

A few excerpts below highlight the hypocrisy… bold emphasis is mine:

Playing in a gilded arena — the KFC Yum! Center — with luxury boxes and bars in the concourses that serve bourbon and other hard liquors, Louisville basketball has generated more than $45 million in annual revenue in recent seasons.

According to the government’s case, $100,000 is what it took to lure Bowen to Louisville and its Hall of Fame coach, Rick Pitino. Only $19,500 was actually paid to anyone — an amount equal to one-quarter of 1 percent of Pitino’s annual salary, $7.8 million.

Brian Bowen Jr. is not a defendant; he appears to have been a bystander.

After Louisville said he would not be allowed to play there, he transferred to the University of South Carolina — only to be told later by the N.C.A.A. that he could not play there, either. In that organization’s view, he seems to be irredeemably tainted. At 19 years old, he was a hoops pariah.

In court documents, prosecutors quoted the N.C.A.A. rule book extensively, and in doing so, called attention to stated principles that sounded antiquated, if not outright absurd. “Among the N.C.A.A.’s core principles for the conduct of intercollegiate athletics is a directive that ‘student-athletes shall be amateurs in an intercollegiate sport,’” the criminal complaint says, and that “‘student-athletes should be protected from exploitation by professional and commercial enterprises.’”

It was a curious claim, given that the N.C.A.A. — the Indianapolis-based nonprofit that governs college sports — is not just an enormous commercial enterprise but arguably an exploitive one. In the fiscal year that ended in 2017, the organization surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time. A majority of its income, $761 million, came from television rights to the season-ending basketball tournament popularly known as March Madness, an annual payment that increased to $869 million in 2018. The contract with CBS and Turner Sports stretches to 2032 and has an overall value of almost $19.6 billion.

That money, though, is just a fraction of what college athletes generate in football and men’s basketball. (The major college football programs essentially seceded from the N.C.A.A. when they formed the highly lucrative Bowl Championship Series in 1998, but their players still compete under the N.C.A.A.’s amateurism rubric.) Their labor is responsible for revenue that flows directly to their universities from a range of sources, including ticket sales, donations from wealthy boosters, in‑stadium advertising, conference broadcast rights and so-called shoe deals in which Nike, Adidas and Under Armour pay for the right to outfit teams — thereby turning ostensibly amateur athletes into human billboards.

Until the kids that are the “product” peddled by the NCAA get a bigger slice of the pie, they are playing a losing game.

 

 

 

Monday morning musings

If you aren’t signed up to receive the Gaping Void blog posts via email, you should do so posthaste. You’ll get a nice visual doodle with some words of wisdom in your inbox nearly every day. Little stuff that can make a big difference. Speaking of which, here’s a great Gaping Void post from this summer:

As you get older, it’s not the stuff on your highlight reel that makes you happy, but the normal stuff you do every day.

That first cup of tea in the morning. The walk after dinner with your spouse. Lunch in the office canteen with Bob from Engineering. That new yoga class.

Sure, the photos from your vacation in Paris, or the time you got a standing ovation at the conference may stand out, but those are only temporary highs.

So if you need to start improving my your life, instead of coming up with grand schemes, you might start paying more attention the little stuff.

Not to mention, trying to focus your ambition on the stuff that really matters: Being useful. Being loved. Staying healthy.

It may not sound too exciting, but over time it works far better than trying to live out a rock and roll fantasy to nowhere.

Just an observation.

Remember, remember, the 9th of November

Yes, I know Guy Fawkes Day is November 5th, commemorating the failed Gunpowder Plot of 1605. There’s even a nursery rhyme about it:

Remember, remember, the Fifth of November
Gunpowder treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, ’twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catch’d
With a dark lantern and burning match
Holler boys, holler boys, let the bells ring
Holler boys, holler boys, God save the King!

But November 9th, 1968 is the day that blew our family to smithereens. It’s the day my mom passed away. It’s been half a century… and nearly all of my lifetime. I was 3 years old. My siblings were 6, 5 and 2.

My mom was 33. My dad was 37. He was never the same. Nothing was ever the same.  

I’d like to light a match and blow up leukemia. Instead I’ll light a candle and pray for a cure.

Well, I’ve cried me a river, I’ve cried me a lake
I’ve cried till the past nearly drowned me
Tears for sad consequences
Tears for mistakes
But never these tears that surround me

Alone in this place with a lifetime to trace
And a heartbeat that tells me it’s so
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
And I need to cry 30 years or so
These are tears from a long time ago
These are tears from a long time ago
I’ve got these tears from a long time ago

Rock the vote

Today’s the day to rock the vote… even if you do a write-in vote for Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.

