There Is A “Me” In Team

I was asked recently what character I would be in the Walking Dead series, to which I pondered my answer with equal parts so and frito whilst tumbling a couple fingers worth of a deftly constructed swim of smoky caramelo.

“They ain’t written him yet,” Was my answer.

“How about Rick? You’ve got the beard and you’ve got the swagger . . .”

For one thing, my swagger is more a matter of compromised structural integrity. Add to that the fact that Rick was much too fastidious when it came to the ‘team’ concept, which is something I’ve always been dubious about. It’s been that way since I quit Boy Scouts after slugging a fat bully because he was picking on my best friend Mark Luis. The incident taught me a lot about the implicit danger in buying into something whilst eschewing common sense. I’m not damning the concept of teamwork. Just the obligatory lockstep too many peeps buy into, after which they refute all manner of that common sense and in the most egregious examples, human decency.

I played wide receiver in high school to great success. I wasn’t the fastest or the strongest but I had skilled hands on the level of a diamond cutter. If the quarterback had to throw it up for grabs- which is really all a high school quarterback ever does- I was the one he threw it to, because I didn’t miss. For a hot second- until both my knees got busted up- I dreamed of playing college ball.

I wanted to play for Penn State, for Joe Paterno. Because he was the antithesis of all the coaches I’d experienced in my young life. My high school coaches were bitter men whose locker room talk consisted of calling young men ‘pussies’ if they got injured and couldn’t play. They leered at girls who could have been their daughters and considered women to be little more than obscene parodies. When peeps ask why the #metoo movement is so necessary . . I’ve got my answer all locked and loaded.

Having moved to Lancaster county in 1986, I witnessed first hand the grip Penn State football had on a community and a state. This fervent dedication to an individual, and to his vision of what teamwork was supposed to look like was unwavering in its obsessiveness.

Working retail while going to school at night, my free time was spent with girls who, even if they didn’t follow sports, knew Penn State football. To say it was a religion is not an understatement. It was during this time that I scored a manager’s gig at K-Mart whilst learning under the roughly hewn tutelage of Joe Hewitt.

Joe was a forty something retail lifer who smoked his three meals and ate occasionally. He cursed like a sailor, but he was the genuine article. His Alma mater was Pitt University, and so when he would talk shit about State, I took it as the predictable rantings of an alumnus who was screaming and kicking at his second fiddle status.

Over time, I came to learn differently. Joe had played a couple years of college ball, and had actually met Paterno a handful of times.

“Don’t believe what they tell you about this guy, kid. He’s not a Saint, not even close . .”

Of course, Joe Hewitt was right. And of course it didn’t matter in the twenty five years between my working with him and the arrest of Jerry Sandusky on charges of rape and child sexual abuse. And if you live in Penn State country? It still doesn’t matter to many.

Because as great as head football coach James Franklin has been for a university in desperate need of good men like him, there is still an appreciable divide between the people who accept the new establishment and the old guard who still hold fiercely to Paterno. And the latter is not solely comprised of old white guys who spend their afternoons drowning in menthol smoke at the VFW. Not even close.

Paterno’s team still has plenty of people who defend him in spite of everything that has transpired. Young and old, alumni and transplants, Baby boomers to Gen-X’ers to Millenials . . an insidious religion maintains its creep, like ivy on a structure whose foundation has been blasted into memory and retrofitted to a more logical conclusion.

This mindset is far from unique to State College, of course. The horror of Penn State simply retained its relevancy inside an ever changing news cycle because it involved one of college football’s biggest brands headed up by the supposed Pope of the gridiron. Whose defenders are far less vocal today, but no less tenacious.

Perhaps the greatest misconception of teamwork is that it is inviolable, above reproach. This is its greatest power, and our greatest weakness. People want to belong to that cliched bigger than ourselves mantra, without ever stopping to consider the fine print. And it’s why I consider its vulnerabilities in much the same way I do my so called swagger. Because to think otherwise is to declare myself a buyer.

No thanks, I’ll rent.

 

61 thoughts on “There Is A “Me” In Team

  1. Super post, Marc. I really could identify with what you had to say about the fans of Paterno and the unbelievable tendency to look away in favor of cult worship. We had the same at Baylor. Thugs were brought on to play football no matter their history of assault and actions while on the team not punished. Finally, though, the ones in charge were brought to justice and the bum types moved out. We were donors to the University in addition to the tuition paid for our daughter’s attendance. Even after the scandals broke out and everything was so-called, “cleaned up,” we raised wholly hell about a player convicted of animal abuse. The administration caved and let him play cause he could catch passes. Our spigot was turned off and eventually, Baylor hit the skids with a zero win season. We felt sorry for the school but relished the administration angst. Glad to see them back with people of principle.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I remember us chatting about this way back when I wrote a series of posts in regards to the Penn State scandal. And yes, from Florida to Penn State to Baylor and on and on. When money and power are involved, ethics and morals and just plain doing what’s right can take a back seat.

      Hopefully both programs remain in that good place.

      Like

  2. B,

    I have to agree… none of the characters fit. I was watching the special extra bonus (i.e. listening to Denise Huth give us a little itty bitty extra info with full-on vocal-fry – so, total waste of time) but rewatching those last few minutes when Negan says to Michone – “No one thinks they’re the bad guy.” really made sense in that world, anyway. And I think in this one as well – for the honest folk. Rick may have had a beard and a swagger but his idea of team at times was way too rigid. He wasn’t always the best leader, either – and no team will function properly without one.

