February 05, 2011

Super Bowl's Over...So, Now What?

This Sunday will be an epic meeting of two icons, squaring off on national TV. And it's too bad there can be only one winner.

Oh, and there's a Super Bowl going on afterwards.

Confused? If so, then you haven't noticed in the past ten days of intense coverage and sudden announcement, that President Barack Obama will be interviewed by Bill O'Reilly. If you're wondering why this is occurring before a major sporting event then you haven't been watching CNN/MSNBC/Fox News over the past decade have you?

Of course you'll tell me that there are no winners interviews. It's an interview. O'Reilly is going to ask Obama tough and honest questions, get to the truth on some issues, possibly "call him out" on decisions he's made as leader of our country. Obama, likewise, will answer truthfully, be sincere and thoughtful. And, like all interviews, we will take him on his word.

Not likely? I was pretty sure that's what it means to interview someone. But I can understand your skepticism. So how about this instead: in the days leading up to this interview there is a high likelihood that pundits (on all sides) are predicting the outcome; furthermore, there is high likelihood that the Newz Big Three (see above) will pull out their expert panels and break down the interview telling us who they thought handled themselves better.

And that week, the debate will continue.

It will continue until the next large (or small, really...we've grown accustomed to even the slightest tweet building into national attention) soundbite falls out of the sky, only for it again to be scrutinized. My favorite part is that after the scrutiny of the quote, gaff, edited clip, full clip, contextual moment, non-contextual moment, speech transcript...then the Big Three will invariably turn on each other. Sometimes it's generally done, sometimes specifically done, rarely entirely ignored.

I kinda wish Sportscasters would adopt the same coverage. I'd love to see Terry Bradshaw call Dan Marino out on incorrectly predicting a game outcome. Or Shannon Sharpe mock Jimmie Johnson for analyzing a poorly designed play after the game. Chris Collinsworth get all mean on Ron Jaworski for talking about how much he likes Brett Favre.

I don't have a problem, ever, with Sportscasters "Expert Picks" for games. In fact, I'm frequently entertained by that concept. I podcast a Green Bay radio show were "Joe and Jane Six-Packs" call in all the time to prognosticate. Sometimes their rationale is based on stats, previous similar situations, and the occasional gut feeling. Every once in a while, they're based upon the fact that they saw the letter "G" appear fifteen times in a ten second span. Admittedly, it's also equally entertaining when there's a debate. One of their callers is a Chicago Bears fan. He's well respected, and needles when necessary, gets ribbed back when necessary as well, but at the end of the day, he knows, and the hosts know that there's only one outcome. Only one winner.

That's how it goes down in sports. It's final. No debate.

Sure, you can spend some discussing why such a team won, or what strategy might've proven effective, or who the impact player was. Even the close calls. Those moments where it took a mad genius with Superman's vision to make the correct all. Or even the debatable "What Ifs?" What if Steve Bartman didn't attempt to grab the ball? No matter what though...it's just talk...and the game is final.

One team got a W, one got an L. Even throughout a season where Ts can be given out, eventually, it comes down to one team. One champ. And they stay champs until some team becomes the new champs.

Then we have off-season. Thank the heavens for the off-season. A time when fans sort of sift out into three different groupings: The bandwagon, those folks who got swept up into the story lines of the post-season which have faded out because only one team can win; The average fan who may tune into a breaking story about some player getting traded or retiring (again) but who for the most part knows this is all speculation; The die-hard who can't wait until Draft Day, watching 48 hours sports news coverage, simultaneously checking online stats, sizing up the current roster, predicting that their team is going to win this season...THIS WILL BE THE ONE!

I have respect for all three.

A bandwagon fan, while slightly dubious in dedication, enjoys the moment, but has no problem detaching and realizing that sports is only one component of their life. The casual fan might feel a bit hurt, or sad, or down for a work week (or two) but on the whole can also let go of a loss. The die-hard fan may be draining as all get up when it comes to their over-analysis of what could have been, but you know what...they hold a lot of history, tell great stories of the experience (highs and lows).

They all watch sports news, but in varying capacities. Again, the bandwagon folks check-in when it's easier to keep track of the few teams (or individual players) left in a season. They buy into the storylines that are discovered/created/twisted/spun/sincere/exaggerated; no need to convince them of the real truth, they're just in it for the moment, let them have their fun. The casual fan who, again, will check-in on a breaking story, but otherwise disconnect. During the season they might be convinced to see the faults of their team, but they hope...HOPE...that another outcome prevails. And the die-hard...they're the person twittering you at 3am telling you that Derek Jeter has a hangnail. Convincing them is about as effective baking a potato in the sun...in Green Bay...in the winter time.

On a political level, I'm sure our country has the same styles of engagement.

The bandwagon people are likely your people who may or may not vote, are most informed around election time or when some large story breaks, and soon after their candidate wins (or doesn't) goes back to working the good work. The casual fan likely leans one way or the other; they probably read the news (which these days, according to the Big Three, there's not really one trusted news source out there...so I'm wondering who/what they listen to), they're going to vote, they'll do what they feel is best (don't we all?), and then may feel slightly triumphed or defeated depending on an election outcome. When a major bill gets passed or failed they're probably interested because it either directly effects them or effects a friend.

The die-hard political folks? You've seen a lot of them the past decade. And just like their Sports cousins, they're intense. And their minds are not likely to change on any given issue or political stance. Yet, also like their cousins, I give them credence because they're the ones likely to first start volunteering for a campaign. Or go to a caucus. Or practice the right to assemble.

They follow the ebb and flow the political season as well. But wait...political season? This isn't sports? This is our lives! Our country! Our way of life!

Of course it is, so shouldn't it be taken with a measure of respect and a measure sacrifice?