“If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.”

– David Foster Wallace

Big in Iowa. Big everywhere.

Bob Burns was the lead singer and main songwriter in a roots rock band back in the 90s. They were called Big in Iowa, even though Bob hailed from Hamilton, Ohio. They were big in Cincinnati, and even did a bit of international touring. But Big in Iowa never became big in Iowa (or the rest of the country for that matter), probably because they were a bunch of hefty, average Joe lads from the paper and steel mill towns near Cincy. They didn’t have, as Roxette would call it, “The Look.” (Yes, that’s the first, and we hope only, reference to Roxette in this blog.)

Bob got married in October of 2001. He needed a gig that was more stable than “rock and roller,” so he became a screener at the Cincinnati airport for the newly created T.S.A. Eventually he became the social media expert for the T.S.A., starting their official blog in 2008 and their Instagram in 2013. The Instagram account offered travel tips, often by showcasing the weird and wacky things people try to bring on board planes, using a great sense of “dad joke” humor that came straight from Bob.

F. Scott Fitzgerald claimed that “there are no second acts in American lives” but Bob’s second act as a social media dude made him more famous than his band ever did. In 2016, “Blogger Bob” was ranked #4 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of top Instagram accounts (#5 was Beyoncé, just for perspective).

The account won multiple awards like Webbys (given out by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) and Burns was featured in all forms of media with its increased popularity. He’d been profiled in the past year alone by NBC News, the Chicago Tribune, the Austin Statesmen and Mental FlossRolling Stone declared the account No. 4 on its list of best Instagram accounts and it got a nod from late-night TV host Jimmy Kimmell. Last month, Burns was featured on the syndicated TV program The Doctors. (Source: this CityBeat article)

A few weeks ago, Bob was bitten by a spider. The wound became infected… and Bob died of sepsis eight days ago, at the age of 48. He’s survived by his wife and two young daughters.

(The link to the GoFundMe page is here.)

“You can still find humor in the daily duties.” Here’s hoping we all can channel our inner Blogger Bob more often. We need it.

Friday focus: Seth

I know I repost Seth Godin’s stuff way too much, but it’s so darn thought-provoking. Here are a couple of points to ponder this weekend:

And here’s a recent blog post of his that should be required reading for every American:

We are not the enemy (if we try)

Fewer than 1% of our population works hard to divide us. To pit people against one another for their selfish aims.

These are the pundits, divisive politicians, media companies and short-term trolls who have decided that schisms and fights are a good way to achieve their aims.

But if everyone is demonizing the other, then everyone is the enemy to someone.

We end up spending our time fighting each other instead of fighting for the things that really matter. We end up focusing on the current thing while something more important shrinks away in the background.

It’s possible to be fierce, fierce in your dedication to change, to what’s right, to making things better–without finding the source of your power in the destruction of others.

We ought to be fighting inequality, corruption and inefficiency. Working to stamp out ignorance and missed opportunities while creating access and possibility. Keeping our promises and making things better.

Every system is improved when it’s in sync, and the narcissism of small differences is a seduction that keeps us from focusing on creating real value by doing important work.

Realizing that things can get better (they can always get better) opens the door for productive conversations, conversations that aren’t based on prior decisions about what team someone is on, and instead, on putting our shoulder to the work, taking responsibility and actually making things better.

We can fight injustice without becoming pawns in a boxing promoter’s game.

 

Playing soccer just for (penalty) kicks

My youngest kid plays soccer for the junior high team at his school. This past weekend, they won the city tournament, capping off an undefeated season. The finals came down to penalty kicks, and his team’s goalie, who is also our carpool buddy for practices, made a great leaping block of one PK to seal the win.

My son also played for the squad last year, as a 7th grader, and they won the tourney that year too. Which is certainly exciting, but it isn’t the be-all and end-all. Can you pick him out of the photo below?

Probably not. Because it’s a team sport. And the life lessons that come from that are what really matter. Last year, he didn’t get much playing time. Even this year, as an 8th grader and one of only five returning players, he wasn’t a starter. Because that’s how life works: nothing is handed to you. You have to work hard, get better, earn it. Which he did. Besides, a player can lead without being the leading scorer — he excelled at that.

The team’s practice jerseys have “Team over Self” written on the back. A not-so-subtle reminder of how to play.

