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Tennessee's genuine goal is to get footballers and non-footballers alike weaned from the stands and the screen.



Stupor Bowls: Investments Not Altogether Worth It


by Jerry Murley

When I was growing up, I spent a lot of time outdoors. I recall the rule being "get out of the house and don't return except for meals and for bedtime." In summers, the outside play continued well after dark. Of all the various places I have lived, I remember most the grounds surrounding the residence rather than the inside of the house. As should be evident, I didn't read much. I really did not read much until college. That is probably why I approach words in such a playful and inept way. Words have to be twisted, tossed, wrestled to the ground, and have their (type)faces rubbed into the dirt before they get to join the gang – and even then they get occasionally abused in good fun.

When I was in junior high school, I was almost always ready for a front yard football game or a driveway basketball game in fall, winter and spring. That kind of play was a great way to conduct all-business relationships with guys in the neighborhood. I even enjoyed the Super Bowl – for at least two years – in 1969 and in 1999, when the newly arrived Titans had a shot and had a team with names worth learning.

Yard-tending and yard-playing, along with tennis and golf, helped build self-discipline, egalitarian leadership skills, confidence and sustainable fitness. Adding in ethical discussions in church classes, all these activities contributed the ingredients and experience to keep a naive youth in rootless modernity pretty much on an even keel. I cannot say that book learning in my early years helped shape my character in any significant way, as it did by college and thereafter, though required reading of the classics, if only in Cliffs Notes, must have helped hone an ethical compass.

Ever since I can remember, Knoxville has been associated with two things: UT and the most life-threatening leg of I-40 driving. UT has been known for one thing: football fanaticism. Most Tennesseans outside of Knoxville who are unassociated with UT detest UT football mania. UT football costs the state big time. But it does help make our flagship university in the state system a premier party school.

The cycle of UT whining and crowing about football is more than just irksome, it is a pernicious distraction. It costs us plenty – perhaps not always in government expenditures, but in focus: in attention paid to more critical aspects of life and community and in the allocation of limited public and personal resources. I happen to know that UT produces poets whose poems and lawyers whose cases are more lasting than the big game – or the education bestowed on many of its key players.

The obsession with football to the exclusion of other ethical activities is in part responsible for numb minds that make the state sometimes seem like a cultural and political backwater. One could, moreover, lump with football any number of other obsessive behaviors, such as computer gaming and round-the-clock church services. TV and the Internet make us more passive with each passing year. (As of February, I will lose the faint TV reception that I now have. I will, so to speak, return to the divine state of nature that my household lived with for most of the early years of my family life here.) We need to unplug for longer and longer periods of time. But we seek most of all more and more spectacular sports events and electronic connectivity which serve as our source of community connectivity – connection to those who think, speak and commit perpetual acts of commerce just like us.

The phenomenon of excessive, mind-bending team loyalties has crept into our politics and blinded partisans in ways that distort government and social interaction and prevent practical solutions and healthy cultural development. Our political parties have even acquired colors. Are painted faces and tattoos in election campaigns far behind?

Tennessee's genuine goal is to get footballers and non-footballers alike weaned from the stands and the screen and up on their legs and wheelchairs exercising their minds and bodies instead of feeding their faces and fantasies in perpetual spectatorship and the minutiae of gaming and gaming commerce. Just as I should have swapped some of those hours playing neighborhood games for reading more books, this state and UT need to focus more on pounds, inches and feet rather than yards.

Go team – go to the library. Go screen creatures – go take a walk and close the lid on the sweet bits next to the recliner.

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