Tag: sports (Page 2 of 3)

Family and football rule all

When people say they love Friday Night Lights, they generally mean the TV show. FNL, if you’re in the know. Dillon, Texas. Go Panthers. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

fridaynightlights

Since I tend to resist things that are hugely hyped, I avoided FNL for a long, long time. Finally, the dust settled — to the point that I forgot about the show entirely, in fact, until a friend brought it up in book club last year. Then, thanks to Netflix, I was able to watch all 5 seasons of what I can now say is one of my all-time favorite TV series.

Why do I (and millions of others) love FNL so much?

Coach and Mrs. Coach

Contrary to the popular belief that marriages make for boring television, the Taylors serve as the backbone for FNL and all its drama. But they are not the source of drama, usually. They love, respect, and support one another, even when they completely disagree. And through 5 seasons, there are no affairs, no big deceits. Coach and Mrs. Coach tackle a lot of problems over the years, but always as a team. In a world full of adultery and backstabbing, both on screen and in real life, that is so, so refreshing.

Eric: “You know who I miss? I miss the Coach’s wife.”
Tami: “You know who I can’t wait to meet? The principal’s husband.”
Eric: “Touché.”

Underdogs

From the very first episode, this show is about people that no one believes in. No one thinks that Coach Taylor can take the Dillon Panthers to the state championship. No one thinks that Saracen can hack it as a quarterback. No one thinks that Riggins or Tyra (or, like, half a dozen other kids) will escape the chains of their broken homes. And later on, no one thinks that East Dillon’s ragtag football team can amount to much of anything.

I won’t give away who succeeds and who fails, but I will say that FNL takes you on one heck of an emotional roller coaster to find out.

Shades of gray

Black-or-white morality tales are for kids. Real life — and therefore, good stories — live in the gray. It’s not about “good” versus “evil” — but rather, a bunch of flawed human beings doing their best. Each character is just fumbling toward their hopes and dreams and ambitions, and making mistakes along the way.

Example: Tim Riggins, everyone’s favorite bad boy. He feels guilty for not protecting his best friend. Anguished about loving a girl he can’t have. Ashamed of his drunkard father and loser brother, and even more ashamed of how much he takes after them both. He’s a playboy with a good heart and a lot of talent. He wants to be better than the path he’s on.

Or: Buddy Garrity, the former Big Man on Campus, the hotshot, the hypocrite. He’s a lousy husband, and not much better as a father, but he loves Dillon and he loves the Panthers. He’d do anything for his team — even if it’s a little shady.

Characters like these (and oh so many more FNL favorites) are the reason I read and write.

Crossover appeal

Something FNL does exceptionally well is flip between the adults and the teens. Most stories let one or the other be props. I mean, there are a lot of orphans in YA lit, and a lot of kids taking care of themselves off-screen in television and movies.

But in Dillon, TX, we get to see things from both sides. Student or teacher, player or coach, child or parent — every character is nuanced, everyone gets treated as real and worthy of our attention. This means the storylines appeal across a wide age range. We get to see things from multiple sides. And we get deeper, more genuine relationships.

And more

There are probably a dozen other things I could point out that make FNL great and set it apart from most other TV shows, but I think you get the point.

(Also, FYI: you really don’t have to like football, or even understand it, to enjoy the show.)

Part of the reason I’m picking FNL apart today is to remember and share what the series taught me as a writer. Another reason is that all these elements are on my “wishlist” as a reader and viewer — they’re what I want to see more of in the stories that I consume — and there was a big discussion about that on Twitter today. You can check out #RBWL (reader/blogger wishlist) for more.

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Of monsters and men in Steubenville

This is not usually a space for politics, but the Steubenville rape case has hit the YA community hard, and I have thoughts.

(Note: I did blog about this previously, though not as directly as I’m about to.)

When the verdict came down yesterday, I was not happy. I was not pleased. I did not feel that justice was served or that anybody had won. I believe it was the correct decision, but I do not believe it was a victory or a cause for celebration.

Because nothing can truly right such a wrong as this.

Twitter had some strong opinions. Apparently no one is allowed to feel sympathy for the two boys whose lives have been forever altered. Apparently the girl is a slut and deserved what she got — was asking for it, even. Apparently it’s a conspiracy and the whole world is against one small town in Ohio. Apparently this is really about alcohol, or football, or privacy in the digital age.*

Sometimes Twitter is stupid.

I worry that for most of America, this will be the end of the Steubenville case. I worry that the wave of righteous indignation will crest and then ebb, and we will go back to whatever else we were doing before. I worry, because this should be just the beginning. The beginning of an important nationwide discussion — and a million smaller conversations in homes, in offices, in schools. This should start a movement to understand and educate one another.

That would be the only silver lining to this overwhelmingly sad situation.

If I’m being honest, I do feel sorry for the two boys. What they did was reprehensible and inexcusable, hence the verdict and the sentences. But what now? Do we wash our hands of them, let them “rot in jail”?

