Not For Long: How the NFL pushed fans like me away from the game

3 Aug

This is a post that has been long overdue. And it should’ve been written years ago, but there were more pressing issues to think and write about. But now on the heels of the NFL trying to place a stranglehold mandatory vaccine initiative on its players, I figure its time to get it all out in the open.

There was a time when football was my favorite sport to play and watch. From 1989-1995, it was my sport. I remember when the NFC East was the the NFC “Beast” and anyone winning that conference was all assured of winning the Super Bowl. Sure I was a die hard Cowboys fan, but the Eagles had Randall Cunningham, and the New York Football Giants had legendary defensive players and had an epic Super Bowl run in 1990 that cemented my fandom. Throw in the big time, bone crushing hits that made the sport popular, and it was the perfect balance of brutality and ballet.

My fandom waned as the Cowboys star dimmed, and my interests in other things intensified (school, girls, drugs, music) but you could catch me watching some fool’s ball on the right Sunday if a matchup was intriguing enough. Even if I didn’t watch, I still kept up with who played for what team. But with each passing year, I noticed subtle changes the competition committee would employ to make the game more exciting for the casual fan. I would say by the mid 2000’s, the league was obviously trying to push the league in a direction that would benefit players like Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady. Now, the NFL is glorified Arena League ball, or comparable to flag football on steroids. But there are a number of reasons why I don’t watch the NFL. Like to hear them? Here it go.

Reason #1: The Death of the Big Hit

I fell in love with football because it was a gladiator sport. If you were a receiver going across the middle, chances were you were going to get crushed into smithereens. Big hitters like Steve Atwater, Ronnie Lott, Chuck Cecil, Andre Waters, Thomas Everett would take a receivers had off. Yes it was violent, and it was dangerous, but that was the fun of it. The Ravens-Steelers rivalry from last decade was the last penchant of real football left. Now the league has legislated all the big hits out of the game. Defensive players can only hit the quarterbacks between the numbers on their uniforms. Hits above the shoulders or below the knees get flagged and they introduced a “defenseless receiver” rule where if a player isn’t looking, they can’t be hit. Whatever. I blame fantasy football. So much money and viewership is made from gambling and fantasy football participants–many of which never really cared for the game until they started playing–that the league has a vested interest in keeping the offensive players healthy; even at the expense of the defensive players (who still have to make their money somehow).

Reason # 2: Thursday Night Football

You can pinpoint both an uptick in injuries and a drop off in quality of games right around 2006, when the league introduced Thursday night games. The thinking was that Sundays and Mondays weren’t enough football for the week, the world needed more product which would equate to more money for owners and a crumb or two for the players. How the NFLPA agreed to this, I don’t know. But it has been proven time and time again that they have the weakest player union in all of sports (one could even argue that in a sport driven by Black athletes, it is a microcosm for the larger world, where Black faces like Gene Upshaw and DeMaurice Smith, serve as “representation” for the larger population, but only obtain benefits for a small minority). The Thursday night games as a whole have been mostly poor quality, filled with turnovers and injuries. Players often complained about the shortened week after a Monday night game, where there is a quick turnaround and less time to recover from the week’s previous game. Now a team can play on Sunday and then turn around and play four days later. Most players say that they are usually still bruised and aching up until Friday of a normal week of play. To add insult to injuries (pardon the pun), the NFLPA agreed to a 17th game; starting this upcoming season. All I can say is that we teach others how to treat us. The NFLPA is as fangless as the Congressional Black Caucus.

Reason #3 The Plantation Model

The NFL is just one big plantation. It really starts back when players are in college, playing for these huge programs that generate millions of dollars for universities (Football generally makes money for the rest of the sports at a school) and their coaches. Players have to keep in line and if they so much as speak up about an issue within the program or in society, they can get their scholarship revoked or playing time culled if they offend a coach or donor. This feeds into the mentality of the pro player who becomes conditioned to just shut up and play. The optics of this looks real bad when consider there are no Black owners in the NFL, and only one Black general manager–in a sport that is about 70% Black (especially at the skill positions). There are only a handful of Black NFL head coaches, and for a long time, you would be lucky to see two or three Black starting quarterbacks.

Then there are the uniforms. The league is extremely particular about how a player should look during the game. A player can get fined for having the wrong colored socks or cleats. Any messages written on their uniforms–no matter how well intentioned—can be garner a fine of tens of thousands of dollars.

To top it off, players couldn’t even openly celebrate without their team getting penalized on the field and garnering a fine later in the week. The NFL is the king of squeezing out the individuality of its players in favor of a “uniform” look.

