Saturday, October 20, 2012
UMMers show creativity with sports and recreation
The young people of the 1950s gave us rock 'n' roll. It was alien to older people who reacted like they were revulsed. The young people of the 1970s gave us conflict. They engaged on political issues in a way that was anything but passive.
Today we have the millennials putting their stamp on our culture. Boomers aren't revulsed but they may be scratching heads. Millennials have grown up sheltered and are risk-averse. They are ages 9-30, and they might almost seem like that passive race of humans in the 1950s movie "The Time Machine." They believe in the "win-win." They have faith in conflict resolution.
I remember looking at the University of Minnesota-Morris campus newspaper in the 1970s, and being almost aghast at the level of conflict in student government. Student government itself is a curious institution. I suppose it's a "lab" type of experience for students with an inclination toward this type of thing. Looking back, I saw a lot of conflict that seemed much more trouble than it was worth. If it was a lab it was a dysfunctional lab. I observed those campus newspapers and would have sworn some of those individuals were at each other's throats.
It was these conflict-oriented boomers who gave the push for the NFL to become our preeminent sport, starting in about 1972. That was the year when Democrats were at each other's throats for their national convention. George McGovern gave his acceptance speech at an ungodly late hour, such were the slow-moving and rancor-filled machinations of it all. McGovern is on his deathbed as I write this.
The NFL was a lab of conflict in itself. Was this a wellspring for its appeal considering the tenor of the times? Boomers were emerging as the top demographic. The NFL was a stew of drama, danger and conflict. NFL Films fed us highlights in a way that made it all seem like actual combat. We rooted for teams we equated with "good." Each game had only one winner.
We thought little of the tremendous damage these gladiators were doing to each other's bodies and brains. We would have loved trading places with Wally Hilgenberg of the Vikings. Today we realize we were the lucky ones, just watching.
We cheered on linebacker Fred McNeill. McNeill developed dementia at an unreasonably young age. How many of us have wondered about Alan Page who is on the Minnesota Supreme Court? He was a lineman at Notre Dame and then with the Vikings. Does he get up a little nervous in the morning?
The boomers' favorite Viking teams lost four Super Bowls. Today those games are dwarfed in significance by the health issues looming over our once-beloved sport. And now the millennials are progressing toward middle age with their values that seem inconsistent with football.
All this dawned on me recently as I was departing from a UMM Cougar football game. I was on bicycle heading north through the campus. There was a large assemblage of students in that "hollow" next to the food service building. If that place doesn't have a name, it should. The football game wasn't over yet so these students obviously weren't among the fans. I'm not suggesting they were dissing the Cougars, just that they had a different priority. And that priority was: playing "quidditch."
I had to ask a student the name of this game. I put my bike down and watched a while. I was rather transfixed. Turns out the game comes from the "Harry Potter" series of books. It's a series associated with the younger crowd. My generation read "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
All this interest in the "quidditch" games showed that these young people were not transfixed by football. You could hear the football P.A. announcer nearby. But the kids were focused on their exotic game which perhaps they saw as healthier than football.
Quidditch can be somewhat rough but it doesn't entail the kind of collisions we see with football. It's considered "semi-contact." Created by J.K. Rowling, it's played in her world by wizards and witches. Since we can presume wizards and witches are imaginary, adaptations are called for in the real world. The real world version of the game is called "muggle quidditch." UMM students played this with fervor on the Saturday afternoon when I passed by.
Teams from over 200 colleges around the U.S. are affiliated with the International Quidditch Association and play tournaments. Such tournaments are featured at Harry Potter conventions.
A quidditch field is called a "pitch" and it's oval-shaped, 500 feet by 180 feet. We see three hooped goalposts at each end. The goalposts are at varying heights. There's a spherical "quaffle" ball, two jet black "bludgers" and a small golden ball called a "snitch." It seems a world apart from football, and quite refreshing.
I'd assert it's a failure of America's entertainment marketplace that football has achieved such preeminence. NFL football is allowed to virtually "rule" at various times in the week. That doesn't seem very American to me. American creativity and resourcefulness ought to come up with alternatives to draw viewers and interest. Now, it's as if everything outside of football just capitulates on weekends.
But football has to feel a little nervous about this. It knows the millennials are out there in rather substantial numbers with their passive tastes. People in football are also aware that all entertainment crazes or booms have their "run' and then tend to fade.
Head injuries in football should have gotten attention long ago but it's finally happening and it's changing the perception of the game. I wrote last summer that high school associations like the Minnesota State High School League should try to offer boys a new sport in addition to football. I suggested volleyball. Cross country isn't a valid option for boys who are large and heavy.
Seeing quidditch demonstrates that new games are possible. American inventiveness must be tapped.
I'm not sure Australian rules football is an option. Australian rules football gained lots of attention in the early 1980s when it filled time on the then-fledgling ESPN. What memories! Boomers became fascinated by this exotic sport which seemed to defy understanding. "It looks like they're making up the rules as they go along," a friend of mine said.
There are two teams of 18 players. The objective is to move the ball down the field and kick the ball through the goal. But all the movements in between seem rather random and chaotic. When running, a player must "intermittently" bounce the ball on the ground. There is no throwing, nor can you hold the ball. Contact and tackling are very much a part.
"Aussie Rules" football began in 1859 in Melbourne. The game begins after the "first siren." The season is March to August which in Australia is early autumn to late winter.
A lot of us joked about Australian rules football. I remember Father Nic Dressen here in Morris (Assumption Church) writing that Eagles baseball was a nice alternative to watching Australian rules football on ESPN. We watched the Aussie game as a puzzling curiosity. Today we wax nostalgic about it. Yes there are alternatives to American football. And we must think harder about those alternatives every day.
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org