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Author: Jeff Spevak Page 2 of 160

Resurrecting The Critical Mass

Everyone’s screaming, “WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO THE CRITICAL MASS?” True, I haven’t posted one since Jan. 16, 2023. I’ve been busy, writing other stuff. Something had to give.

But the blog will be back. The first week of November. I promise. Mark your calendars…

In matters of life, death and football, question everything

This isn’t a secret, but you have to go to the bottom of my résumé to find it. Through the first decade of my professional journalism career, I was a sportswriter and editor. Lots of high school stuff. But I did venture into the big time. An interview with Mickey Mantle. And writing about Division I college football. The University of Texas Longhorns. The Washington State Cougars, I covered them for a few years.

And, in what was one step below that, what was then called Division I-AA, the University of Idaho. It was pretty good football. Very pass-happy. I watched virtually all of it from high above, as God might. From the press box. A view not unlike the one most college and NFL fans enjoy from their living-room couch, watching the game on television.

There was one Idaho game where I was faced with a tight deadline. As the game drew to a close, I wound my way down through the stands, and onto the field, which my press pass allowed me access to, so I could get a quick handful of interviews just as the game ended.

And it’s from the sidelines, standing alongside the players, that you really feel what the highest levels of football are all about. The speed of the players is startling. The hits, and the sounds of the impact of player on player, and players getting slammed to the artificial turf, is alarming. That close to the action, you see smears of blood on the uniforms.

The expertise of unnoticed professionals comes into play. Each team’s trainers know how to quickly get injured players off the field.

And I never thought much about any of it. Few people involved with the sport – coaches, players, sportswriters, fans – speak of it. Maybe they laugh it off. Or they worry about whether a key player will be available for the next game. But the violence is accepted. It is a part of the game.

Injury reports are as much a part of the game as each coach’s game plan.

Death? It’s rare. Almost non-existent as a calculation. Injuries? Not rare at all. Many football players carry their injuries with them through the rest of their lives. Knees that no longer function. The thinking process is fractured by blows to the head, bringing on early-onset dementia. Medications that are intended to heal lead to addictions.

You know where this essay is heading. Damar Hamlin.

Football fans watched on television as the Buffalo Bills defensive back died on the field, was brought back to life, died at the hospital, was brought back to life.

A decent guy and, by all accounts, a socially conscious human. Hamlin’s recovery is being celebrated today as the sport’s feel-good story of the moment.

But pull back from that wonderful news, and look at the bigger picture. The bigger picture of the violence that is the nature – and is celebrated – in football.

Years ago, in those sportswriting days, I was told of a high-school football coach who taught his players that, in the seconds after a referee had blown his whistle to stop play as they were running up to a pile-up of players, if someone from the opposing team was lying there, with his hand on the ground, unprotected… step on it. Step on the guy’s hand. Maybe break it. Put him out of the game.

This retrograde sportsmanship isn’t limited to football. I also knew of a high-school wrestling coach who spent an entire practice session teaching his team how to break an opponent’s nose by smashing it into the mat.

Why do we celebrate auto racing, when that kind of behavior behind the wheel of your family vehicle gets people killed?

As a sportswriter, I wrote about boxing matches without giving it a second thought. But this is a sport where the object is for one man – or woman – to disable an opponent, through tactics that you’d be arrested for if you engaged in them under everyday circumstances.

It’s a dangerous world out there, folks. People die of heart attacks while mowing their lawns. People die after their houses catch fire in the middle of the night. People choke to death while eating at restaurants and church picnics.

We weigh our choices. We take our chances. We suspend the rules of civil society if we can post the results on a scoreboard. And place a bet on the outcome.

The larger picture is not that an audience watched Damar Hamlin nearly die after making a tackle, on what looked like just about every play in football.

Football is not going away, and neither are chicken wings at the church picnic.

No, the larger picture is our willingness to accept a course of action as an inevitability over which we have no personal control. Close your eyes, there are more football games to come. But as philosophers from Euripides to Socrates to Albert Einstein to George Carlin remind us: Question everything.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

2022: Don’t let the door hit you on the ass on your way out

Abilene hanging out at Iron Smoke Distillery.

I’m not certain of the actual date, but in the midst of it all, 2022 got to be too much for me. So, with the exception of the stuff I actually get paid to produce – words that bring in the grocery money – I took a break from writing. No blogging: The Critical Mass is a vanity project anyway. I set aside the novel in progress: the bookstores are overloaded with them.

This year, the self-reflection that accompanies lining up words in the correct order felt too much like self-flagellation.

Despite assurances from the anti-Fauci stormtroopers that COVID was imaginary, I contracted the virus in May after attending a radio convention in Philadelphia. It lingered. I still feel it now. Or I still feel something, something’s leached into my bones….