Lastly, there is the issue of Colin Kaepernick. While I can agree that the NFL is a private industry (that somehow garnished non-profit status while raking in billions of dollars) and they have the right to give a job to whomever they want, as a consumer, I also have the right to support or not support that industry. There was a large contingent of fans (and let’s face it, most of the owners are huge GOP donors) offended by what Kaepernick was saying in the media, and by what he was protesting. Was there collusion to keep him from landing another job? Probably. Kaepernick didn’t have to opt of his contract with one year remaining, and he didn’t have to sign that settlement. But he is probably better off for doing so. He made millions in a sport where your livelihood can be taken away in one play–which reminds me– NFL players are the only sport without guaranteed contracts. They can rip a player’s contract up at any time and send them out in the street.

Reason #4 Roger Goodell

I could write a whole article about the buffoonery of Roger Goodell if it weren’t already well documented. Its no coincidence that the quality of play in the NFL dropped around the time Commissioner Paul Tagliabue stepped down in 2006. Goodell anointed himself the judge, jury, and executioner of “The Shield”. Players were now being fined and disciplined for off the field matters in addition to what they did on the field. Goodell bungled high profile scandals like “Spygate”, “Bountygate”, the referee lockout of 2012 (which was an embarrassment), (the alleged) CTE cover up by the NFL that resulted in Will Smith making a movie and using a bad accent in it, and also the Ray Rice fiasco. I couldn’t figure out how such a bumbling idiot was able to keep such a profile job until I read that the NFL had made the most money it had ever made with ole Roger Dodger manning the helm.

As it is, with a lot more adult responsibilities, I don’t even think about the NFL very often. Sundays are spent with family, or working on projects. I don’t miss it. In fact, I missed it more when I was watching it–pining for the good ole days of Ronnie Lott and Bo Jackson, and Mike Singletary. But it was a good run. I’d go as far as to say 2012-2013 was the last year I really had any vested interest in who won the Super Bowl. Every year thereafter, I just hoped it was anyone but the Patriots (which could be another post in itself). Who knows, maybe I would’ve outgrown it anyway. All that being said, I guess I’m happier without it. Even if it is America’s favorite sport.

Geeking Out on Live De La

3 Jun

MM..Leftovers: Random Thoughts from Binge Listening to MF DOOM for an Entire Month

1 Feb
  1. I wasn’t listening to much current hip hop by the time Operation: Doomsday came out. I bought one new release in 1999, and it was The Roots, Things Fall Apart which at the time, felt like the most important record to come out that year. Its hard to listen to DOOM’s first album with my ears from that time. Life was drastically different–especially New York. I don’t even know if I would have liked that album then. I had a huge bias for West Coast rap, then my preferences went South, then Midwest and finally to the east coast. Seems backwards I admit, but to a southern boy who had yet to visit the Mecca of hip-hop, New York may as well have been the moon. I loved Wu-Tang, but Wu-Tang was universal, but other than that, I wasn’t checking for much rap coming out of the east coast. Audio wise, Doomsday has that rawness of Enter the 36 Chambers, so there is a chance that I would’ve loved it had I heard it when it was first released, but as a 19 year old, chances are slim that I would’ve had the insight to understand it.
  2. My palette wasn’t sophisticated enough back then to appreciate it had someone dropped that album down in front of me. I can see why Mos Def immediately vibed to it, and why ?uestlove didn’t quite rock with it. Thinking back on how differently things were in the late 90’s there was nothing like this out. Operation: Doomsday has that DIY, punk rock aesthetic that feels so fresh among the other types of production and albums coming out back then. I see why it was so influential for fans and artists who championed it. It is a very charming record, but is still hardcore and street, with an undercurrent of the ethos that hip hop originated in. For those disillusioned with the direction rap music was going (consider for example, Nas at the beginning of that decade to the music he was making by the end of it) I see why this album was so revered.
  3. It is an absolute shame that the KMD album Black Bastards didn’t get released when it was supposed to be. It was completed in 1993, had it come out that year, it would’ve held its own place in the Canon of that year. I think it is as strong as anything that was released–this includes Midnight Marauders, Enter the 36, Doggystyle, Enter Da Stage, Digable Planet’s Reachin’ ,and 93 Til Infinity. The production is tight and the beats are warm and rich–so good that I still haven’t had a chance to study the lyrics(you can even see a little hint of future DOOM production if you pay attention). But I do think had I come out the year it was completed, Black Bastards would be regarded as a borderline classic album instead of this uncomfortable and unfortunate footnote.
  4. In 2004, when Champion Sound, MM FOOD, and Madvillain came out, I was drinking tea with white chicks and listening to boring old jazz records on my turntable. Later that Fall, I discovered Post-Rock music. I couldn’t be any further out of the hip-hop loop that year.
  5. One thing I love about DOOM’s production is that he samples songs that my parents and aunts and uncles listened to when I was growing up. Some of the beats take me back to Saturday mornings filled with the smell of Pine Sol the sounds of Anita Baker and Sade.
  6. It makes me feel good to hear all these stories from others who revered MF DOOM and those who knew him perfectly. His streams and music sales spiked considerably since news of his death and that brings a smile to my face. I hope his family and estate are getting some fat royalty checks.
  7. Listening to DOOM this past month has been pretty therapeutic–as well as educational. He wasn’t my favorite but he should have been. The man was a pure artist. DOOM was one of our last links to that final golden age of New York hip hop–a long and fruitful career that spanned 3 different eras. He started out as a break dancer and graffiti guy, then moved on to rhyming and production and performing. When I think of hip hop purist, DOOM and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def) come to mind. Funnily enough, DOOM though of himself as more of a hip hop novelist than just a guy who rhymed. He was more interested in creating worlds and characters and writing good stories, as opposed to just rhyming over beats. There is a consistent level of humor, levity and brilliance that runs through all of his projects. Listening to DOOM’s music feels like a celebration; reminding me all of what’s important and good in the world. I am angry there wasn’t someone around to make me sit down and listen to his music earlier than when I finally did. I’ve always considered myself a DOOM fan, but now I’m a recent convert to a DOOM-head. He was definitely one of the best to ever do it—many say THE Best. Hip Hop lost a legend last year.
  8. If you think about DOOM’s life, it actually feels like a comic book. Smart, mild mannered man encounters tragedy and hits rock bottom, but has the vision and drive to become one of the most legendary rappers of all time. Considering the hand that was dealt to DOOM, it would’ve been easy for him to give up his dream and get a 9-5. But it didn’t break him. To endure that kind of adversity and become who he was shows how much confidence and positivity the man must’ve had. Respect. His is a story that is very inspiring.

