PATRIOTISM

CONVERSATIONS WITH THE COACH

David Odom coached 40 plus years.  And still has a major hand in basketball, as the Director of the Maui Holiday Tournament.   All levels, from junior high, high school. small colleges  to the top of division one.  Head coach or assistant.

We share a love for all sports.  I have a much lesser basketball coaching experience.  His love for tennis and my first love there provides fodder for conversations.

Coach Odom and I share the similarities of background and geography.  Played in the same league, know the same schools and people.

We both love Emerald Isle and our beach.  David is a “dit dotter” (  comes down and goes back) according to local high toiders.  They cast my wife and I  as “dingbatters” (comes and stays).

We both have Wake Forest University ties.  Coach Odom was one of the premier coaches in the Atlantic Coast Conference at Wake during the “golden years”.  Quite differently my knowledge of the Demon Deacons of Wake forest came earlier.  My Father, a Wake ministerial  graduate,  had me indoctrinated by age 7.  From then through high school I bled black and old gold.

Coach Odom understands this and tolerates my questions.

The stats on Coach are available.  Recently he was honored in a special way.   His likeness was hung in the ceiling of Joel Coliseum.  Several comments from him got  my attention:

  1. Question by tp—how did you feel about this event?

Answer by Coach—Most of my former players came.  That was big but I think my best moment was seeing Joel Coliseum happy again.

2,  Question—So most of your players came?

Answer—Yes almost all.

3 Tim Duncan came?

  Yes.  Several players called him.  Has busy schedule but he showed. 

Tom:  How was Tm?  Did you get to talk to him?

  When it was over I  told him what impressed me about him this time was I watched sign autographs, hug old ladies, talk with every one who approached  him.  Tim  does a lot of impressive things.

Tom:  How about Randolph Childress?  You have expressed a lot of admiration for him.

David:  Sure.  Randolph was there.  Pause.  Randolph was the best clutch shooter I knew.  Early on, and down 1 point with few seconds left , Randolph told me “Coach, tell them to give me the ball and get the heck out of my way”.  Worked then and almost every other similar situation.  Clutch.  Confident.

Tom:  What player showed up that surprised you?

Coach:  Rodney Rodgers.

Tp: Wow.  Rodney was there?  (Most tragically Rodney was rendered quadriplegic  in an earlier accident.) 

Coach—Yes and several people were most helpful.  Great player and person.   

I got a little worried when they called me to the floor for the National Anthem.  I looked  everywhere and didn’t see the wheelchair.  Then I looked down the well at the gym’s opening.  There they were. Several friends and his personal aide.  He wore a cap.  As National Anthem was about to begin you could see Rodney speak to his aide.  The aide took his hat off.