The sports season comes to an end. As I said earlier, a champion is eventually crowned. While I'd like to say that elections are similar concept (since there is only one winner), these days elections, at all points in time, are given a lot of attention. And in a way, that's great!

If it weren't for the fact that after the election, it seems that all sides are finding ways to explain why their side won or lost, in the constant tone of "hey this was a moral victory for us." I'm all for positive thinking but...your candidate lost.

Moreover, since we do have a 24 hour news cycle, every piece of legislation, and every national or international event (whether it has a political nudge or not) gets brought in to this huge conversation; and it's taken into context, out of context, edited, chopped, spun, reported fairly, reported unfairly, backed with research, backed with no research...and I get it...CNN/MSNBC/Fox News are cable networks. They've got to make money; or at least be focused on their ratings. So, shit, might as well cover...everything.

ESPN is also a 24 hour news network. But there are some differences. For starters, they have no competitors. This is why you don't see Chris Berman with a Pinheads and Patriots segment, or a Worst Person in the World listing. Second, they highlight the winners. They even have a top 5 (top 10) with highlights of...winners. Once in a while they do have a bottom five, yet we're talking the strangest aspects of human athletic error possible; and they don't focus a lot on why someone sucks. Third, did you ever watch the network for 24 hours? What do you see? Only two real different Sportscenters (their major news show, which they loop for hours afterward); a couple of debate shows (PTI, Around the Horn, Sportsnation); specialty shows (NFL Primetime, Baseball Tonight, NBA Midday...no the last one doesn't exist but it should); and games...actual real live games. No filters, just the games. And crappy commentary with those games. But you can turn down the volume.

CNN/MSNBC/Fox News have no live coverage of our leaders doing their work. None. They have election coverage (and strangely enough cover it in the same manner and tone that sporting news agencies do the Super Bowl...a lot of weeks of intense debate, constantly polling, and final thoughts...all which mean nothing, because one person's going to win anyway). Otherwise, all of their shows are news magazine shows. Not a bad concept if you think about it.

Started with Walter Cronkite, 60 Minutes, Edward R. Murrow, Barbara Walters. Investigative journalism. Interviewers and researchers and producers working to get the full story. Or the story that someone will tell them. But do you really watch those shows because you're hoping someone will get to the truth? Or do you watch them because they validate what you already believe? Or piss you off to the point of over-criticizing their methods?

The fourth and final and obvious difference with ESPN is that they cover sports. Sporting events are meant for our entertainment. For the athletes they're opportunities to showcase the best examples of tenacity, and spirit, and hard work (which we don't often see), and teamwork. People actually sacrificing themselves for the good of a group. Thankfully, a sports season comes to an end. And like each of those fan types, I appreciate their roller coaster ride getting pumped up during pre-season, the coquettish push/pull of hope/let down during the regular season, the dramatic resolution of post-season, but mostly...I love the fact that there's an off season.

Months...off...no contests...no matches...just peace.

Politics, not government...because government goes in and out of session to make policy, agencies are ongoing but don't make policy, and elections are only a couple times a year...but politics have no off season. Maybe it's always been that way...but we used to have the maxim to avoid politics, sex, and religion at social gatherings...nowadays with the Big Three and the internet with semi-professionals and professionals and amateurs writing and researching whatever they want, when don't we talk about politics?

Clearly not on Super Bowl Sunday.

I grew up in Wisconsin and I've seen those three sides of packer fans. I've been each of them at least once. I don't know how or where I cultivated this philosophy, but I promised myself that once I witnessed a Wisconsin sports team win, I would be satiated, and find another team to cheer, and have the Pack be a very fond second. And while I waited ten years for the Arizona Cardinals to make it, make it they did. They didn't win, but they played hard, and played against expectations.

No one wants to lose. But loss and sacrifice are a part of our life whether or not we choose to embrace that (or acknowledge it for that matter). And I'm all about a positive or optimistic outlook, and hope, but we can learn a lot from loss. We can blame, point fingers, be miserable and bitter, be crabby, feel slighted...those are natural responses. But give yourself an emotional Off Season with your politics. Or rather, with your government. And during your off season, as you plan for future, plan for a future that includes everyone (Democrats, Republicans, Independents, the Rando-Rando Association).

I know the truth is hard to seek these days, and sitting around watching C-Span isn't always the easiest thing (admittedly, I like it, I like listening to our leaders talk, but it is time consuming). Find ways to overcome outside filters. And when your candidate loses, or you policy fails, or a law changes, roll with it, find proactive ways to deal with it. And when your candidate wins, or policy passes, or law arcs your way, be gracious, humble, and a good sport. Find proactive ways to support your cause, follow your elected leader.

On a final note, since this post has become longer than I think any of them, and C-Span is currently airing British Parliament which is a complete trip, one last thought: leadership, like quarterbacking, or being an offensive lineman, is hard work. If you give yourself an emotional off season, give them one every once in a while.

Yes, I get the multiple invisible strands which connect leadership and role-modeling. It's true for athletes, it's true for celebrities, it's true for our leaders (who, in a weird way, are both of these categories according to my choice of sports metaphor). And no, I too would be disappointed in a leader who mishandled a decision or said something unintended. But at what point do we see that these folks are people? And at what point do we challenge them ourselves, not just in critical words, but elective actions?

And I don't mean rallying for Bill O'Reilly to stick it to Obama. Or cheering on Obama if he defensively responds well. I mean run for office yourself. Or volunteer for a government program or agency for a cause you believe in. Or having open dialogue (not discourse) about policies. Or simply saying "hey, I can't have everything the way I want it, so I'm gonna make do, and when things do turn my way, find a way to help out someone else."

Please, let's get to our emotional off season soon; our future awaits.