Saturday, June 18, 2011

How the American Dream relates to our role models and the rise, fall and possible rebirth of local sports.

Yesterday I finished my first week of summer camp for the year.  As I reflected on my week, before going to bed, I had an epiphany of sorts.  Through out the week my campers were talking about this guy named Tobuscus.  I don't pretend to be up on the latest pop culture fare (I basically only listen to music made before 1998, I watch mostly sports on TV and the only movies I'll watch in theaters are super hero movies) but I had no clue who this guy was.  This made the generation gap between myself and my campers abundantly clear.  I have often pondered in my quiet moments about how social media such as facebook and twitter has impacted the social relationships of my generation and the same holds true in its own way for youtube and people like Tobuscus.  My campers idolized this man but even after watching his videos I had no idea why.  So I visited his official website and read his "bio."  It confirmed what I had already thought, Tobuscus (AKA Toby Turner) was a comedian who made a couple "funny" videos and rode that success to some degree of fame.  The dude actually has an acting reel and I would say its mostly pretty bad. That does not matter though, because somehow he made it big.  Is that not the American Dream?  That anyone from anywhere can make it if they get a lucky break.  That dream is more realizable now than it ever has been before due to social and web based media.  I in no way fault or blame Toby for chasing after and fulfilling his dream, good for him.  What does concern me is that he is being looked up to by middle school boys.  Why would I want the youth of America to look up to him? What has he really done or accomplished aside from being famous? (I am using the terms fame and famous loosely in this article).  Maybe he has done some good things and I guess the same could be said for any comedian but the lack of filter from producer to consumer makes it so much easier to have an impact, positive or negative, on people's lives than ever before.  So how does this relate to sports? When I was growing up my role models, idols, heroes, whatever you want to call them were determined in large part by the TV.  Television is the dominant medium of my generation.  Growing up we watched the likes of MJ, Ken Griffey Jr., Brett Favre and Dale Earnhart and they became our heroes.  People in the media TOLD us who to like and force fed them to us. Conversely it was also able to pick and choose some of the better role models out there. Television allowed someone in Denver to watch his beloved Red Sox play the Yankees even though they were hundreds of miles away.  Television brought the world into our homes. Youtube brings our homes out into the world.  It allows people from all over to see what they want when they want it.  Just a few years ago if I missed an amazing play like this one pulled by my old high school baseball team the only media available to tell me what happened would be word of mouth.  Now I can watch that clip from a Madison TV station up in my house in Oshkosh.  It really is incredible if you think about it.  I mean without youtube only a hand full of people would ever know about one of the most incredible finishes I have ever seen in sports.  In my opinion the development of TV was a striking blow to local sports.  Ratings dictate reaching the largest audience possible meaning big cities. That then is who the networks pander to.  It is easier to reach that number of people in one area than the same number from across the midwest.  So networks show content that is appealing and relevant to people in big cities. When that is what is available, big time money making sports in large markets, that is what people consume and people care about.  It is a chicken and the egg scenario, does ESPN hype Duke/North Carolin because it is popular or is Duke/North Carolina popular because ESPN hypes it up (Being the good Catholic that I am I'd have to say both). In my opinion there really is no reason anyone outside of New York or Boston who is not a Yankees or Red Sox fan should give a blood nickel about any regular season series between those two teams.  If you love the game of baseball and love watching the game itself that's one thing, and that is not what I am talking about.  I am talking about the hype and coverage leading up to and following those games.  National games in and of themselves are really cool and if you are a local fan it is nice to know that people across the country get to see how good your team is but beyond the game it is just not necessary.  Much like the athletes I was told to like these are the teams and sports I am told to care about.  Now that doesn't have to be the case.  With the wide array of media available I can choose what I want to watch and who to care about.  I can see highlights of my local team, and so can someone in Tacoma.  Before Television, more specifically cable and satellite television, people cared about their local teams.  This is because of what I stated before, people will consume what is available.  Before cable television Oshkosh had a pro basketball team.  That was because people came to see the game and that was all that mattered, that is what was being sold, tickets to the game.  All there was to consume was the game itself and maybe some talk at the barbershop or at work but that's it.  No sports talk radio, no sportscenter, no youtube.  Just the game itself live or maybe on the radio, a summary in your local paper (which was all you got because you couldn't get the Wall Street journal online) and maybe some talk with your neighbors. Now people see big name franchises regularly on TV, radio and the web that is what they care about.  This nationalization of sports has nearly killed the local sports scene.  The web now offers new but different possibilities.  Listen, local sports will never be what they were but TV won't be what it was either.  With so many options one program will rarely if ever be able to grab as large a percentage of viewers as shows like M*A*S*H did back in the day. Niche marketing is the wave of the future.  People now are so divided, there are so few cultural touchstones, that now rather than trying to reach that large audience (although sports is the one place where this still survies so some degree) and be that larger cultural touchstone they try to be that for smaller subcultures, like Tobuscus is to the video game world. There doesn't need to be a large audience anymore just a niche, and hopefully local sports still have at least that. Like I said before youtube, and TV now in its own way, is bringing our living rooms out into the world.  Flipping through the channels this morning I had the option of watching Classic High School Baseball.  At one point in time that would have been thought to be inconceivable, what kind of market is there for something like that, but no longer.  If local sports and small universities, like my Alma mater UW-Oshkosh,  play there cards right and utilize this new media they might be able to experience a rebirth of sorts.  Personally I hope this happens.  I love local sports and I find it more compelling to follow a team and athletes in my community who might be less skilled or developed than  great teams or players who are miles away literally and figuratively.  High schools seem to be the the least affected by nationalization because of civic pride.  The high school quarterback might not be the hero he once was but I know that my sister as a stand out in high school and now at the college level had many little girls look up to her.  I hope that these other local sports, like minor leagues, home talent leagues and most of all small colleges are able to find a way to evoke the same kind of civic pride as these high schools.  Especially the colleges.  Because those great high school athletes you follow and care passionately about may go off and play at a division  2 or 3 school or maybe even a small division 1 school and then play in front of crowds smaller than the ones they played for in High School.  That just doesn't seem right to me. I would like to see a day when local TV stations broadcast local games live.  I'd love to see the Mallards, T-Ratts, Admirals and Wave on TV regulary. So while I'm not so hot on youtube making Tobuscus into an idol for our youth I do hope it provides an opportunity for those same youths to see Jared Jenkins, Jack Borski, Jeff Donovan, Luke Westphal, Christina Cahoon, Britta Peterson, DJ Marsh and Dane Seckar-Anderson because those folks worked hard to achieve their success and that is what the American Dream is really about.