ATHLETIC BANQUETS: PART 2

Earlier I wrote SPEAKING AT ATHLETIC BANQUETS (see article  14) .    I  do believe some took this to heart.    The North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame  (2013)  was well run.    I was pleased that our state inducted Mrs. Mildred Southern this year.    And Mildred stole the show (more to follow).    Her brief talk stimulated my thinking about the good talks, comments, and speeches I’ve heard at past athletic banquets.   I’ve selected a few,  some original,  some “stolen”,  and some used too often.    Mrs. Southern acknowledged Woody Durham’s glowing introduction by saying  “…yes, Woody, I’ve won a lot of tennis matches,  volunteered  a lot of time and effort and leadership , given money to support tennis and North Carolina  specifically.”   But then she revisited a simple beginning tennis lesson to a young boy :  “I tossed him a ball, and he missed it.   I tossed him another ball.  And he misses it.  Another and another,  and he missed”   An unspoken question  stirred through the audience :  How long is this going to go on?”   Mrs. Southern concluded,  “…then I tossed him a ball and he HIT IT”!    She paused,  then added, “…the look of joy on his face was why I  did it all”   She sat down.    WOW!     Last year (2012) my friend and certainly a coaching mentor,  Henry Trevathan gave a similarly remarkable and short talk…Remember  “1.  Practice is mine, 2. The game is yours, 3.  We rule the hall.”?   Kelvin Bryant got a good laugh this year when,  after the usual thank you’s,  he realized “…I guess I need to add my ATTORNEY to this list!”  Coach Russ Frazier told his wife they were moving to the beach!   She said she’d have to have a new bathing suit…”Why?”  Coach Frazier asked.   His wife replied, ” …cause the old one has a hole in the knee!”   At an Elon Hall of Fame banquet a recipient,  unable to attend,  simply sent a letter.  The next inductee,  Coach Sid Varney,  began by quizzically saying “…I  didn’t know you could send a letter!”  One tale on Coach Varney was that he took his football team to a game in Florida,  where their opponent vastly over matched  his team.   Six Elon players were injured to the point of hospitalization….Picking them up at the hospital the manager asked good Coach Varney  “…Coach,  should  I go in and get them?”   Varney’s reply:   “Nah!   Just blow the horn!”   Every school used to have some “hard” coaches..here are some standard comments.   Reporter:  “Coach,  what do you think of your team’s execution?”   Coaches response;  “I think it’a  good idea!”   Again—Stunned fan states “…that guy looks like he doesn’t know the meaning of fear.”   Coach: “THAT guy doesn’t know the meaning of a lot of words.”   Another coach summarized,  “…we started slow and tapered off”.   M.L. Carr did an interesting thing by honoring a friend.   While entering the NC Sports HALL of Fame “with your spouse”, M.L. was accompanied by a male.  Turned some heads.   M.L., when introduced said rather than spotlight himself he had elected to spotlight this friend,  a man who had befriended and mentored him as a  youngster in need of help.    He chose this special time to recognize his depth of appreciation for an unattached  person who saw  fit to help a  struggling youngster.   Bill Weathers was an inductee into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame some years back.   A fine golfer as well as a stellar tennis player,  Bill snuck up on us in this way:   He would cite a time he went off to play golf or in a tennis tournament and tell some detail about his “play”.   He would then add what his Wife did while he was away.   Bill described his use of that time, generally some kind of play.   He would then compare his wife’s use of that same time,  which included “minor” issues such as childbirth,  a job, child rearing, helping a friend in need, dealing with serious health problems, and the like.    She had done some truly tough and good things.   And while Bill used his time to thank and recognize her,  she rose to say “BILL WEATHERS—when we get home  I’m gonna kill you.”   What a fine woman and tribute.   Coach Jerry Moore asked his wife,  “…honey,  did you in your wildest dreams,  ever think this could happen to us?”   Wife’ answer?   “You weren’t in my wildest dreams.”   OUCH!    Actually this one has been passed around quite a bit.   We are getting more creative.   For years the old one about “Peahead’ Walker,  the Wake Forest football coach,  taking a Wake  recruit to Duke’s campus and later calling it our “western campus”, was told at every banquet.    Guilty myself ,  I used a line from a European tennis player,  who when asked about the inconvenience of coming from Europe for his induction into the  Intercollegiate Tennis Hall of Fame,  asserted “…I would have walked.”  Me too!   Here is a good opening line:   Inductee;   “What should I talk about?”  Monitor:  “Talk about 5 minutes.”  Remember  that one if nothing else.   An old timer,  “Lefty” Briggs  of Elon rose to accept his award:  “I’ve practiced my speech so much, I’m  too hoarse to give it.  Thank you.”   And sat down.   Bobby Bowden of Florida State University’s football  team spoke for F.S.U.  when they tied The University of Tennessee’s  women’s basketball team for ESPN Team of the Year.    Coach Pat Summit of U.T. was unable to attend and was represented by a U.T. athletics administrator who spoke of the tremendous strides of women American sports.   Coach Bowden struck a blow for male chauvinism when he followed her speech with this jewel:  “My  wife really wanted to be here.  She’s been planning for weeks.  Been packed for days.  But what the heck,  you can’t remember everything!”   Surely one can get over the line with smut, length, politics, religion, cliches, etc.   And not all great people are great speakers, or interviews.   I think its best to memorize you speech.   Have  a glass of water nearby.   And watch your emotions.       Humor is certainly helpful.   One source I’ve used lately is, oddly,  obituaries!   Here are a few examples.  1.  A  professor at UNC-Chapel Hill, bothered by all the recent criticism of athletics penned several obits that featured the deceased’s loyalties to college sports programs, i.e.,  “…he was a lifelong Tar Heel fan!”   Or,  “…ever loyal to the Wolfpack” etc.   One he cited was a man from Wisconsin.  He was said to “…love the  Badgers,  the Green Bay Packers, and MOST of his grandchildren.”   Another fanatic, no longer able to attend games in person,  watched his favorite school every time they were on TV,  “…often  from a three point stance.”   Most recently a Cleveland  resident and Cleveland Browns football diehard requested six players from the Browns to be his pallbearers.  He said he wanted the Cleveland Browns to “,,,let him down one last time”.    A man named Tom Taylor of Chapel Hill, and a cancer victim had called and asked if he  could renegotiate with the crematory.     His reasoning:  ” I’ve lost down from 180lbs. to about 120lbs and think I deserve a discount.”

