Chris Uggen's Blog: a matter of brute force or subtle intellect

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

a matter of brute force or subtle intellect

say what you will about #71, but the kid has a keen sense of timing. i'd grown up believing that offensive linemen (and linewomen) were destined to toil in obscurity, until the recent publication of michael "moneyball" lewis' the blind side: evolution of a game. mr. lewis avers that the offensive tackle has become the pivot point for u.s. football:

"As he did so memorably for baseball in Moneyball, Lewis takes a statistical X-ray of the hidden substructure of football, outlining the invisible doings of unsung players that determine the outcome more than the showy exploits of point scorers. In his sketch of the gridiron arms race, first came the modern, meticulously choreographed passing offense, then the ferocious defensive pass rusher whose bone-crunching quarterback sacks demolished the best-laid passing game, and finally the rise of the left tackle — the offensive lineman tasked with protecting the quarterback from the pass rusher — whose presence is felt only through the game-deciding absence of said sacks. A rare creature combining 300 pounds of bulk with 'the body control of a ballerina,' the anonymous left tackle, Lewis notes, is now often a team's highest-paid player. Lewis fleshes this out with the colorful saga of left tackle prodigy Michael Oher. An intermittently homeless Memphis ghetto kid taken in by a rich white family and a Christian high school, Oher's preternatural size and agility soon has every college coach in the country courting him obsequiously. Combining a tour de force of sports analysis with a piquant ethnography of the South's pigskin mania, Lewis probes the fascinating question of whether football is a matter of brute force or subtle intellect. Photos." Publishers Weekly

dang. lewis got this much right: tackles need body control and footwork much more than they need bulk. this sounds like a book that my lad might actually crack! as a right tackle, he only covers the blind side when the lefty quarterback is playing. true to lewis' argument, his o-line is getting lots of good pub. last friday, an analyst on the all-sports radio station even mentioned something called ooo-gun. i was jazzed about it, but (of course) the lad would not speak of such things. i'm all about non-school reading, so i plunked down my $16.95 tonight and added 8 bucks for a tree grows in brooklyn -- tor might ignore blindside, but i know that esperanza can't resist a good read.

9 Comments:

At 9:15 AM, Blogger Corey said...

Chris this is a phenomenal book. I'm about 200 pages into it right now. While Lewis does discuss the evolution of football generally, and the left tackle in particular; he spends much more time developing the story of Michael Oher, an inner-city "freak of nature" apparently born to neutralize the Lawrence Taylor type rush end, who found his way to a suburban Christian private school (despite his lack of academic qualifications) and was eventually adopted by a very wealthy white family. Lewis does a good job developing the nuances and complexity of the story, and in doing so provides grist for the sociological mill.

The account lays out the baldfaced ways in which NCAA eligibility requirements are manipulated to get functionally illiterate, and grossly unprepared young men enrolled into institutions of higher education for the purpose of playing left Tackle (or Running Back, or Middle Linebacker, etc). (Not that I've taken a value position on this or anything...).

I'd be interested in your take on this. Lewis seems to have a sociological eye and avoids simplifying and sanitizing the account.

 
At 6:39 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

thanks, corey. it sounds like the sort of analysis that might be good for a soc of sport course.

i'll let you know how the tackle in my house reacts to the book. i hope it doesn't encourage him to become functionally illiterate and grossly unprepared...

 
At 6:03 AM, Blogger Jay Livingston said...

And then there's the aftermath -- the sort of thing that came out in the testimony of former NFL players at the recent hearings on their health problems and health care.

As for what Corey says about the NCAA, there were similar stories a few years ago about how colleges exploited the same kinds of kids for their basketball programs. Has any of that changed?

 
At 9:18 AM, Blogger Corey said...

Chris, I hope my comment was taken as an attack on any particular person, or your lad in particular.

The chronicle of Michael Oher in Blindside includes the great efforts taken by his adoptive parents to "get Michael eligible" despite the fact that he had never been taught to read beyond a 2nd or 3rd grade level. He took several online "Character education" classes from BYU which the NCAA allows students to substitute for other courses on the transcript, thereby neutralizing an F in algebra by getting an A in "Decision Making".

The entire case is a sociological provocation. We know that the university provides students with benefits beyond academic knowledge. Universities tap students into networks, open up social opportunities for development, etc. Without football, Michael Oher would never have access to those goods (largely as a function of his race, class, and geographic location). Football is an equalizer.

Yet the case also smacks of bad faith. There isn't even a pretense of academic legitimacy in this process. They're going to get Michael Oher enrolled at Ole Miss, where he might help the struggling Rebels claim some of that BCS glory (and indirectly bring in millions in revenue).

I'm still chewing on this.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

jay, the health effects are a big issue, especially for bigger guys. that said, football might be healthier than some alternative leisure activities pursued by adolescent males ...

corey, i didn't see anything like an attack in there -- i was just thinking that maybe i should screen the book before passing it along to my son. i don't want him to get any (more) ideas about coasting through his classes.

 
At 9:53 PM, Blogger jeremy said...

I also thought Blind Side was a great book, for both the reasons Corey says. If it was strictly journalism, he might give a little more scrutiny to the Tuohy family, but since they are his friends what can you do. It's works anyway because it makes the book more amusing and feel-good than a more critical stance would be.

 
At 5:16 PM, Blogger Travis Linnemann said...

As a former greco/freestyle collegiate hwy grappler, and a college o-lineman I am sure a 71 and I have much in common in terms of relative obscurity. The one thing I could add in terms of treatment in this area is to encourage the lad not to take gaining weight too seriously. Stay lean and mean, dont worry about being a 300 pounder, it sucks at 33...

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger christopher uggen said...

jeremy, i'm eager to read it now, but will wait until the lad's finished and/or bored with it.

thanks, travis. you speak with a lot more authority in this area than me. tor played football at about 270 last year, but dropped weight during the wrestling season. Over the summer, he got down to about 225, but he's creeping back up to 240ish now (less road work, more lifting).

tor seems happier at his current weight and he's playing well. at his height, however, he's now subject to the ultimate insult one can throw at a wrestler: "dude, you loook like a basketball player."

 
At 11:25 PM, Blogger timna said...

I'm really enjoying the book and will definitely pass it on to my son who is more keen on wrestling than football these days. He's still waiting for the height.

 

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