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A look at the NBA finals

So I got a chance to watch most of game 1 last night and basically that game reinforced all my thoughts about the series which are as follows.  When it comes to this series my heart says Mavs but my head says Heat.  It is not that I hate the Heat.  I like the Heat, I like LeBron.  I just like Dirk so much more.  I've been a huge Dirk fan since 7th grade and would love to see him win a title.  I love guys who generally play below the rim because I play below the rim.  While it is all but impossible for me to be a reasonable facsimile of what Dirk does, it is impossible for me to do what LeBron does.  That endears me to Dirk and makes me in complete and total awe of LeBron.  I do want Dirk to get a title but I wouldn't be that upset if Miami won, because I also want to see LeBron succeed.  At the end of the day I don't really know what level Dirk elevates to with one title.  I think he's around top 25 all-time already and he will really only pass the Malones and Barkleys of the world.  Jason Kidd might actually elevate more with a title but still won't end up as high as Dirk.  But the history of the NBA shows that Miami will win this title and many titles to come.  With the exception of the 1970's when a myriad teams won just one title one or two teams have dominated each decade.  The Lakers in the 50s, The Celtics in th 60s, skip the 70s, Lakers/Celtics in the 80s, Detroit as a transition into the Bulls dominated 90s (with the Rockets thrown in) and then the Lakers and Spurs dominated the past 12 years winning 9 of the 12 titles with the Heat, Pistons and Big Three Celtics winning the other three.  For all intents and purposes the Heat will likely be the dominant team of the next decade with the Bulls and Thunder possibly sneaking in there for a title or two.  Every decade has had really fine, good teams besides the ones that won titles (60s Lakers, 80s Pistons, 90s Jazz, 00s Nets) but it is winning the finals and even more so winning multiple titles that separates very good teams from great teams.  I think the Heat are a great team.