LENOX RAWLINGS, INDUCTION ACCEPTANCE INTO NC SPORTS HALL OF FAME

Below is the text of the induction comments by Lenox Rawlings, upon his entrance as a member of THE NORTH CAROLINA SPORTS HALL OF FAME.
Lenox is a retired writer. This becomes obvious. What was equally impressive was the way he presented his insights.
Lenox is a “homey” from Wilson,NC. A lot people were proud of Lenox, myself certainly included. But none more than BROTHER RUSSELL

LENOX RAWLINGS
NC SPORTS HALL OF FAME
MAY 15, 2015

When I was a boy growing up in Wilson, my grandfather would pick me up on Sundays around lunchtime and drive downtown to the Cherry Hotel newsstand across the street from the train station. He would buy a New York newspaper, and then we’d ride over to Fleming Stadium and enjoy the lazy hour or so before a Carolina League baseball game. I’d lay across the back seat in his Buick Special and get lost in the sports pages of the Herald-Tribune or the Times. We’d ask each other questions and exchange opinions – none of which I remember specifically. But I do remember feeling completely at peace.

It’s impossible to say when my love of sports and my love of language met at the crossroads, but one thing led to another, and now that I’m my grandfather’s age, I’m somewhat astonished to find myself standing here tonight accepting this great honor. There are lots of people to thank, beginning with my family, who taught me the difference between right and wrong and encouraged me to be myself and to do whatever I wanted to do in life.

My parents read at the beginning and end of every day and took us to the library where my mother later worked. My father, Lenox Jr., was a masterful storyteller with a dancer’s fine sense of timing, and he could leave a room roaring with laughter. My mother, Gloria, had a dry wit and precise powers of observation and considerable insight into human character. When I was about 11, she handed me her new copy of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and said, maybe for the only time, “I think you should read this.” She was right, of course. My brothers John and Russell and my sister Ann supported whatever I did and read my columns even if they had little interest in the subject. My wife Janice was a bit more discriminating. She preferred the good ones or the unusual ones, like that one about the alleged intelligence of the elusive largemouth bass. Janice reinforced the importance of intellectual honesty in everyone around her. She carried on cheerfully whenever I took off across the country to cover another story, and she traveled with me far and wide, especially after Jennifer and Barak grew up.

All of them sacrificed something for my freedom of movement.

So did my editors and publishers at the Winston-Salem Journal and other newspapers. They gave me freedom of expression. They defended my freedom of speech whenever they had to, which required more spine than you find in fair-weather guardians of the First Amendment. Fortunately, most of my interview subjects were civilized and cooperative. Many of the people I’ve written about and many of the writers I’ve worked beside are loyal friends. I’ve been lucky that way – in so many ways, really.

