Back so soon...

A few blogs ago I chronicled that I was an irredeemable sports nuffie. That fact has not changed. Neither has a bunch of other stuff that I went on to reference in that blog, so here we are again. In addition to being a sports nuffie I have played a lot of computer games as I was, and still am, quite proficient at being an indoorsy, antisocial teenage boy. For those of you who know a little about gaming, the Fallout series of games is a cult classic, and probably a mainstream classic now too. It has an iconic line, which is uttered at the beginning of every intro movie: “War. War never changes.”

You can see the Fallout 2 version of the speech in the video above. I believe the debate about whether games can be considered art has long been settled; they indisputably can as art has a capability to transcend mediums. Fallout 1 and 2, at least, can be considered works of art. Like many story rich games, they make us examine why we think the things we do and cast a critical lens on our society. The famous line “war never changes”, in my view, is meant to make us realise that it’s not war that doesn’t change – it does (Age of Empires taught me this) – but it is humanity that never changes. I’m often reminded of this line these days and coming back to the sports nuffie bit and my past blog, I am certainly reminded of it here.

I have a companion piece I want to write about the Olympics, the sports side of which I have thoroughly enjoyed, but today I am going to stick in the realm of sports we see all the time and the people that orbit them.

The previous blogs I wrote were pretty scathing about the relationship that the major influences of our society (read: straight white men and those that cater to them) have with sports and the over importance and status given to sports and their athletes. However, in the back of my mind, and heart I suppose, I held on to a deluded notion that while the big umbrella of sports had a lot of badness associated with it, the teams/sports that I closely followed were the squeaky clean exceptions (a myside bias for those who’ve been following along closely). It’s time to crush that small, flickering flame within me.

The biggest market for sports is the USA. There may be some competition with India and it’s IPL and England and the EPL but with the USA having four major league codes the money flowing in the year-long sports fest is almost unfathomable. The NBA recently opened its annual Free Agency period (where uncontracted players who have accrued the unrestricted free agent status are free to sign with any team they choose) and in the first two days over a billion dollars in transactions had occurred. It has reached an obscene level and is a frightening real life pantomime of the disastrous concentration of wealth in the world right now.

Within the US market, which can be explained largely by having the most active and influential player union, the NBA tends to be the most progressive of the sports leagues. Late in March this year, during Equality Month, the NBA had one of their games produced and announced completely by women. For all its faults, the NBA does have a thriving women’s league, the WNBA which is incredibly popular and there are multiple teams in the NBA with female coaches on staff and numerous were in the running for head coaching vacancies this year and it is expected that the first female head coach of an NBA team isn’t far away. So for this league, it was a nod to Equality Month and a symbolic gesture that soon this won’t be a symbol, it will be the norm. Women have definitely gotten pretty close to smashing the glass ceiling of the NBA. Kind of.

The NBA, and all sports leagues, make their money from consumers. TV deals, memberships, merchandise, ticket sales – it all starts with the fan. So the leagues, to an extent, are beholden to keeping the fan happy and hooked in. This is part of why sweeping and needed changes are so slow and tend to be more gestural in practice than actually moving the needle. The other part which is debatably even harder to crack is that the vast, vast majority of team owners are rich, old, white dudes.

Anyone who has spoken to me about this recently knows I have made a conscious choice to abstain from most aspects of social media. I tend to operate as if the news feed doesn’t exist. However when I saw the story about the all female broadcast in the NBA I wanted to read the article. This article had way more comments than any other NBA article that day. It made my heart hurt to read them.

War. War never changes.

I still had my little flickering flame alight however as I do like the NBA, but it’s not on the same level as the NHL, NFL and AFL. So we shall move on.

I love the NFL. When I first began following it, I was watching the TV show The West Wing. At various points on the show they mentioned the Washington Football Team, so with that as my only reference I decided I was a Washington fan. Years of mediocre performance, deplorable ownership and management have made me curse that quick decision. I can’t be a fan of any other team though, I’ve tried and it doesn’t feel right. So Washington it is.