That DOOM Pack

14 Jan

Snapshots of Lawrence

10 Jan

I washed my hands

looked into the mirror

and smiled.

Kansas wasn’t an easy move to make.

You have to want to find Lawrence.

You don’t wind up there by accident.

You can’t fly there

and no bus or train will take you without

stopping in Kansas City, Missouri first.

I’d left the comfortable trappings

of a cushy middle management gig

in Texas for a period of uncertainty

in some random college town that most of my friends

didn’t know existed.

It made sense to no one but me.

I needed to absorb the history of the town

where modern basketball was birthed

long after the first shots of the Civil War rang out.

A town where Nick Collison became a local legend

and Hall of famers like Wilt the Stilt,

Paul Pierce and JoJo White made their bones.

Greg Ostertag starred at the neighboring high school

in Dallas.

Met Gale Sayers once in an elevator

who I had no idea–before that day–that he was a KU alum.

He looked nothing like Billy Dee Williams.

I once asked a coworker who’d

played center at Oklahoma State,

what it was like to play in Allen Fieldhouse as a visitor,

and he said it was “kinda spooky.”

One of the best years of my life was spent living in Lawrence, Kansas

But I didn’t know that yet.

I would’ve never guess that I would roam the same halls

where Danny Manning won a high school state championship.

Didn’t know how often I would run into guys like

Wayne Simien, Scott Pollard and Ben McLemore

randomly at places like the grocery store or the taco shop.

Or that I would enjoy some of my best moments

microdosing and playing basketball with friends

or one of the most memorable birthdays ever

at an in conference game with two good buddies.

All those summer visits to Lawrence and KC led to this:

playing pickup soccer under soft Kansas sunsets,

learning on the fly in a semi competitive league.

pining to meet someone

who’d lived in Lawrence during the golden age of 1996 to 2003.

Before the development of the west side

and destruction of the marshes.

None of it made sense.

How do you explain the chills of

being in attendance at game in Allen Fieldhouse

walking around with all the ghosts in town?

It was something one had to experience for themselves.

The intensity and fun of various pickup games

on the town’s many courts–

and the beauty of seeing basketball hoops in every other driveway.

Those pleasures would not be mine

had I not taken that chance.

Moved to the middle of nowhere

to a state where I knew no one

and didn’t have a notion of how I would make a living,

or frankly, where I would live.

But it would all work out

in ways I could never predict.

Of course, I didn’t know that at the time

staring in the mirror

and drying my my hands,

before joining the throng

of people playing board games

in the living room.

It definitely felt like home.

I just wasn’t sure for how long.

~Bob E. Freeman

DOOM Haiku

10 Jan

The mask was a plan.

Perfectly executed,

and all on his terms.

~Bob E. Freeman

Death of a Super Villain

7 Jan

The feeling I have around the Hip Hop’s loss of MF Doom is very similar to how I felt when I found out that brilliant and underrated comic Patrice O’ Neal. Both artists were not quite for everyone, but typically, a bond formed was with anyone I encountered who also shared a love for both Doom and O’Neal. Fans of both men were the epitome of the term “cult following.”