From elementary school through college, certain teachers recognized my affinity for descriptive writing and reacted positively. This happens every day in every school around the state, so it galls me when I hear politicians lump all teachers together and criticize them for failing to fix every breakdown in our society.

I’ll admit to an inherent bias. My other grandfather was a high school teacher and football coach before he became the town manager of Wendell. And, for half a century, I have watched teachers and coaches help young folks change their lives for the better. I’ve seen the modest home where my high school teammate Carlester Crumpler lived, raised by his loving grandmother. I’ve seen the neighborhood where Rodney Rogers grew up. I’ve seen the backyard goal where Kay Yow and her sisters and brother learned to shoot, long before women had a tangible future in basketball.

The beauty of sports – the democratic essence of sports, really – is that everyone stands on his or her own merits. Success depends on talent and work and persistence and passion, not privilege. These are basic values that endure long after the cheering fades. I’m more impressed with Carlester as an adviser to college students than Carlester the teenage legend. I’m more impressed with how Rodney has handled personal tragedy than how he handled basketball glory. I’m more impressed with Kay’s legacy as a cancer pioneer than her record as a pioneering coach.

They represent the best among us, but they aren’t alone. This room is full of people whose formal educations began in North Carolina’s public schools, people who developed a love for fair competition and helping teammates reach their potential, people who can look back through the clutter and clatter of modern times and recognize the wisdom of these simple ideas. When I was young, North Carolina was a leader in public education, but we’ve slipped. We should vastly improve the public schools for a future beyond our time – not because it’s the liberal or conservative thing to do, or the black or white thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do. And because out there tonight in North Carolina, other kids are sitting in cars reading their electronic devices – maybe even reading the New York papers – and wondering how their stories will turn out. They deserve a fair chance, too.

MY DANNY TALBOTT STORY

Danny Talbott lost his war with cancer. Many thought he’d win. He won every thing else. Danny was a baptist preacher’s kid. In the 1960’s in North Carolina he was legendary. His pre-integration time called for every able bodied, red blooded male to play football. Most added basketball and baseball, as did Danny. Tennis and golf were for sissies. No one had heard of soccer. Maybe Pele. No girls allowed.
Coach Henry Trevathan coached Danny in Rocky Mount, NC. He said Danny was like another coach on the field. And not just in football. Rocky Mount won state titles in football, then basketball, then baseball, then football again the next year.
I was a “Peacock” in 1963/64. Danny’s freshman year at UNC-Chapel Hill. Peacocks were so called as our graduate school advisor was the beloved Dr. Bill Peacock. There were thirty college grads who taught the UNC freshman classes. I was teaching a basketball class on the Woollen Gym floor when Jack Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
Having lived in Wilson,NC, 18 miles from Talbott and Rocky Mt., I knew of his career. And told my fellow Peacocks who were mostly unaware of his feats. Freshman were ineligible then, and my colleagues hardly believed my hype. As basketball arrived Danny changed uniforms like a superhero. Shoulder pads for sneakers even after basketball and the remarkable Bobby Lewis show had started. All my buddies were there to watch Lewis. When they inserted Danny into the lineup, I loudly alerted them to his entry. Sure enough he was shortly on the foul line with two free throws. Nothing but foul lane, 1 and 2. howls and chagrin. Exit Danny until the game’s end, when fouled out Tar Heels dictated his reentry.
Sure enough, with one point down and seconds on the clock, there is Talbott on the line, with game on the line. Swish goes #1, swish #2, Game Talbott.
Come spring time there he is on the diamond, first year of an outstanding college baseball career. He later told me, “…I probably should have pursued pro baseball.”
Danny was easy to like. Big smile, rosy/rusty cheeks that glowed. Made you feel great. Bobby Dunn and I are friends and he and Danny were very close. When Danny went into sales after pro football, Bobby said he missed competition and was considering tennis. Send him over, I suggested.
Low and behold here he came to our college courts. Coat and tie abandoned for shorts and racket, on the run.
Danny was ambidextrous. He was hitting groundstrokes left handed forehand and backhand. His beginning shots looked good to me. “Why are you so discouraged?” I asked him.
“Watch this serve” he whimpered. He was correct. I never thought I’d see Danny Talbott look awkward at anything, but this was pretty awful to watch. He tried a couple of more serves. Then the duh? moment. Left-handed serve?
“Danny, aren’t you the quarterback that holds the NCAA record for 28 out o32 pass completions in the EAST/WEST All-Star game?” A puzzled “yes”. Did you throw them left handed ? Well, no of course.
Below is the quickest, most productive lesson I taught in my career:
1. The serve is a throw. Put the racket in your right hand. Turn your grip a little this way (“first knuckle, first bevel”). Now serve it like a throw.
2. Your wrist action at hit moment is much like a fast ball or slider is thrown.

