Football: A Sport Hijacked by the Insecure Man

A lot has been written over the past week regarding the hazing of Jonathan Martin by now former Dolphins player Richie Incognito.  Word was just released that Richie had possibly been instructed by the coaching staff to “toughen up” Martin after he missed a voluntary workout.  For those unaware, some of Incognito’s tactics included forcing Martin to pay tens of thousands of dollars for trips and meals, and, more egregiously, attacking Martin, who is biracial, with racial and family-targeted slurs.  I won’t replicate the language here, as I find it very distasteful, and abundantly available elsewhere.

This entry attempts to look at the culture of football as I’ve personally witnessed it – by touching on the issue of jock mentality – which leads directly to the now two major issues facing the league and sport as a whole: severe head trauma and hazing.

For my readers who don’t know, I am a born and raised Texan.  I am blessed to have two older half-brothers, an older half-sister, and a twin brother.  From the time my twin and I were two years old, we were peppered with Dallas Cowboys gear and watched football with the family.  One of our oldest pictures together has us in diapers and shirts adoring the famous star.  With much older siblings, most of my formative years were spent attending football games in Grayson County to watch them star in year-to-year Texas high school football battles. My oldest brother helped anchor a state championship team at Denison in 1984, and the younger of the two propelled his success into a full ride scholarship at Rice – back in the good old days of the Southwest Conference.  The eldest moved on to coach football, and the passion for the sport permeates every aspect of my day to day life.

I live for football season – from the time spent travelling to Austin and College Station to see my brother play as a young child, to playing most of my entire youth and having Cowboys season tickets in perpetuity, then on to a passion for watching Penn take on Harvard and Yale for the yearly Ivy crown.  That’s how passionate I am about football – I voluntarily watch my alma mater (Go Quakers!) play Ivy League football… it’s definitely not the Big XII or the SEC with regards to quality.

I’ve been exposed to an insane amount of the culture of the sport, from all over the place.  No, I’m not a coach, and no, it isn’t my career… so take my words with a grain of salt, but please don’t completely dismiss them.  I’m not attempting to vilify the sport or anyone particularly involved in it (with exception of maybe Richie Incognito and the Dolphins right now). I love it. I really do. I hope the sport survives the next 50 years, and in a much more professional and safe context.

However, so many of the problems start early and persist throughout the entire life spectrum of individuals’ involvement with the game.  I’ve seen sentiments that Martin is soft for complaining, and he needs to man up.  I’ve seen coaches grab players by the face mask and throw them back into plays as a means of discipline and control.  Ten years old or thirty – playing football is synonymous with maintaining an aura of toughness. If you can’t grit it out, make the hard hit, put your nose to the grind, and battle – well, football isn’t supposed to be for you.

That’s where I think we have the problem, though… this complete inability to separate mental toughness from physical toughness.  Mental toughness can quite easily lead to physical toughness, but physical toughness is very rarely an accurate barometer of someone’s ability to be mentally tough.  Ultimately, as a football player, the mental toughness takes precedence, and should be the aspect of a player most focused on.  Some of the fiercest men and women in history have been those who lead and garner strength through the silence of sheer will.  The best football players of all time were driven by an internal, mental ambition that no amount of physical prodding or faux-toughness would have diminished or strengthened.

Strength comes from within.  Power comes from within. Success comes from within.  Nothing associated with typical jock mentality (as I roughly define it in this entry) serves the purpose of pushing that positive mental toughness that can make a person stronger in anything in life, much less football.  Calling a biracial player an insensitive word doesn’t make a player stronger.  Forcing rookies to pay large bills and subjecting them to childish hazing doesn’t make a player stronger.  Forcing an eight year old to run full speed and deal with violent hits by using intimidation such as shouting and telling him to man up or physically punishing them doesn’t make a player stronger.  All of these things are disgusting.

Be it an extension of the aggressor’s insecurities or an instilled sense of “I had to deal with it, so do you” – I don’t know, I’m not Freud, nor am I attempting to psychoanalyze.  You don’t have to be a psychologist to observe the jaded culture of the sport in its current form, though.

We’ll see how the NFL deals with this latest crisis, and see if any significant progress is made on the physical or mental health aspects of these two major issues.  For anyone who hasn’t seen Frontline’s “League of Denial” regarding the systemic failures of the NFL to objectively protect its players and the subsequent lawsuits and settlements, you really should watch.  I don’t have much faith in the parent league of the sport to control its development, though.