I’m happy for the team, but not because they’re “champs”… because they’re a great group of kids who get along well with each other. Long after the trophies are collecting dust in a corner of the basement, the friendships he’s formed will remain. That’s a much bigger win in my book.

 

You’ve got the power

It’s easy to feel powerless these days. At work, at home, in the political arena, in social circles… or just when your cell phone dies…

But Brené Brown, in her book I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t): Making the Journey from “What Will People Think?” to “I Am Enough”, claims there are two types of power, which she calls “power-over” and “real power.” Here are a couple excerpts from the book:

Unfortunately, when most of us hear the word “power” we automatically jump to the concept of power-over — the idea that power is the ability to control people, take advantage of others or exert force over somebody or something. We think of power as finite — there’s only so much, so if I’m going to get some, I’m forced to take it away from you.  

But real power is far more… you guessed it… powerful.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines power as “the ability to act or produce an effect.” Real power is basically the ability to change something if you want to change it. It’s the ability to make change happen. Real power is unlimited — we don’t need to fight over it because there is plenty to go around. And the great thing about real power is our ability to create it. Real power doesn’t force us to take it away from others — it’s something we create and build with others. 

Have a powerful day!

Gone but not forgotten

T.S. Eliot said “April is the cruellest month” but September and October have been pretty darn harsh for my college friends. We’re in our 50s, which means our parents are in their 70s and 80s, which means The Grim Reaper has been making a lot of house calls.

First to leave us over the past month was Alice, the mother of my friend Vinnie. Because I work in communications (and have always been good about keeping track of email addresses), I’m usually the one that gets the call (or text or email) and is saddled with the very un-fun task of letting the rest of our gang know about the “celestial discharge” as my wife and her nurse friends call it.

Two days after the celebration of life for Alice, my friend Robin sent word that her father Gil (a.k.a. “Gil The Thrill”) had passed away. When I sent out the note about Gil, my friend John emailed back to let me know that his mother Marilyn had gone to a better place. When I sent out word about Marilyn, I got an email and text back that our friend Jeff’s father had died rather suddenly. I’m starting to fear that my email notes are like those old chain letters, but in reverse. “If you DO pass this along, bad things will happen.”

I don’t want to be a complete Debbie Downer about it. All of these parents led full lives and raised great children. But I know firsthand that losing a parent is brutal.

My favorite author is Ray Bradbury. My favorite short story of his, The Leave-Taking, is about death… but it’s as far removed from morbid as can be. If you’ve lost a beloved parent or grandparent, please take five minutes to read it. And remember what Ray says: “No person ever died that had a family.”

My friend Vinnie’s brother John wrote a wonderful tribute to their mother, and shared it at her celebration of life gathering. He’s given me permission to post it below. But first, the backstory: Alice and her husband had seven kids, six rowdy boys and then a baby girl. When their youngest was still an infant, her husband left her… and she was left with the gargantuan task of raising seven children all by herself. The fact that all seven have been successful is great, but the fact that they are wonderful human beings is even more important.

                                         Our Renaissance Mother

           Mom marched to the beat of several drummers—each uniquely her own.   Referred to as “The Duchess” in the Farrell family household back in Philly, she was not only captain of her field hockey and basketball teams in high school, but also homecoming queen. She drew high honors in her academic endeavors at Mount Saint Joseph’s Academy and at Trinity College.  She walked down the fashion runway as a model back in the day, and was an artist who picked out the perfect shade of yellow for our family’s front door on Stratford Road. A Jill-of-all trades; she turned an old cast iron claw foot tub into a flower garden, cooked homemade meals for people in need, and started a sharing library for her neighborhood at her last home in Severna Park.  Mom was somehow always transforming herself, never being ashamed or too proud to do so. She inspired us all to do the same.

          We all could sit here for weeks on end and tell stories about this lady. But I guess that is why Mom wanted this party–so we could share those stories and maybe create some new ones.  There is nothing more honorable than having your wisdom passed down in a story, and Mom (or “Grandma,” or “Aunt,” or “Sister,” or “Friend,” or just “Alice”) had thousands of them.

          Mom once told me she was born too early, and if she had come of age in this day and time she would have been a doctor, or president of a company or even of these United States.  While those titles could have been impressive, I am so grateful and honored to call her Mom. She often sacrificed her own dreams and goals for her 7 children, 19 grandchildren and 2 great grandchildren.  Mom was our first caregiver, our first friend, our first teacher who helped shape and form all our strong foundations. Teaching us that there is no substitute for higher education, independence and a good upbringing, she passed down her wisdom, her values, her manners, her strength, her dedication, and her determination using tough love (and the occasional bar of soap in the mouth) helping prepare us all for what existed outside our front doors.  And by “all,” I mean every one of us gathered today since Mom was a true believer that “it takes a village to raise a person.” The tough part, she once told me, was knowing when to let go and let us all live our own lives.

