Sports facilities, mass transit, and desegregation

HUMAN 0
St. Louis will never have an NBA team again. We literally have no basketball culture here.

There are more parks with hoops in the middle of Missouri than there is in all of the parks in St. Louis.

HUMAN 1
By design. I had a hard time finding a basketball court whenever I lived there. They have tennis courts, golf, and baseball diamonds in forest park but not one basketball court which probably has the smallest footprint of any the mentioned sports… well maybe not tennis.

Our city is actually divided into St. Louis County and St. Louis City. Suburbs are totally normal, but I’ve never have been to a city that is literally divided into a County and a City.

So much so that we don’t have a proper metro system because people in the county don’t want crime in the city brought to their suburbs.

Media likes to portray St. Louis as a crime ridden city, but the real problem is this city just seems barren. I’ve been to a few major cities in the last year, and their downtowns are thriving on random Tuesday nights. We just don’t have that here.

There’s a parallel in mass transit to what happened with community swimming pools.

A lot of racist jokes exist about black Americans not knowing how to swim, but it has a basis in fact, and it’s not a coincidence. Children weren’t allowed to swim in segregated community pools then once the Supreme Court ruled segregation unconstitutional, cities and counties decided to shut them all down or make them private, or make it so that only people who were wealthy enough to have their own backyard pools could swim.

I don’t think you can underestimate how much racism plays in even to something like opposition to mass transit. All transportation is public transportation, but everyone can use mass transit to get around a city or region. Without it, there’s a barrier for travel put up so that only people who can afford cars, including registration, maintenance, gas, and parking, get the benefit of roads. Which means you have to be even more wealthy already if you want to live in the suburbs and work in the city. It’s an invisible wall for the gated communities out there.

Not every place is dense enough for mass transit to make sense, but I’d argue the largest reason American cities lack the sort of infrastructure cities in European and Asian countries have is that everyone gets to benefit from mass transit, and that’s exactly what people who benefit from racist inequality don’t want.

To take it back to sports directly, but in a less well-thought-out way, this is the major motivation behind moving stadiums and arenas out to less-accessible suburbs like the Atlanta Braves did. They were trying to solve the ‘problem’ the Hawks have of black people attending their games and wanted to go to a place where it was less accessible to MARTA, with both versions of the acronym being appropriate.

Likewise, I think Seattle as a predominantly white city is a major factor in mass transit and stadiums that are downtown and easy to get to via that mass transit.

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Greg Oden always looked old and sad

The other day, the Portland Trailblazers finally cut their center Greg Oden.

The 2007 No. 1 overall draft pick played 88 games in his career thus far, a phrase likely two words too long.

In four seasons, he only played part of two games while his legs and feet suffered seemingly every possible injury as soon as he stepped on the court.

Oden’s name will forever be a byword for bad decisions and failure in professional drafts, next to Ryan Leaf and Sam Bowie. “Busts.” Stupid picks that spectacularly didn’t work out for their teams.

Of course, in both of those examples, it’s not just who was selected but who wasn’t.

Continue reading “Greg Oden always looked old and sad”

The weekend’s most important sport event didn’t involve a bowl

I spend a lot of time putting together these weekly columns. Days, sometimes weeks of walking to and from lunch, kicking rocks down the street. Hours scribbling in various notebooks, then a night getting all of them together and typed into a computer file.

There’s a lot of writing, a little praying and great weeping and gnashing of teeth involved before I finally fall asleep sobbing and wake up to remember it still isn’t finished, and I’ve got to stay at work until it at least looks like it is.

So in the middle of all of this, writing a column about politicians and celebrity, I noticed the Australian Open final was about to start, (1) Rafael Nadal vs. (2) Roger Federer. I’m not a tennis fan in any way whatsoever. The sport bores me, especially when it doesn’t involve women I can objectify.

Continue reading “The weekend’s most important sport event didn’t involve a bowl”

I think I need a new obsession

I apologize in advance for my column this week. I had a very bad weekend, and the worst thing about it is nothing bad actually happened to me.

OHS’s playoff game slipped away from them, and Texas Tech got absolutely humiliated by Oklahoma. And none of you care, but Atlanta knocked Carolina out of first place in the NFC South.

Odessa and Tech weren’t alma maters. I graduated from Permian and never even sniffed Lubbock when college application season came around. Nor did I gamble on any of these games. I just invested myself emotionally to a degree that the losses have stayed with me, and I’ll feel a lingering sense of disappointment all week.

Clearly, I care too much about football, but sometimes it works out well. My giddiness about the Patriots’ Super Bowl loss lasted through most of the summer.

(“Hey bartender, who’s that guy sitting down next to the girl I bought a drink for?”

“Her husband.”

“Oh. Well at least the Patriots went 18-1.”)

I’m not alone in this – although to this extent, I may be – because there are some very valid reasons why sports are so compelling, and why the excitement and drama of football have made it the national obsession, to borrow Sal Paolantonio’s phrase.

That’s part of why an e-mail forwarded to me that pretended No Child Left Behind was being applied to high school football was a very effective comparison. The unfairness of it, nevermind federal government involvement, was plainly apparent. It’s a satire, not intended to be closely dissected, but at another level I take it at face value.

I once heard it said that if people followed their politicians half as well as they did baseball players, our democracy would become perfect. Well if people cared half as much about education as they did football, our nation would approach perfection.

This is a common complaint, I know, but when LBJ Elementary (which I actually did attend) lost to Reagan for the sixth-grade championship, I was sincerely disappointed. Certainly, many people were justifiably saddened by OHS’s playoff loss, as well. But how many outside the school system (how many inside the school system) were upset by the academic performance of any school in the district, not just on government standards but actual learning? How many parents who wouldn’t stand to see their child on second-string are content that their child isn’t taking AP classes, not earning – and I stress earning – all A’s, not studying hard enough for the next exam?

Because it is plainly ridiculous to mandate that every high school football team make the playoffs and win the championship, or that every kid have the same skills at all times, but no one would claim West Texans have any biological athleticism to succeed at sports, at yet for several decades, it seemed true. Or if not all sports, generally, then football specifically.

It’s amazing what a good program can consistently accomplish with average people who are driven to accomplish great things and supported materially and emotionally by a community who heaps rewards on their success.

It isn’t an either-or between academics and sports: the valedictorian of my graduating class was a first-string football player. And obviously, debates and midterms aren’t compelling spectator events. Even so, we should care as much about substantive things to push and enthrall our children into working hard at the things that will benefit them – and us – in the future. We should get a vicarious thrill out of what they do between the desks at least as much as between the sidelines.

And we don’t, because most of us don’t care.

I certainly don’t care. For all this, I can’t make myself care. But I do wish the matriculations of school children enraptured me as much as matriculations down the field.

And that field goal hadn’t gone wide left.