Jim Trainer

Too Skinny, Too Small Chapter 5 by Don Bajema

In Uncategorized on November 12, 2013 at 5:28 pm

You begin thinking about the game from television and hours out in the street with friends. Getting the rudiments of the game, catching, throwing, running with the ball. In grade school the game is kind of an elaborate tag game with a ball. Two hand touch-pretty benign, maybe a shove here or there skids a kid in the dirt, or the drive for a reception might bring an accidental collision. But fun to play and we played for hours from the school days end to dark. Nobody got hurt. Because the game demands at least a handful of players on each side to make it any fun at all-the little kids got to play too.

And on Saturdays and Sundays you watch a game on TV thrilled the whole time as you place yourself in the uniform of you favorite players and dream of that sound and that glory, those announcers praising you, the camera adoring you on the sideline. The camaraderie the whole manly getting off the beach, pulling on the helmet out onto the field for combat. You go to High School games on Friday nights, you see the fans full of cheering girls and unfortunate boys sitting there in the stands beside them. You see the players in the grocery store wearing jackets and manhood walking through the cereal aisles like gods.

All those years as a kid, out on an asphalt field on the playground with the cold making noses run, breathing like smoke as they gather for the huddle and the plans, the defense trying to listen in from the other side of the line of scrimmage, watching fingers drawn on the ground of pass routes, counting to three after the ball’s snapped to rush the quarterback, hands up jumping in the air.

Then there’s the uniforms, if not Pop Warner pre-high school plastic armor, helmets, pads and the beginning of ‘contact’. Then into high school where ‘contact’ becomes tantamount to the game. Impact. Knocking people down. The game’s ballet disappears and it becomes a chaotic scrum a kind of barroom brawl of awkward pushing and shoving and grabbing and pulling the ball carrier to the ground.

But in a short time the game gets more sophisticated, the coaches instruct technique, “Get your pads under the man.” So that the leg drive from your levered advantage and the mass chaos becomes more mano-a-mano combat on the line, buying time for plays to develop so that the running backs can learn to run through moments of open space made in the line, and then with that, later, the quarterback can take a moment to see a receiver crossing or running a quick out pattern and if he runs faster than the defender to the point where the ball is most likely to land-makes a catch.

While high school play gets pretty sophisticated and violent, and there are casualties along the way, awkward pinnings of knees in piles that blow ligaments apart, wrench and twist bones off their mounts and send kids to the surgeons table. There’s fingers broken, noses banged up, shoulders in young men are vulnerable being as they frequently are exposed in the ball and socket without the benefit of any muscle to pad them.

Depending on the program at a four year college a player might enjoy an extension of some of the harmless level of play in highschool. But some programs begin the corporate approach and every snap, every pre-season moment, every thought in your head, every aspect of your identity and all import in the world comes down to football.

It becomes your corporate church. And you’re rewarded with stadiums packed with a hundred-thousand people to watch you distinguish yourself on the field. Scouts get serious, if you’ve been scouted in highschool your courted now. Observed from a judging distance, your future being assessed. And then there’s the promise of money. Lots of money.

And on the grade school field where the game is actually fun there’s no locker room. And then when the pads come on and the need for a changing room comes into the game the beginning of the football player mentality begins to reveal itself. Suddenly individual personality becomes part of what fits into a team, you can be the joker, you can be the inspiring one, you can be the specimen, you can be the bully.

And those archetypes move on through high school and into the college locker room. But when you put men into constant unremitting time together in endless meetings, endless practices, dorm rooms, airplanes, motel rooms and the locker room, the gathering place before and after every practice and every game. All I can tell you, and I’ll tell you more, is that it gets real weird. Very strange. One thing, there are players, the warriors of a Sunday, rich, giant, freaks of speed and strength, agility and drive who are like little babies. Outside of the violence on the field they are helpless whining, Bible thumping, narrow minded, giants and physical geniuses ensnared forever in a kind of arrested development. Yet the import of the game must be stressed, the live and die of it, the laying your body on the line ethos, the playing through pain and injury. The entire cold military, police, goose stepping organizational hierarchy of veterans and coaches and rookies and starters and depth players.

The news guys hanging on every word. The groupies. The families and the whole top to down abuse and rank within the corporation.

I think the game makes suckers of every fan in the stands and in front of the television, this game is the most cynical con that ever became a billion dollar industry unless its when you send guys off to war.

Donna woke me up, it was all one of those dreams where it’s demanded I give my opinion, My head ached and the thoughts disappeared like steam.

Don Bajema will be reading  from his latest work at a very special night of poetry and spoken word, presented by the Moonstone Arts Center, with Jim Trainer and Maleka Fruean, at the Brandywine Workshop 728 S. Broad Street Philadelphia, PA 19146 on Wednesday December 11 at 7pm.  For more information check out the events page on Facebook.

Brother Don

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