The NFL is a large business, with a lot of revenue to protect.  I understand that – and I’m not calling on the NFL to necessarily be the lead dog in controlling these problems with its sport.  I hope that it will, but I can’t pretend to be so righteous to have the audacity to want a multi-billion dollar company to change because of my concerns.  In the end, the NFL is going to protect its establishment, and it is up to the purview of Roger Goodell and the executives within the league to decide to what length it determines who its stakeholders are.  Does that stop with the league or with the sport as a whole? Who knows…

The responsibility for the culture change ultimately needs to fall on the youth leagues and parents who are placing their kids into the sport.  A refusal to accept this fake and negatively aggressive mentality is the only thing that will stem the behavior.  Stop reinforcing that hazing and this superficial, mentally-weak perceived “toughness” is an acceptable course of action for involvement in the sport, and the problem will solve itself.

Do not let any simpleton fool you into thinking that the sport can’t survive without that childish mentality of “toughness.”  Men and women have died on this earth in combat with a lesser sense of necessary toughness.  Men and women have steered their families through little food, little support, and bad times without this false sense of bravado.  Every day, people on this earth face decisions that make the required “grit” of football pale in comparison to the struggles of life for so many on this earth.  The perpetrators of this childish football mentality need to get over their own arrogance and remember that in the end, they are playing a game… not a life-determining series of decisions… a game.

World, Meet Ben Taylor

We get a lot of choices in life.  Every day we’re presented with the option of foregoing our daily routines and filling our time with anything out of the ordinary.  Yet, the majority of us choose not to do that – ever.  It’s a frustrating fact of life.  Most people bounce through life with a set standard and goal for how their days and lives will play out.

The only thing I fear more than living a monotonous life is death.  To me they are two sides of the same coin.  As such, I’ve had a tendency to overreact by reaching out towards the other side of life. While not being reckless to the point of endangering my life (because that would be against the point in the first place, not to mention irresponsible), I am certainly not a risk-averse person.  I haven’t lived in one city longer than two years since I was 18.  My nomadic nature leaves me antsy anytime I haven’t run off to some foreign location or random trip in any few months’ span. Usually much shorter, to be honest.

I tend to jump at uncertain or grandiose situations not with trepidation or fear, but with enthusiasm and zeal.  A passion that pervades every single piece of my writing as much as it does everything I do in life.

That recent jump has led me to move full-time into my own company and to shed employment by anyone else.  The next time I will be employed by someone other than myself, it’ll be for my constituents and the American people in general.  Why did I make this switch? For the past 5 years, I’ve worked for others.  I’ve given sweat and tears and brainpower to others to utilize for their benefit.  I’ve been in a position that pays well, but doesn’t make use of my very specialized skill set. I have knowledge and capacity that goes beyond basic business functions.  Cocky? Confident? Sure – but nothing in my life has ever given me reason to think that I won’t succeed in those ambitious endeavors.  Time to put up or shut up (I hate cliches, but whatever – this one works).

I apologize about this entry.  Usually my entries take more of a pedantic, overarching theme and attempt to apply lessons to the general populace.  This one is more cathartic and personal in nature.  As such, you get exposed a bit more to my inherent confidence (arrogance) and personality (bravado).  I’ve never really apologized for either.  They push me to be who I am.

I had a friend tell me once that my twin and I see things from a macro standpoint better than anyone he’s ever known.  That ability to see all the data in its close and detailed stage and manipulate and perceive it to fit into a larger puzzle.  I’ve always taken a lot of confidence in my ability to manipulate that picture – to know the strings and buttons and gears and widgets to utilize – to get the end results that are desired.

I stress process over results.  I stress efficiency over breadth. Minimize the number of minds it takes to get something done, so that those others can utilize their time more effectively elsewhere. Eliminate overhead. Identify and exploit market weaknesses.

Build a brand.  It’s an exciting time to be me. I like being me. I’ve got a ton to offer. It’s about time the world had to deal with me.

Ben’s 85th Discourse on Passion

I write about it all the time.

Seriously – all the damn time.  Passion. Passion and zeal and thirst and drive for life. That very component that makes the first breath to fill the lungs and the last breath before sliding into the abyss worth it.  Life is a beautiful, amazing, spectacular gift because of passion.

It drives us and bends us and shapes us and moves us.   The greatest stories are ones of passion. The ones that make you want to open the window and scream for no reason. To stand in the warm rain and feel every drop collapse onto your skin and slide down your cheeks like a gentle hand caressing your face.

