Saturday, January 31, 2009

a little late to the party ...

Three things I never really had a chance to blog about as they were happening:
  • The presidential inauguration. Way too many people smarter than me have already given their $.02 about it.
  • The plane crash in the Hudson. Holy smokes. I can only imagine what life would be like right now for me had I been on that plane with my wife, who detests flying as much as anyone I know detests anything.
  • The shifting around of the assistant coaches between Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn.
(Hold on -- I'm about to shift into soapbox mode.)

One of the many by-products of the years I've spent writing sports -- and, by extension, writing for a newspaper in general -- is that I've gained some perspective on the culture of fandom. Frankly, it's patently insane. That's probably the reason I've become less of a sports fan since I started working in sports -- the job requires me to think rationally and attempt to be objective, and that's not a mindset that's conducive to being a fan.
One of the other by-products of the job is that I learned a little about the lives of coaches, specifically assistant coaches (granted, I dealt mostly with high school coaches who weren't nearly so high-profile, but still). Most of them have been coaching in some capacity since before they graduated from college; most of them coach multiple sports they don't understand (volleyball, girls' soccer and so forth) trying to make a buck; most of them are married and see their families very little; most of them have very little in the way of money; almost all of them moved from one school to another regularly, always in search of a better job with better benefits and a better opportunity for advancement.

And so it was with a great deal of indifference that I took in the news of coaching changes during the offseason, first of Lance Thompson -- who defected from Alabama to Tennessee -- and then of James Willis -- from Auburn to 'Bama.
I was apparently one of the few. My friend Kurt -- the proprietor of and an unapologetic Auburn homer -- briefly lost his mind during a conversation about the Willis incident, declaring Willis had betrayed the Auburn family, and saying Auburn fans wouldn't ever accept him back in their good graces.
"If you even think about going to the other side, you don't understand the rivalry and we don't want you."
Now, after telling him how dumb this is about 60 different ways, I finally accepted that it was a pointless exercise and tried to change the subject.
The point is this, and I'm going to regurgitate a Scarbinsky column here: it is patently unfair for fans to expect these "rivalries" to mean as much to the participants as it does to us. In Willis' case, he was fired, then re-hired, then (apparently) asked to give back money he'd been given as part of a severance package (like Auburn's athletic department would miss it). Then Nick Saban suddenly had an opening on his staff, offering better pay for basically the same job.
Is it really fair for any of us to judge the man for accepting that? Aren't just about all of us at the age where we're always looking for a better deal? Isn't that more than a little unfair?
Here's another columnist I'll poach: Bill Simmons, right after Johnny Damon jumped Boston for New York:
[L]et's say your buddy has spent eight quality years working for a law firm. He loves everyone in his office, loves his job, never imagines going anywhere else ... and then another law firm comes swooping in and offers him a partnership and big bucks. And let's say he asked you for advice. Well, you know what you would do? You would tell him to take the big bucks. You would. I'm telling you ... you would. And when he does so, you would praise him for doing the right thing for his family. That's the way life works. With sports, for whatever reason, we expect athletes to do the right thing ... for us, not for them. When they choose themselves, we act like they mailed us a pile of dog poop. Somehow they're the ones being selfish.
We expect these guys to be loyal to us. In our heart of hearts, we should know better. What does Tennessee or Auburn mean to Nick Saban? It's unfair to say simply "it's the next game on the schedule," because he knows how much it means to the fans, and to his bosses. But does he sit up at night, watching old youtube videos of The Run in the Mud or Bo Over the Top? Somehow I doubt it.
Moreover, on more than one occasion, fans of Auburn, Tennessee and Alabama have been guilty of booing their own players at the first sign of trouble. Two years after Terry Bowden's Auburn team finished undefeated, the Tigers got drilled at home by Mississippi St. In the postgame, a caller told Auburn Network folks, "If Texas wants him, they can have him."
There's certainly no loyalty when it comes to that. Asking the coaches in this case to be "loyal" to us when we don't care a whit about them is more than a little unfair, and selfish.

Scarbo is right, folks. Get over yourselves.

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