I’m not sure if it was the first serve he tried, but I know it was before the fourth, that repeated ace like rockets zoomed over the net. I know he wanted to stop and thank me but he was having too much fun, I was too. So, I’d toss him a ball and a big “thump” would echo. I only asked about the grip, as that action is hard to see? “Yeah, fastball, slider, I got it!”
He would show up with questions and conversations. Eventually he played right handed while serving, left-handed on both ground strokes. On overheads he hit ones on the right, right-handed. The ones on the left, left handed.
It wasn’t long before I was getting reports that he was right in the middle of NC senior tennis tournaments. And, later, he did a similar thing with golf, becoming an accomplished player there too.
The last time I saw him was a year ago in Wilson’s DICK’S HOT DOG STAND. He was with a man I didn’t know, but later Danny said was his “cancer doctor”. “We go out to eat once a month”.
Rocky Mount named their hospital’s new cancer center after Danny Talbott.

Danny was so gracious with me. He always said “…that’s my tennis coach, he made my game.” But I always knew the “Big Coach” made Danny. He made a masterpiece.
PS–you guys who play sports up there. He’s coming. But you better be ready. He’s competitive.

ECHOES FROM THE VAN

Maybe the saddest conversation occurred late one night after a match. Driving silently the boys talked about the spring break they’d just returned from.
Another kid stated, “My mom drinks gin all day. She’s a drunk.”
“Hmmm. I came home four nights last week and passed by my Dad, drunk in a chair. He never recognized me.”
Silence. Then from the back Rocky Peed spoke: “You guys don’t know any- thing. Last year I saved $50, all I had, and bought myself a new racket for the high school championships. I got dressed to leave and couldn’t find my racket. My father had sold it for $5 to buy a pint of whiskey.”
That one touched me.
Rocky had been a “need” case. I first heard about him when some one said he was going to attend Atlantic Christian.
I knew he was a pretty good player but he had no phone. He lived with his grandmother. She was his only family, having kicked Rocky’s father out.
Not only could I not call him, when I went to the tournaments Rocky was in, he ducked me.
Finally I cornered him in front of a small group of junior players. I introduced myself and commented that I’d heard he was interested in our school.
Rocky was 6’3”, longhaired, and really nice looking young man. He blushed and asked “Could I speak to you over there Coach?”
In private, he told me he knew who I was. Sam Modlin had told him all about our school. It sounds great.
“But Coach, I can’t go to college. I don’t have any money. All the kids I play with talk about their college plans all the time. I just said I was going to Atlantic Christian to save face. I’m sorry. I hope you don’t mind.”
“Rocky, you can come to AC on the B.E.O.G. (Federal aid for needy kids.) If you want to come, I’ll get you in. Don’t worry about the money. Rocky, a 1975 graduate, is now a grandfather, and highly successful insurance agent.
He also won a District Singles title. I bought his racket for him.