There were a few reasons for this, neither artist got the mainstream love that their contemporaries got, but if you did your homework, you’d find that their professional peers were just as big of fans (if not bigger) as so called civilians with O’Neal being known as the “comedian’s comedian” and Doom “your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper”. Neither men were afraid to be hated. In fact, both embraced being thought of as the villain.

Doom was never in my top five MC’s, but after listening and re-listening to his music nonstop since the year began, I’m questioning why. A few years ago, I was geeking out on my favorite MC, Yasiin Bey a.k.a. Mos Def, and found a video post of him talking about how big of a fan he was of DOOM. In the video Bey is going off the top of the dome quoting his favorite DOOM lyrics. To see Bey, a renowned poet himself, gush over DOOM’s songs gave me a different perspective. I’d often see his music as cartoonish and comical, but the more I dug, the grittier I found DOOM to be.

Funnily enough, my first exposure to KMD (Doom’s first rap group where he rapped under the name Zev Love X) and Doom was on the same day. I worked at a (now defunct) record store in the early 2000’s and the store’s shipping clerk (ironically, a white guy) was sorting through orders and showed me a copy of Operation Doomsday. Being a comic book geek growing up, I was immediately drawn to it. The shipping clerk then said if I liked that then maybe I’d dig KMD, which he conveniently had a copy of their cd, Black Bastards.

At the time I was listening almost exclusively to Jazz, but I was once again put on notice when Madvillainy came out (an album which arguably ushered in the final wave of really good underground rap) and then MM…Food . Before I had a chance to blink, Dangerdoom was out. By that time, I was living in the Bay Area, driving around Oakland and Berkeley, listening to Special Herbs + Spices instrumentals. But it would be much later as a deejay when I got a hold of Vaudeville Villain and Venomous Villain that I finally understood Doom’s production, rhymes and most importantly–his ethos.

The MF DOOM mystique runs on parallel levels. The story itself is legendary. A pair of Long Island New York brothers achieve their dreams of getting a record deal, only for one of the brothers to die the same week the rap group gets dropped from their label. The surviving brother goes underground and creates an alter ego and successfully cultivates a fan base by rapping from behind a mask and putting out multiple classic hip hop albums–four in the span of a five year period (even the Doomposter controversy only adds to the mythos).

Unfortunately, that is not where the story ends. Only a couple of years ago, DOOM would experience another brutal loss, with his 14 year old son dying. It seems fitting that the general public would find out on New Year’s Eve of 2020 that the rapper had died on Halloween. It is a heavy tale in a genre full of heaviness.

You can hear the gravitas in his music (less in the collaborations with Madlib and Danger Mouse). The beats are gritty, sloppy, and have that DIY vibe about them (which could explain why he’s so popular in the streets). It didn’t surprise me at all to see a Bukowski poem set to music on his 2009 album, Born Like This (Bukowski, a poet who focused on the ugly, profane and perverse aspects of everyday life, was an acquired taste himself). His rhymes sound rugged and raw yet poetic. The dichotomy in his music is hard to catch at first, with his catchy hooks, hilariously clever punchlines and the underlying sadness that the real life Daniel Dumile faced every day upon waking up.

In creating a character to rap as, in a way Doom preserved his humanity, creating a space for him to live his life and still rap for a living ( as well as creating a distance in his music from his personal life . I can only wonder in admiration at a man who faced so much adversity and yet continued to create. The anonymity only added to the mystique. The mask was a foil to the rising cosmetic appeal in Hip Hop. But from those artists who knew and him worked with him, we received some heartfelt tributes and words. You can sense the realness that drew others to him.

As with Patrice O’Neal, the world is no longer the same without DOOM. He was a true artist in a genre rapidly devoid of true creativity. You’d be hard pressed to find any rap artist who had a ten year run like DOOM did; with twelve critically acclaimed albums (six solo and the other collaborations)–four of those projects being certified classics. Like most genius artists, we’re lucky to have had them here for a little while, and even luckier that they left something behind. Most importantly, DOOM, O’Neal, and even Bukowski got to experience success on their own terms, and isn’t that what every successful artist truly want?

Rest in Power

MF DOOM January 9, 1971-October 31, 2020

BM

Bobby Mickey, Author at Hip Hop Golden Age Hip Hop Golden Age

 

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

23 Dec

I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
     flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
     went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
     bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

~Langston Hughes

I’ve Recently Decided

12 Sep

that I’m going to live until the age of 84.

Somewhere in my 50’s

I’ll obtain a PHD so people can call me

Dr. Bob.

I will visit Osaka, Japan

and attend a baseball game there.

Then maybe somewhere around 60

I might be ready for another kid.

~Bob E. Freeman

Casual

12 Sep

Sleeping with someone you casually connect with

is almost as confusing as

sleeping with someone you don’t respect

(especially if you’re raw dogging).

Your body can trick your mind

into falling in love

or thinking that you did.

~Bob E. Freeman