          The whole family meant everything to Mom and she did everything in her power to keep it together.  The glue at times grew thin and dry, but Mom made sure it never broke. When I was young, she took night classes to acquire a second college degree in accounting to help keep the powdered milk on the table and the heat set at 52 degrees.  Even in the end Mom was thinking and giving of herself to her world family. She was always ready to send a small check to support various charities, and she asked that the final one be written to the St. Vincent de Paul Society. She recently told me an interesting story about why she had wished her body to be donated to Johns Hopkins University Medical School.  Mom told me that her father had applied and was accepted to Johns Hopkins many years ago, but his family could not afford to send him there. Her grandfather (his father) was a coal miner. Her father eventually graduated from Temple University and became a doctor. But Mom wanted to make sure her father got to Johns Hopkins one way or another.

         Mom was always a task-oriented person — one who did not find fulfillment at the end of the day unless a project was completed or new one was underway. Well Mom… you have done your job and you have done it well.  Sit back and relax. We will take it from here and we will pass along your wisdom and unconditional love so the next generations can build upon it. Something you and the world will be proud of.

We will love you and miss you forever.  May God bless you and keep you.

 

 

Monday morning breakfast Patti

The punk rock poet high priestess Patti Smith is 71 years young, and she has a lot of wisdom to share about the power of positivity, even in times of despair. Please read this Yahoo! article and this one from the LA Times. Ostensibly they’re about fighting climate change (a cause Patti’s daughter Jesse is championing), but no matter where you stand on that issue, you can find some pearls from Patti in the articles. A few excerpts are below.

From the Yahoo! article:

And in terms of everything else, I would just say that each of us, we each have one life, and we cherish the lives around us. We cherish our family. We cherish our children. We cherish life itself, and I think in these times that are so dark and seem so overwhelming, partially because also the social media and the media in general, we’re being bombarded, and also by our own government, bombarded, bombarded with so much conflict, so much negativity, so many fear-inducing statements or news, that we just have to find some way every day to be grateful to be alive, to be grateful for what we have, and try to just take a beat every day.

I know that sounds so simple, and it’s not a religious or philosophic thing. It’s just a human thing. It’s really hard starting the day quick looking to see what bad thing has happened [on the news]. So start the day, drink a glass of water, think about what you want to do today, think about what makes you happy. Any small thing to start the day feeling some energy for and enthusiasm for life, because it’s so easy to get beaten down as soon as you wake up. And that’s what I do, because I felt myself getting caught in that loop, starting with the election process. I admit that, and I’m not usually a person that can be brought down or made anxious. And we have to fight that, because it becomes its own addiction. We have to fight that inclination and try to enter the day just glad to be alive, because no matter what is the stuff is going on around us, it’s beautiful to be alive.

We only have [one life]. This is what we have. Despite our belief system, if one believes in afterlife, resurrection, or all these things, right now on Earth, this is the life that we have. And there’s so much beauty and so much wondrous things. We have to find a way to save a little for ourselves every day. And remind ourselves why it’s beautiful to be alive. Go to the botanical gardens and look and think, “This is what we want to preserve.” Go to the river and say, “This is what we want to be clean.”

And from the LA Times piece:

Well, I think, like anyone else, it can be debilitating. It can be depleting, humiliating, every single day. It’s amazing that there’s not a single day that goes by that something is said — our so-called president carries things out in such a way that he can’t make one gesture without trying to magnify himself.

Truthfully, I have found it so difficult. But my philosophy has been in the last several months just to do my work. I keep attentive to what is going on — I know exactly what’s going on on the news. But I have to put it in a certain place, because I’m 71 years old. I have a lot of work to do — a lot of positive work to do. And I think that if I can’t change the things that are happening right now, what I can do is just resonate positivity, strength, unity, individuality.

You know, when others articulate things in a strong and dignified manner, we have to magnify that type of response. In the end, no matter how bad things get I always believe that good will prevail. So I just try and do as much good work as I possibly can from the smallest gesture on, and that’s why I am supporting my daughter’s work.

All I can say is, focus on the good that you can do. We want a pandemic of good. We want a pandemic of positive change. I think that we all just have to find each other, step through the mire, find each other, support each other and do good work.