When Do the Rest of Us Get to Spike the Ball?

The people across the driveway are having a party and I’m not even mad. It’s nice to hear people having fun. I am guessing it’s a Super Bowl party, though it doesn’t sound like everyone is exactly glued to the TV. Reggaetón is playing loud, and right now some folks are singing along. There are probably too many people in the space, but the host has the apartment door open so the air can flow I guess. They are a really nice family and that probably plays into my lack of issue with the party. For God’s sake, have a celebration.

I mean everything sounds like a loud party these days. We cringe when someone nears our personal space, which has now grown to 6 feet in distance. We spot groups of 4 or more at a park and judge them for their carelessness. Everything seems looming and treacherous and so I like this little contained party that I can attend vicariously from the safety of my study. In another season I might even try to get invited, pretend I was going out for a walk or something. But I am off the hook for making new friends like that right now.

I don’t watch the Super Bowl anymore. I used to — always. I love sports, the idea of sports, the spirt of sport, the feeling of participating and watching sports. And I also know the NFL has been a corrupt, capitalist organization for a long, long time. Yet, I happily entered a relationship with the New York (New Jersey, yo!) Giants in the 1980s, after moving to Manhattan. (I used to say “the city” but apparently that term expanded into the outer boroughs a long time ago).

I was waitressing and bartending at Chumley’s, an historic speakeasy in the West Village. It had no signage. People who knew about it would vociferously pat themselves on the back upon entering the Hobbit-like wooden door, ushering their yuppie (because that’s what we called them back then) entourage into the dark, paneled interior. There was a juke box that seemed to play Billie Holiday on repeat, which was fine with me. I dressed up as a member of Run DMC one Halloween. That was before I/we realized that was appropriation. (Please, I did *not* wear blackface). I even was part of an effort to start a union at the restaurant. We all met with the NLRB in my tiny studio on East 28th Street. We went to court. We got a settlement, and made an agreement we would never enter the premises again. Sure, okay.

Anyway, the clientele was all over the place. Lots of yuppies sat at the tables ordering hamburgers and mugs of Black and Tans, but regular folks from the neighborhood — which was still regular-ish in the 80s — were at the bar. (As an aside, I met the one and only Adam West there. I was barely able to speak. Batman was right there in front of me). So there was a guy who lived on the block, seemed old as the hills. But that may have been because he drank his weight in cheap whisky and beer most hours of the day. He was a Giants fan. I had recently arrived in NYC without a real affection for a pro football team. I was a rabid University of Michigan Wolverine fan, and kind of paid attention to the Detroit Lions. But I could be easily swayed. Phil Simms was QB for the Giants back then. This bar-regular would curse Simms up and down, like he was strangling his mother or something. The passion moved me, and before you knew it I, too, was a Giants fan. As in fanatic.

When I met Pepper Johnson at a club on Varick Street, and he took my relatively petite hand in his to shake, I almost passed out. Years later, at a fundraiser in Montclair, New Jersey, Michael Strahan held the floor length leather coat I had won in a raffle. I took as long as possible to slip my arms through the sleeves as he patiently stood behind me. (Sigh). Now, all along I was kinda “woke,” like I knew that the way the NFL treated its players — especially the ones of color — left much to be desired. (Remember I tried to start a union)? But they made so much money anyway, I rationalized, as I put on my various jerseys, from Lawrence Taylor to Victor Cruz. And sure, the players did some wrongheaded things, but… Anyway, I scheduled my Sundays around the games. 1 o’clock start? Okay, get the house cleaned first, workout after. 4 o’clock kickoff? Get everything done first, and you can drink beer by half time. Night game? Yes!

But times change. Life changes. And as life changes we sometimes sharpen our senses in the process. Stuff was always happening but lots of people started paying more attention. Concussions. Bounties for injuring opponents. Cheating, in all manner of ways. Domestic violence perpetrated by players, barely acknowledged by management. Weapons fired in public spaces. Racism. Homophobia. How you gonna say you support all the causes you do then turn around and crack a beer and root for cheaters, abusers, racists and bullies? I had to stop. And I will say right here that college football is no dream of humanitarianism, to be sure. That is a whole other subject. But, the way I see it, the college athletes still have more “agency” than the pros in a certain kind of way. I take some solace in the trend towards fair remuneration of college athletes, while there is just no major sign of change that I can see on the NFL horizon. Colin Kaepernick was my last straw.

The party is still going on across the way, though it has quieted somewhat. Here on the west coast it’s the 4th quarter of the game, with only minutes left. And apparently it’s quite a rout. I hope all the players return home safely — in good health, mentally and physically. They probably won’t. I really pray that my neighbors have had a good time, let out a little steam (through their masks, God-willing). They probably have a better chance of a happy end to their night. Maybe. I don’t know what their tomorrows, their Mondays bring. Mine? Oh, I’ll be following my routine: read, write, exercise, teach. And hopefully, before we know it, I’ll be having parties in my backyard, replete with people singing along with my music and rooting for a new tomorrow. I really hope we’re at the two-minute-warning of this Pandemic Bowl. Maybe I’ll even go to Disney World when it’s all over.

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