It’s why I write. It’s why I close my eyes and let my fingers graze over the keyboard and attempt to form structure for the essence that is bursting forth from my body… my being… my soul.

Passion gives us life. It gives us love. That pure unadulterated joy that springs forth day to day.

Think of the last time you felt it – think of it while you’re reading this. Feel that passion for whatever it is in life that moves you. Family, love, music, literature, art, God, work.

Passion made Ray Charles sway on his piano. Moved Van Gogh’s brush. Swept Shakespeare’s quill across the parchment.

Passion brings us beauty and love and everything amazing about life.

What a beautiful life it is.

A Beautiful Body or a Beautiful Mind?

I’ve been inundated with posts recently that are nothing other than superficial garbage.  This has led me to an evaluation of sorts: whether my adherence and reliance to the “intelligence and career persist, and beauty fades” mantra is biased and part of a grander sense of narcissism (to which I don’t deny) or if I’m adapting to a more conscious recognition of the idea recently through my writings on it by seeing empirical evidence of it more readily.

That… or I could just be adding dumb people to my Twitter and Facebook.

For my own sanity, I’ll assume that it isn’t merely a gross manifestation of my narcissism, and instead evaluate the merits of the argument at its core: to what level does beauty and socially-recognized “superficial” behavior deserve in the limited resources of our daily endeavors?  Look at it this way: given roughly 12-18 waking hours daily, we must decide how best to utilize those hours.  By choosing to do one thing, we incur an opportunity cost, or an inability to do another.  So given that rough spectrum, we divide it into a few different categories: pleasurable, career, and survival.  Sometimes these three might intermingle… career is a form of survival, and sometimes pleasurable pursuits can be part of your career (they should be, really).  However, generally speaking, we all can identify each of our daily activities and pretty clearly give it a primary categorization.  Eating, showering, and taking care of ourselves are essentially survival items.  Working out can be all three, and the delineation of this activity is quite malleable with regards to our three choices here.

For the purposes of this article, we shall assume that working out becomes a “pleasurable” activity for those on the beauty/superficial side of the equation, and more of a “survival” activity for those on the career/intelligence equation.  This isn’t to say that they don’t cross over. Not every person who leans towards beauty works out solely to look better – health is a legitimate consideration. Likewise, those who work out, but lean towards the career/intelligence quotient being heavier don’t always simply work out to reduce their resting heart rate and lower their cholesterol.  Superficial gains are more of an ancillary benefit for this crowd, as opposed to the primary benefit for the beauty crowd.

With all of these assertions being made, full of the first 10,000 disclaimers and caveats, I approach the question again.  Is it short-sighted and ill-advised to approach beauty for superficial reasons and at the expense of furthering one’s own intellectual and career pursuits?  In my mind, the stage where the maximum return on a beauty/body investment is during the time frame from 18 years old until about the mid-to-late 20s.  During this period, from a general social perspective, an amazing body will generally earn more recognition than a beautiful mind.  Bodies are easy to see, to appreciate, to lust after.  The mind is more abstract and requires effort and investment to even interpret its worth.  In a sense, appreciating brilliance is a much more demanding task from a social value perspective than appreciating beauty.  In that sense, the immediate returns from a beauty-first focus are much more quickly and readily seen.

The appeal is apparent.  Quick return, quick reaction, and simpler enjoyment of the pursuit.  A lot of times, a career or intelligence focus will go unappreciated, even if someone gives you the time and respect commensurate with the investment made.  In a lot of ways, a pursuit on artificial beauty makes a hell of a lot of sense during this time frame.  Life is simpler when you’re in good shape or considered beautiful.  People acquiesce to demands, favors are rampant, and poor behavior is forgiven.

Here is the problem, though, and the foundation for my entire brains before beauty/brawn mandate: the choices made with limited time resources from the ages of 18-28 cannot be fully recovered after that time frame.  I’ll explain in another way: focusing on your body and beauty for a decade will mean that when beauty begins to fade as an important social determiner of value (which does happen in the late 20s, people, just so you know), you will not be able to instantly catch up to your peers that have made different sets of choices during the same time frame.  You will be behind, and if the career/brain perspective of happiness in life grows in importance at older ages (which it does), you have a significant amount of time to make up for, while others are still progressing. You’ve started the race miles behind everyone else.

In the same way, those who choose brains/career over beauty/superficial pursuits will not have necessarily enjoyed the social benefits associated with those decisions, and might not be in as good shape physically from a beauty and health perspective as their counterparts.  So the question then should become, at the age of 28, when the transition roughly begins from a societal perspective over what is more important – who will have an easier time catching up?