This year, I lost my 92-year-old mom and my 14½-year-old dog. The actuarial tables insist those were good, long runs. That doesn’t make it feel any better. That dog and I, we explored Turning Point Park together many, many times. In the kitchen most mornings, I would hear Abbie’s toenails clicking on the wood floor as she wandered in to see what I was doing.

Making toast.

Of course there’s a piece for you….

My dogs – my college dog Hormel, the first Weimaraner, Mosel – have always made the world a more comfortable fit for me.

But in this most forgettable of years, a loyal dog was not enough salve to ease me through 2022. Beyond death and COVID, many of these other cuts were small, for sure, but they hurt like hell anyway. I have felt robbed of community intimacy and connectiveness.

I was still going into the office. But for vast stretches of 2022, we weren’t going out to hear music or eat at restaurants or see Rochester Red Wings baseball games. If friends visited, we sat on the deck, hoping the summer breeze would blow any lingering virus into the neighbors’ yards.

I’d go to the grocery store. I’d be one of the few wearing a mask. True, the infection rate of the virus had been dropping all summer. So wearing a mask was perhaps less preventative than it was the act of the neighborhood crank yelling, “HAVEN’T YOU HEARD? THIS THING HAS KILLED MORE THAN A MILLION AMERICANS!”

Yet as the year crept on, when I ventured out, even I was leaving my mask in the car. Throwing caution to the wind. Perhaps it was a belief that Americans are blessed, almost to a state of naïveté. As if, if we so choose, any of us can be Jimmy Stewart in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Or, “Herschel Walker Nearly Goes to Washington.”

That right there should be a reminder: It’s not smart to rely on herd mentality, and the public in general making wise choices. My casual maskless summer is now being reversed. From what I have read, COVID might be making a comeback this winter.

Winter. It’s astonishing to see the photos of the record-breaking snowfall in Buffalo. And impassible roads throughout the country. Yet weirdly, here in Rochester, some 70 or so miles east of Buffalo, the snowfall has not been deep enough to completely cover the grass in the front yard. As I’m typing this, on New Year’s Eve, it’s 51 degrees outside with a drizzling rain. No snow in sight.

Earth’s weather. Astronomers tell us Pluto is cold, somewhere between minus-375 and minus-400 degrees Fahrenheit. At least it has an excuse, it’s 3.7 billion miles from the sun.

What’s our excuse? This cold Earth is no comfort for the people of Ukraine. And for the people in the United States who watched as the Supreme Court ruled that it, and not the women of this country, have control over their bodies. We have at hand and we need to lead just and productive and fulfilling lives. Yet we live like we are victims, controlled by circumstances that are within our reach.

As My Friend Frank Bilovsky just wrote on Facebook…

Trump’s tax returns, released by Congress this morning, conclusively show that he is a lair, a cheater and a fraudster. (Example: He earned $50,000 for a speaking engagement but claimed $46,000 in travel expenses to deliver it.) But 30 percent of the voters will excuse it on the grounds that they also fudged their tax returns and got $78 larger refunds than they should have.

That 30 percent is a cold, hard fact standing in the way of charging Trump with instigating the Jan. 6 invasion and vandalizing of the U.S. Capitol building. It will take some gallant nerve to keep pushing it forward.

And when Republicans take over the House next week, it appears they’re going to abandon that investigation and launch endless show trials over whatever is in Hunter Biden’s laptop. Which, according to reputable news reports of its contents, falls a tad – a really big tad – short of instigating an invasion of the Capitol building, where Proud Boys shit on the floor and endangered lives.

Earth is a cold place for the thousands of Americans who mourned death delivered by the teenagers who can legally walk the streets holding a weapon of war. Republicans have made a hero of Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old who went to a protest following the shooting of a Black man, Jacob Blake, by a police officer (Not the first time that’s happened, if you follow the news). Rittenhouse brought along an automatic rifle, he must have been planning to use, right? And he did, killing two people and wounding a third. Found not guilty of murder, after he bawled like a baby during his court testimony, the kid did a tour of conservative rallies and media outlets, and lent his name and image to a handful of products. Including “Kyle Rittenhouse’s Turkey Shoot,” a video game in which a cartoon Rittenhouse shoots turkeys that represent the media.

It’s all a game. Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Madison Cawthorn and Lauren Boebert, all Republican members of Congress, battled over which of them would hire Rittenhouse as an intern. He met with Trump at the White House. A $1 million book deal was reportedly in the works.

I’m a writer. Where’s my $1 million book deal? I’d kill to have one.

BE THE FIRST in your neighborhood to know when a new Critical Mass has been turned loose. Go to the “Subscribe” button on the web site jeffspevak.com for an email alert. You can contact me at jeffspevakwriter@gmail.com.

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