I find that attitude particularly abhorrent coming from the YA community. We, who immerse ourselves in teen stories, should know better. We understand exactly how mature teens can be, and at the same time we recognize how young they still are. We know the tremendous power and turmoil of coming-of-age, and we believe in the opportunity for growth and redemption. We know that life is not about picking sides like a dodgeball game. When it comes to improving teen lives, we are all supposed to be playing on the same team.

What I’m saying is, people are not born monsters. Monsters are created. I hope that these two boys will not be sent farther and faster down the path to monster-hood. I hope we will do everything in our power, over these next few years, to find them, turn them around, and bring them back here with us where they belong.

The survivor, too, must learn and grow. (I think it’s possible to express concerns over her decision-making without saying she caused or deserved her rape.) In my training as a sexual assault advisor in college, I learned that we call them survivors, not victims, because of the strength they show in dealing with and hopefully overcoming their assaults. This girl has endured much more than anyone should have to, and I hope she will continue to draw from whatever well of courage has gotten her this far. But of her I also ask, What now? Will she try to put this behind her and return to her “normal” life? Or will she perhaps find an even better course to pursue from here on forward?

Those are the questions that I hope everyone involved will be asking themselves. The other partygoers who saw and said/did nothing. The parents. The teachers. The town.

Indeed, those are the questions we should all be asking, as I said earlier.

And to those who say, “They’ll never change,” I say in reply, “They sure won’t if we never try.”

*As an aside, I know a lot of people worry about the younger generations and how they use social media, how they view privacy or lack thereof. Frankly, I’m starting to wonder if maybe it’s not such a bad thing for their lives to be open books. Yes, their mistakes will haunt them — but maybe then they’ll learn to make fewer and smaller mistakes as they mature. At the very least they may not be able to hide things as easily, and that leaves the door open for people older and wiser to keep an eye on them, and step in when needed.

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The problem with “no means no”

There are many reasons I don’t watch the nightly news. All the violence saddens me. All the politics frustrate me. And all the misogyny pisses me off.

(Instead I prefer to read headlines online, then click through to articles that interest me or offer some sort of enlightenment.)

But recently, several appalling stories have broken through my bubble, and I’d like to share a few thoughts I’ve had as a result.

First:

“No means no” is a catchy slogan, but I worry that it might be doing more harm than good. Because “no means no” seems to imply that you don’t have to stop until someone clearly tells you to. That is NOT the case. In fact, you have no right to anyone else’s body until/unless they give you explicit permission. So what we should be teaching people is something more along the lines of, “Only yes means yes.”

Related:

Sex isn’t something to be done TO someone. It’s not something to be TAKEN. Sex is something to be done WITH someone, to be SHARED. Any other way means you’re doing it wrong.

So, with that in mind:

It doesn’t matter if a girl is a slut. It doesn’t matter if she’s wasted. It doesn’t matter what she wore or where she went. It doesn’t matter if she made poor decisions or put herself in a bad position. It doesn’t even matter if she would willingly have sex with every single member of the varsity football team anyway. What matters is whether or not she DID — i.e., did she give them her consent? If not, then they raped her.

Period.

I don’t know how to end this post except to say that recent headlines have reminded me why I want to write for a young audience, how important it is to teach everyone to respect one another, and what a long way feminism still has to go.

Also, my friend Rachele’s forthcoming YA novel CANARY is, unfortunately, very topical.

Kate Franklin’s life changes for the better when her dad lands a job at Beacon Prep, an elite private school with one of the best basketball teams in the state. She begins to date a player on the team and quickly gets caught up in a world of idolatry and entitlement, learning that there are perks to being an athlete.

But those perks also come with a price. Another player takes his power too far and Kate is assaulted at a party. Although she knows she should speak out, her dad’s vehemently against it and so, like a canary sent into a mine to test toxicity levels and protect miners, Kate alone breathes the poisonous secrets to protect her dad and the team. The world that Kate was once welcomed into is now her worst enemy, and she must decide whether to stay silent or expose the corruption, destroying her father’s career and bringing down a town’s heroes.

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Writerly Wednesday: Olympics edition

Quick note: I’ve been published! My triptych of triptychs about the Galapagos (first seen right here on the blog) was accepted by Sugar Mule for their 41st issue. Yay! Please click to check out many great stories and poems about “women and place.”

So, it’s the Olympics. Unless you live in a cave (and maybe even then) you know this already. You’ve heard all about the Opening Ceremonies, NBC’s commentators, their selective editing, and the tape delays. (SPOILER ALERT: you’ll survive.) Don’t worry I’m not going to talk about any of that.

All I want to do is share a few thoughts inspired by the Olympic spirit. This first one is mine.

• “Pressure makes us”

Rewind to about a year ago, and the US women’s national soccer team and I were in roughly the same place we are today. Them: On the verge of winning gold in a major international competition. Me: Awed and inspired.