    Skilled hands, eh? I’ll just stop there…

    I don’t understand those types of “coaches” who believe denigrating their players will encourage them to play better and don’t get me started on their attitude to the female gender.

    I also don’t understand this blind following of a team (leader and players) who has such a horrible track record – I think your analogy that it is an insidious religion – with the ivy creeping all across is perfect (how the hell do you do that?)

    I am in awe at how you take something in the news and really analyze the what’s what and then give us this.

    Excellent choice of song 😉

    Q

    Liked by 1 person

    • Q,

      The team concept has its place, but the idea that it serves as the end all is where humanity has always gotten in trouble. And will again, until we finally drive humankind over the cliff.

      I took it personally when I dropped a pass. My thing was, if I could touch the ball, I could catch the ball.

      Too many coaches don’t give a blessed fuck about the health of their players. I remember when Korey Stringer of the Vikings died of heat stroke after a practice and it was all over the news. But every year, at least three high school football players die. We never hear about those.

      And yeah, I remember a local HS football coach who was quietly dismissed from his position here in spite of his great record. Seems the reason he was dismissed was because he was sleeping with a student. So what happens? This coach gets a head coaching gig upstate. Thanks to? Oh, that would be Joe Paterno.

      I’ve known peeps who are proud of the schools they’ve graduated from. California to Texas to Georgia to Michigan. I don’t consider these peeps to have been blind loyalists. Which is what made the reaction of certain PSU fans so regrettable.

      This was a conversation I had recently in which a member of the group was a Penn State fan and preferred not to talk about the past. After he left, we all agreed it was preferable not to talk about it than to have him spew on about how Paterno had been wronged.

      I had to get Iggy in there.

      B

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is that.

        I believe you would.

        I will never forget the Korey Stringer story. I was so pissed that such a thing could happen,

        Oh. Ugh. He should not be ever considered for a coaching position. Anywhere. But what the hell do I know?

        It sucks when you can’t be proud of your school without there being something you have to pretend doesn’t exist.

        Yeah. Definitely preferable to not talk about it.

        Of course.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. You remember that story?

    That’s not how it works though. As long as he wins, as long as he provides recruits to big brand football programs . . the man is going to have a job somewhere. It’s the Sam Rothstein Effect. If you make the bosses money, they’re gonna find a soft landing spot for you somewhere.

    I don’t understand that. Why CAN’T a person be proud of having gone to Penn State and at the same time hold the individuals responsible- including Paterno- for what happened?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Och!

    I was just thinking, how weird, a like with no comment and then I thought… ahhh… must be outta sync. And here you are!

    Yes, I do remember that story. I was beyond angry.

    I know. Doesn’t make it right. Money over everything else…

    Exactly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Buahaha!

      I’ve played and been a part of teams for a long time now, and I’ve always worked fine within them. But I’ve also always had my own way of doing things within the framework because I realize everybody has a different agenda. I’ve always had the mindset to push for the goal and be there for those who are doing the same. Leave all the BS behind.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Okay – so, there is just too much me in this post I am not a team player. My sport was tennis; singles, not doubles. I did not fear Chrissy. I dreamt of beating Martina. I would go to lessons every morning and after school. Then go home and lob a ball against the side of our house. This was the one time my mother was so cool. I know the pictures in the house had to be bouncing against the wall, but she never complained about all that thumping. Maybe I would have played doubles with McEnroe though I fear we are too much alike. We would have stopped the match yelling at one another. Then I broke my wrist and dreams changed!

    I do know who I would be in the Walking Dead, however. I would be Michonne. She got frustrated with Rick many a time and struck out on her own several times. That would be me. Of course, I stopped watching after the third season, so I hope she didn’t go crazy.

    “Compromised structural integrity.” Bahahaha, I like that. Is that another way to say control freak. I think that is my issue. I do not like giving over the control until/unless I trust. I have all the control in individual sports.

    Enjoyable read!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ella!!!!

      I can see you as a tennis brat (Said affectionately and with zero derision). It’s funny, because as I got older, I moved to solitary endeavors. Tennis and then skiing and then running and karate.

      Michonne is still kicking ass and dreamy as ever.

      That’s me too. I like to be in control, of everything. Low key, but very much so. I never feel like “me” when I hand over control to someone else. In certain situations and for a hot minute? Sure. But the rest of the time, I gotta be me.

      It’s why I love running more than any of the other activities I’ve endeavored in over the years. It’s me out there, it’s my peace of mind. My Zen.

      Gracias mucho.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. … oops, wasn’t done. It extends to the BS “family” approach of modern workplaces, too. And the Red v. Blue which ignores the purple, yellow and Green and mirye. B@#$+, please. Lots if the time family ain’t family.

    That said, we are social animals and rely on others to survive, like it or not. Cooperate or perish, to paraphrase a research phrase. Smart money is on the latter but I suppose there’s hope.

    Bike/run/walk/yoga/write/right on!

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Lots of time family ain’t family” . . . those are the truest of words spoken right there.

      Yeah, the modern workplace LOVES to use team. And they’re absolutely right on, because a lot of these workplace teams behave like the Philadelphia Eagles- there’s sniping, there’s passive aggressive rap and there’s plenty of peeps in it for themselves . . .

      There’s always hope, which is what we need to carry with us till the lights go out.

      Appreciate it Dude.

      Like

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