When I interact with BC parents, I don't think many of them fully understand our emotional investment in teams their children play on. We're fans (and bloggers) with limited connection to their kids, yet we live and die with their games as if they were family. We glorify their children when they perform well and bluntly criticize the little things when times are rough. After reading his book Something Like the Gods, I think I Stephen Amidon (Alex's father) understands. His book takes a historical look at the evolution of our relationship with athletes. From ancient Greece to today's multimedia jock, Amidon does a very good job of relating our current passions with sports heroes. If you like history and the history of sports, you'll enjoy the book.
With the season approaching and his book available online and in most major bookstores, I asked Amidon a few questions. His answers are below.
ATLeagle: The book has a historical and anthropological tone. Are you that analytical about sports when you are watching as a fan? What are you like on a Saturday in the Parents' Section at Alumni?
Stephen Amidon: I am not analytical at all. In the Parents' Section, I am a nervous wreck who occasionally experiences moments of delirious joy. I try to keep an outwardly calm demeanor, but on the inside things can get pretty hectic. In fact, the intensity of being the father of an athlete is one of the reasons I wrote the book. I wanted to explore exactly why we are so enthralled, captivated, moved and occasionally infuriated by the athlete. Nothing really matches the feeling of being a fan whose home team or favorite competitor is in the midst of a tough contest (even if your son is not out there!). Your daily life is suspended; you are taken to a place where everything is more extreme, more raw. You are totally focused, which is rare in our distracted world. Something Like the Gods is my attempt to analyze and, hopefully, illuminate that experience.
ATLeagle: You write extensively about race and sports. From a personal perspective how prejudicial do you think the leaders in sports are today? For example, your son is a white wide receiver who played high school football at a prep school in Connecticut. Yet his track experience showed that he had speed. If Alex had shown the same raw talent but been black and from Texas do you think he would have been recruited differently? Did most FBS programs assume he was going Ivy League?
Stephen Amidon: Yes, Alexander's experience was pretty unique. Because he went to a prep school that was not primarily known for football (it was traditionally more of a lacrosse/hockey school that does indeed feed into the Ivies), he was not really on many people's radar until he went to a combine in Philadelphia and put up some interesting times and scores. And then he attended the BC camp in the summer before his senior year and that's where he was offered a scholarship. We accepted right away - it felt like a perfect fit at the time and still does. So yes, if he had gone to high school in Texas or Florida, I think the experience would have been very different, a lot busier and more drawn out, fraught with dilemmas and choices. To be honest, I think this is more a question of geography than race. If you live in a big football market, you get more attention.
As for racism, from an historical perspective, things are far better than they have ever been. Racial stereotypes still exist, but they tend to be a lot less toxic. You're right - because Alexander is white, people tend to assume he is a possession receiver, when actually he is very fast, and can function as a deep threat for the Eagles.
Racial attitudes were a lot worse even in the 1970s, when I played sports. I played JV football in Maryland and was made the starting quarterback over a black player named Michael Anderson, even though he was better than me. But the coaches bought into the ridiculous myth that blacks were in some way ill-equipped to play quarterback. It still makes me cringe to think about. We were 1-9, by the way. Our single victory came when I turned an ankle and Mike played QB.
ATLeagle: I love college sports but I often have to ignore all the corruption, hypocrisy and exploitation that goes into the system. In the book you researched all sports going back to the very first athletes. Did you ever come across a popular sport like college football that unraveled because it didn't police itself well?
Stephen Amidon: I cannot think of any major sport that completely unraveled due to lack of policing, but there are two that came very close. The first is college football in the first decade of the twentieth century, which was almost closed down by President Teddy Roosevelt after an epidemic of on-field deaths. The creation of the Flying Wedge formation a decade earlier meant that helmetless, lightly padded tacklers would often find themselves on the receiving end of five or six crushing blows while trying to get at a runner. The results were truly shocking. Twenty players died in 1904, thirty in 1909. Authorities responded with an ingenious solution - they invented the forward pass, opening up the game and saving it in the process.
The second sport that almost ended was Major League Baseball during the 'Black Sox' scandal, in which eight members of the Chicago White Sox, including 'Shoeless' Joe Jackson, were convicted of throwing the 1919 World Series after being bribed by a syndicate of gangsters. In response, baseball owners brought in a tough-minded federal judge, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to serve as commissioner and clean up the game. Among other things, he instituted a stringent set of anti-gambling rules that are still in effect to this day, as Pete Rose can attest. I think the key in both these cases was that strong, decisive leadership came from political figures outside the leagues to address the crisis. Perhaps there is a lesson here for the NCAA.