It’s uncanny how much of what I wrote back then applies again now — including the dramatic late-in-the-game goals…

The US’s mind-blowing comeback win not only revved me up for the rest of the night, it also reminded me that pressure can be a good thing. Sure, sometimes it’s intimidating, and sometimes it can get overwhelming. But sometimes it pushes us to work harder than ever before. Sometimes it brings out our best. Sometimes it makes us who we are.

• “Lessons from Olympians” by T.S. Bazelli

Comparisons between Olympians and writers are inevitable, and not only does Tessa cover the similarities well, but she also brings up a couple new points that I think are invaluable for us to keep in mind.

In gymnastics and diving, the degree of difficulty is sometimes the determining factor in winning. When it comes to writing, are you taking risks and trying things that make you uncomfortable?

• “The Power and Glory of Sportswriting” by Nicholas Dawidoff

I’ve often thought that I would love to be a sportswriter or athlete profiler. These two quotes, combined with my deep appreciation of “the game,” might help to explain why.

When writing about sports, you have to learn to navigate an odd literary predicament: Your audience often already knows the outcome before it starts reading. An editor at Sports Illustrated once advised me that the art of the work rested in telling people who already know what happened a story so compelling that they forget everything and, at the end, wish they’d been there.

Where too much recent American literature is less concerned with any search for meaning than the preening desire to be admired, really good sportswriting is grounded in curiosity and revelation, an enthusiast’s notes. And while few authors can compete with the reality, a writer can deepen it, preserve what happened and then mine it for the deeper human qualities at play that are the essence of lasting writing.

• “Going for Gold” by Shari Cylinder

On that note, here’s a great summary of what the Olympics — and all sports, really — mean to me.

It’s not about winning gold, silver, or bronze. It’s not about getting the highest score. It’s about the diligence, dedication, and devotion the athletes put in for so many years. It’s about the way they motivate us to do the same — whether we’re swimming the backstroke, writing a book, studying our way through med school, choreographing dances to the music in our hearts, anything. No matter what, these people inspire us to push our limits. To dream further. To dream more. It’s about teamwork between people — like the golden women’s gymnastics team and the rockstar volleyball duo of Kerri Walsh Jennings and Misty May-Treanor — and about teamwork between nations. It’s about sportsmanship, unity, and love.

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Fixing my swing (Self-awareness part 2)

Regardless of Cesar Millan, the point of my previous post was that reflecting on Riley’s behavior has caused me to reflect on my own. I am becoming more aware of my body language, my attitude, my tone of voice. I still have a long way to go (as does Riley) but I think this heightened mindfulness can only be a good thing.

Case in point:

On Sunday, Andy arranged for us to play 9 holes of golf with a mutual friend. I prefer not to go out in hot, humid weather, but that day was borderline. (High of 85, mostly cloudy.) Andy encouraged me to chance it. I grumbled and warned him that he might regret it.

As soon as I said that, I thought, “Why am I being so negative? What does that accomplish?”

Andy called me out on it too, saying, “Yes, it might suck. But it also might not. Don’t let a defeatist attitude be the deciding factor.”

So I took a deep breath, relaxed my facial muscles, and told myself to be optimistic.

Despite a decent warmup at the driving range, my first couple holes weren’t great. My current goal is double bogey (par + 2 strokes) for every hole, but I was scoring double par (par x 2 strokes) instead. Normally that would frustrate me, and thus things would continue to get worse. This time, I took a deep breath, relaxed my shoulders, and told myself to shake it off. “What you just did has no impact on what you do next,” I reminded myself. “Each hole — each swing, even — is a blank slate.”

With that mindset, I was able to improve steadily over the next four holes.

At that point, we had been playing for 2 hours. All I had eaten was a granola bar and some Gatorade. My energy was waning, and as I stepped up to tee off at hole 7, I could tell my drive was going to be bad. When I took my practice swing, there was no strength in my arms. I had run out of juice.

Knowing that, I swung anyway.

It was my worst drive of the day, no question. The ball got no distance, no loft. It only went 2/3 of the way to the green, and this was a puny par 3. I immediately turned to Andy and our friend and whined, “I’m tired.”

Before Andy could even roll his eyes, I caught myself. I was acknowledging a reality, yes, but I was also offering it as an excuse. The former was fine; the latter was pointless.

Another deep breath. Another relaxation of my body. Another reminder: “Be optimistic. Each swing is a new opportunity.”

I salvaged hole 7, and I did fine on 8 and 9. Was it my best game ever? No. But did I manage to play okay and enjoy myself under less than ideal conditions? Yes.

Later, Andy compared it to being a baseball player. When a guy plays 160+ games a year, statistically he’s just not going to have his best stuff every time. A top-notch player knows that, but he doesn’t let it become an excuse. He doesn’t turn to his team and whine, “Sorry, guys, I’m tired. Don’t expect too much from me.” They’re depending on him. So he has to look within himself and ask, What can I accomplish anyway?

To do that, he has to be self-aware.

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