Saturday, November 01, 2008

Day 36 (Round II) "In the trenches" (College Game Day edition)

ESPN College Game Day weekend.

I was never a huge college-sports fan (high school coaches hated me because I absolutely stone refused to go out for football--only sports I participated in at that age were fencing and backpacking, both essentially solitary), and 12 years of living in Bloomington in the Bob Knight era would certainly wean most people from the idea that college sports might actually have any redeeming social (as opposed to fiscal) value. And, prior to that, living in Midland-Odessa at the height of the era chronicled in H.G. Bissinger's great Friday Night Lights would further sour any sentient being on the idea that the toxic levels of enablement, physical rigor and mentoring vacuum, and social irresponsibility to which high school athletes are exposed coul have any kind of positive impact. Nobody in that book comes out very well, except for the athletes, and not all of them.

On the other hand, hanging with a couple of old-school Texas football jocks over the past 8 years has definitely (and positively) impacted my read on just how much psychological and physical discipline athletes have to buy-in to. Had the opportunity to spend an evening, about six months ago, with the strength coach and the Grey Eminence of an NFL team not very far down the road from here, and it was enlightening--not least in the extent to which revealed just how much those guys themselves have their own careers in perspective. The ease and comfort of the evening was substantially enhanced by the fact that 3 of the 5 adults in the room were Italian, that we talking and eating in somebody's kitchen (where everything important in an Italian family gets done), that the other 2 adults had literal decades invested in their Italian in-laws, that the NFL guys were absolutely gobsmacked by the music the the pasty-faced coach-potato musicians could make.

And, that every single person in that room had grown up in working-class families and/or neighborhoods. It's an old (but true) adage that, for most people in professional sports, their freakish good luck in the genetic sweepstakes has had to be matched with an astonishingly high level of discipline--and that most of them had that discipline because they came from families of stonemasons or restaurant cooks or farmers. One thing that I've learned from the jocks in my life is that, beyond the genetic sweepstakes, it's the work-ethic that makes people succeed in big-name sports. They may have their big houses in gated communities, or free travel pretty much everywhere, or a degree of coddling that somebody working on an assembly line can't even dream about--but they work their asses off in a physically punishing environment, without much job security, and with a very limited career shelf-life. And, they endure a lot of physical pain. And, they mostly have a remarkably skeptical and modest view of the significance of what they do. That's not to run-down what they do, but to articulate that they are no more hypnotized by the "importance" of what they do than, say, I was by my high school's football coaches.

So to today. I don't give a rat's ass about 95% of the bullshit that accompanies big-name college sports: the boosters and the logos and the merchants getting rich and the merchandising and the multi-million dollar bequests in support of athletics instead of academics or any of that other shit. Just like I don't give a shit about the billions of dollars that were made and spent on the Olympics or the contemptible political jockeying that every country, every college engages in around these activities.

But at the very heart of college sports is something very pure, which is the flat-out guts it takes to face the effort and physical pain that being an athlete encompasses. And (absent the sheer physical fear which that kind of hand-to-hand combat entails, which I think almost no musician can grasp at all) it's not too dissimilar to the discipline that a musician needs. You have to get up, morning after morning after morning, and do the same things over and over, with the most infinitesimal adjustments as you fine-tune the improvements. And it takes just ridiculous mental commitment to do that when (like a young athlete) a young musician doesn't know--and won't--if the raw physical talent is there unless/until s/he has spent the years of disciplined repetitive work.

It's a hard burden to carry and it's the reason that I believe talent is a way less significant indicator of eventual success than is discipline. You don't know what/whether you have talent unless/until you've spent the years to develop it. So, later for the weighting-up of "talent", OK? Just do the work--because that's the one thing that's under your control.

[updated to add]

OK, that was one for the storybooks:

1 comment:

Banjosnake said...

Yep. The game was on in the bar where I was gigging, and despite what I know you tend to think about the big-sport establishment, I was thinking about ya.I must say when the field was rushed at the end, I missed a few chords. Congrats, Tech.