NO EXCUSES

I saw that happen in Kansas City once. A boy named Ben Taylor had lost a District title on a 9th point (old tie breaker) of the deciding set. Playing an hour from his campus, his coach said didn’t speak all the way back. His opponent’s own fans had seen the call and booed their classmate openly.
His coach dropped Ben off and confirmed: “Ben, you know your shot was good.”
Ben said, “I should have beaten him anyway.”
With a draw of 256 men in the NAIA Nationals, fate pitted Ben against the same guy.
Taylor by 6-2, 6-1.
Believe me.

HARVEY PENICK’S BOOK

About the time I started trying golf
Harvey Penick (with Bud Shrake) wrote
Harvey Penick’s Little Red Book (Simon and
Schuster, 1992). Penick, the longtime golf
coach at the University of Texas and golf
professional in Austin, describes the book’s
origin in the first part of the book:
“An old pro told me that originality does
not consist of saying what has never been
said before; it consists of saying what you
have to say that you know to be the truth.
“More than sixty years ago, I began
writing notes and observations in what I
came to call my Little Red Book. Until
recently I had never let anyone read my Little
Red Book except my son, Tinsley.
“My intention was to pass my Little
Red Book on to Tinsley, who is the head
professional at the Austin Country Club.
“With the knowledge in this little book to use as a reference, it would be
easier for Tinsley to make a good living teaching golf no matter what happens
when I am gone.
“There is only one copy of the red Scribbletex notebook that I wrote in. I kept
it locked in my briefcase. Most of my club members and players who came
to me for help heard about my Little Red Book as it slowly grew into what
is a slender volume
considering that all the
important truths I have
learned about golf are
written in its pages.
“What made my
Little Red Book special
was not that what was
written in it had never
been said before. It was
that what it says about
playing golf has stood
the test of time.

“I prefer to teach with images, parables and metaphors that plant in the
mind these seeds of shotmaking. These, too, went into the notebook— if they
proved successful.
“Maybe it was wrong to hoard the knowledge I had accumulated. Maybe
I had been granted these eighty-seven years of life and this wonderful career
in order that I should pass on to everyone what I had learned. This gift had not
been given to me to keep secret.
“A writer, Bud Shrake, who lived in the hills near the club, came to visit me
under the trees on this particular morning. “That morning under the trees we
opened my Little Red Book.”
Wikipedia states the book became the number-one selling golf book of
all time and calls Coach Penick perhaps the best golf coach of the
mental game. Among his star pupils, Mr. Penick lists Ben Crenshaw
(Masters Tournament champion) and Tom Kite (in his day the top money
winner for professional golfers and a U.S. Open champion).
The book is essentially 80 golf lessons, clearly stated in one to two pages.
A few are longer. What struck me immediately was the common-sense
approach, yielding succinct lessons. Lessons Coach Penick describes as
proven help. I doubt if anyone could make me much of a golfer. But more
than golf was the realization that this man knows how to teach and coach.
And he was the same kind of professional gentleman as my mentor,
Mr. Jim Leighton. Coach Leighton was Harvey-in-tennis. Perhaps not as
well-known, but he had the same kind of effective teaching techniques.
And, as I read Coach Penick’s book, I was stunned by the similarities with
Coach Leighton and the career experiences I had gathered over 50 years
of teaching and coaching.
Coach Leighton finished his career at Wake Forest University. The tennis
stadium is named for him. His book, Inside Tennis: Techniques of Winning is
a stellar tennis work.
My own writing is limited. I tried to compile a guide to coaching college
tennis in the early ’80s but abandoned the effort until 2007. Play Is Where
Life Is was about one-third tennis.
Like Coach Penick, I thought that was it. However, Coach Penick
published three more books. I like all of them, especially the title of his
second: If You Read This Book You Are My Pupil, And If You Play Golf You Are
My Friend. My son Dan says I am “on the other side of the digital divide” and
introduced me to blogging. The Little Red Book of golf may be the
first golf blog. I doubt if Harvey realized what was to come.