This is where my theory is mostly conjecture, with shades of empiricism.  It is my belief that catching up from a health/beauty perspective is much easier with a focus on a career and intellectual pursuits than it is to do the opposite – and attempt to catch up in the career/intellectual realm.  In this manner, the opportunity costs for pursuing beauty were much greater than pursuing the opposite.  Again, caveat here: this is just an aggregate majority of your focus, not necessarily saying you can’t attempt to balance them, which I think is ultimately the healthiest proposition.

With the importance of career/intelligence in the 30 years old-plus section of life, and given the rather disproportionate amount of time that is spent alive in the later stages of life compared to the decade or decade and a half of relative “youth” – the question on which side to lean more heavily towards remains rather clear.

A beautiful body and vapid mind will serve you aggressively well for a solid decade, then fail you for the rest of your life.  A beautiful mind and a successful career will fuel your family, your happiness, and your life.  Seems like an easy choice to me.

The Window of Love

Life is finite. Spiritual beliefs what they may be, our time, in these bodies, is limited.  I’ve written extensively on this blog about the need to get rid of poor friends and influences in your life, as well as the need to maintain a level of personal integrity for your own actions and those that you surround yourself with.  This advice has always been a very generic overview of the basic tenets of a happy, positive, and progressive life.  I felt the need to examine one aspect of that mentality a little more in detail – and that has to do with the romantic relationships in your life.

Unfortunately, I’ve been witness to many abusive (physically and emotionally) relationships in life.  I’ve had the opportunity to study domestic violence and the cycle of abuse that is prevalent in most abusive relationships.  The important thing to understand is that abuse in a relationship is more commonly verbal or emotional than it is physical.  Too many people place a distinction between these two, since the immediate trauma of a physically abusive relationship is more readily available to observe and easier to react to.  The damage from a verbally or emotionally abusive relationship is still physical – a fact that many ignore.  Depression, fear, anxiety, and frustration all impact our daily health and impact our decision making ability.  Emotionally abusive relationships can be just as devastating as a physically abusive relationship.  Both should be abhorred – and both are a terrible thing with which to be involved.

Physical abuse and extreme verbal abuse are the easiest to escape, since they are the most acutely damaging.  However, the difficulty in the escape from an emotionally abusive relationship that isn’t as clear cut is infinitely higher.  Often a relationship where the abusive portions are not as striking in magnitude are mixed with varying degrees of “good interaction,” and this is where the cycle of abuse comes into play.  For those unfamiliar, I’ll post a quick infographic to explain the cycle:

Cycle of Abuse

I’m sure that most readers here can look at the cycle above and be able to either personally relate to, or know someone else who has been in, the situation described.  The cycle is damaging, and the longer you are in it, the more difficult it is to remove yourself from the situation.  Unfortunately, only two things will effectively remove someone from this type of relationship: a terrible incident of abuse that leads to significant physical or emotional damage, or self-motivation that drives a decision to consciously acknowledge the bad relationship and remove oneself from it.

Anyone who in the back of your mind thinks you might be a part of this relationship and you know that you are rationalizing abusive behavior: stop ignoring it and get out.  You do not want to end up a victim of extreme violence (emotional, too!) or be stuck in a life-long perpetual sequence of negativity and frustration.  Get out.

Here’s the thing – and I’ll repeat from above – life is finite. We get a short period on this planet.  You cannot afford to waste time in a bad relationship.  There are just simply too many amazing people out there who will not put you in those abusive, compromising positions.

One final exercise – look through the people that are in your life.  Think of the people you trust the most.  Now pick out the people from that group that represent the level of moral integrity and consideration that you personally attempt to convey in your day-to-day-life.  Not the ones that you talk to the most or that you go out and have the most fun with.  The people that you can take in front of your family and loved ones and know that they represent the values that you personally espouse.  The people that would do anything for you, and handle other people in their own lives with the same grace.  Hopefully you have at least one person in mind, if not more.  No doubt here, right? You can go through this paragraph and not have to rationalize it. You just know that they fit this description.

These kinds of people exist.  They are exceptional, and loving, and caring.  Others are out there. Nobody has dictated that you must spend your life with someone who is any less than someone you can unequivocally put into the same category as the previous paragraph.

Take charge of your life and dictate your own passions and happiness.  Nobody else will do it for you, and you deserve more than to waste your short time in this life.