My blog (www.tomparham.wordpress.com) was a way to continue
writing—and writing about tennis especially.
I do not consider myself in a league with either Coach Penick or Coach
Leighton. I do have an admiration and appreciation for both. And a
realization that they both went about conveying proven valuable lessons
in a language and style that is quite similar.
Bob Dylan sang, “you’ve got to get up close to the teacher if you want to
learn anything.” (“Workingman’s Blues #2”). The Little Green Book of Tennis is
my attempt to pay tribute to these two great teachers/coaches/
gentlemen and their techniques.
Like Coach Penick I have tried diligently to select the lessons that
are valuable and true in tennis. Most have a connection to my many hours
spent with Coach Leighton.

A WHOLE NEW WORLD

The link below is to an article in ATLANTIC MAGAZINE, by Taylor Branch.

The comment following is from that article.

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2011/10/the-shame-of-college-sports/308643/

This sweeping shift left the Olympic reputation intact, and perhaps improved. Only hardened romantics mourned the amateur code. “Hey, come on,” said Anne Audain, a track-and-field star who once held the world record for the 5,000 meters. “It’s like losing your virginity. You’re a little misty for awhile, but then you realize, Wow, there’s a whole new world out there!

FOOTBALL AT THE CROSSROADS

Football at the Crossroads

In the late 1960’s an orthopedic doctor, concerned about the health of his football playing sons, wrote his observations. Dr. O. Charles Olsen’s book, “The Prevention of Football Injuries,” made note of the adverse and pronounced effects of “spearing” or head gear to chest tackling.   While this technique was effective and caught on quickly, the number of deaths and severe injuries rose as a rapid level never before witnessed before in football.

Dr. Olsen concluded that energy equaled one half of the mass times velocity squared. (e=1/2m x v squared).   The bigger, stronger, faster players were creating a force that couldn’t withstand head gear to head gear, or head gear to knee contact.

The consolidation of schools eliminated many of the smaller players.   African American footballers were added to the talent pool, along with weight programs, better diets, and better coaching, and in many instances steroids.   Tremendous contact ensued.   And, while efforts have been made to control this violent hitting, football is at a crossroads.

The question of the long term effects of head contacts have forced the questions of (1) are we dealing with concussions properly,(2) are we legally liable if we turn our backs on the problem (3) are the linemen more vulnerable than we thought and (4) can you “take the head out of football?” and on and on.   These questions have been around.   Perhaps no one has done more research than UNC Chapel Hill.   Dr. Carl Blyth and Dr. Fred Mueller have done yeoman’s work in an attempt to protect our young players.   This effort was begun a long time ago.   Dr. Mueller still pursues the data at the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research.

Pro football features a real ballet each game day.   The receivers and defensive backs are making plays that are at a new level of brilliance  . Truly a work of physical, human art. At the same time Olsen’s theory of force is hardly better exemplified than when a receiver crosses the field and is hit by a defensive back.   And, while a defensive back may be penalized for “head hunting”, he knows if he jars the ball loose, and or intimidates the receiver, his game rating goes up. While this risks tragic injury possibilities (his own included) is his job security a factor that urges him on?

The crossroads football faces include some other variables.   The more violent the hitting, the more the injury.   Yet the more violent the hitting the more market appeal the game experiences.   Are we getting to the “gladiator” level of violence?   And while college and professional football are in the crosshairs of violence, perhaps high school footballers are even more vulnerable.   And here is why: The weak and small and slow are eliminated at the college level.   But in many high schools, small players may face tremendous opponents.   These guys hitting the “canon fodder” can create catastrophe.

“You can’t take the head out of football” might become “you must take the head out of football.”   How to do this is the crossroads question.   I fear the 2011 season will make this even more apparent.   “I would let my son play football, but I would not encourage him to play football.”  James Michener, Sports In America 1976.