Washington, until recently and since 1932, was known as the Washington Redskins. The nickname has been divisive to say the least and the current owner, Dan Snyder, swore that he would not change it. The prevailing current reached a tipping point last year and it became clear that there was no way to salvage any respectability from the name off the back of the Black Lives Matter protests. Washington, belatedly, dropped the nickname and will announce another next year but have stated they will not use any Native American iconography and do not want any brought to the stadiums. This is a positive step, albeit the owner was dragged kicking and screaming to take it. This has coincided with some respectability being returned to the on-field performance which gave my little flame a bit more of a flicker. Then came the troves of women who bravely stepped forward to identify that the workplace at the Washington Football Team was filled with bullying, discrimination, sexual harassment and other demeaning and unsafe practices.

As is often the case when rich, white people are dobbed in, they launched an “investigation”. The investigator was selected and paid for by the Washington Football Team. She interviewed over 150 people during her investigation over a number of months and presented this to the NFL (ostensibly the Commissioner who is the errand boy of the owners group). The report was presented orally and the NFL handed down a $10 million fine. When you consider the owner is a multi-billionaire who recently purchased a yacht and the cinema on the yacht cost about this much, it makes the outcome seem rather trivial. The report, which totalled zero pages, will not be made available to the public. To put this in context, some years ago the was controversy over whether a player and their team was changing the air pressure in footballs to help give them an edge in games. This report was released and was 243 pages long. You can read more about this here.

War. War never changes.

My true love, any of you who have met me can attest, is hockey (the ice variety). Ice hockey is a religion in Canada and as we all know, Canadians are lovely people who would give you the clothes off their back just to be polite. Canadians represent the majority of NHL players and a large contingent is from Europe and Europeans are like, super classy, so it makes sense that the NHL would be have more integrity when it comes to these sorts of things. Right?… Right?!

Enter the Montreal Canadiens. When I first started watching hockey it was during the playoffs many years ago. For those that don’t know, in the NHL, when you reach the finals and play against another team, you have to beat them in a best of seven series. That’s a lot of hockey. To win the cup you have to do that four times. Playoffs are an intense grind and test a team’s endurance and mental toughness as much as anything. They are riveting. In this playoff series, Montreal was a plucky underdog no one expected to win anything and they kept on grinding it out regardless and chalking up wins. I don’t barrack for Montreal but I do have a soft spot for them as I enjoy a good underdog story.

Now let’s talk about Logan Mailloux, who was recently charged with and paid a fine for a sexual offence whilst playing in Sweden. Now, what Logan did was a grave error. One which should not be rewarded. However, the way Logan responded, at least externally, was admirable and if it is backed up with accountability and action then I feel at some stage when he has shown consistent behavioural change over a period of time, he should be given a second chance. Sentiments that he echoed in a statement:

“”Being drafted into the NHL is an honor and a privilege that no one takes lightly,” Mailloux said in a statement released on social media. “The NHL draft should be one of the most exciting landmark moments in a player’s career, and given the circumstances, I don’t feel I have demonstrated strong enough maturity or character to earn that privilege in the 2021 draft. I know it will take time for society to build back the trust I have lost, and that is why I think it is best that I renounce myself from the 2021 NHL draft and ask that no one select me this upcoming weekend.”

“I feel that this would allow me the opportunity to demonstrate an adequate level of maturity and character next season,” Mailloux wrote, “and provide all the NHL teams the opportunity to reassess my character towards the 2022 NHL draft.”

The story of course, does not end here. Logan may have wished to renounce his status for the 2021 NHL draft but there is no formal process for doing that and with the 31st pick in the 2021 NHL draft (this is a premium position, not a wing and a prayer at the back end of the draft) the Montreal Canadiens selected Logan Mailloux. Naturally this caused waves, enough that the Canadiens organisation issued a statement on their decision to draft Logan:

“By drafting prospect Logan Mailloux with the 31st overall pick, the Montreal Canadiens organization not only selected a promising hockey player, but also a young man who recently admitted to making a serious mistake. The Canadiens are aware of the situation and by no means minimize the severity of Logan’s actions. Logan understands the impact of his actions. His recent public statement is a genuine acknowledgement of his poor behaviour and the first step on his personal journey.

We are making a commitment to accompany Logan on his journey by providing him with the tools to mature and the necessary support to guide him in his development. We are also committed to raising awareness among our players about the repercussions of their actions on the lives of others.”

Conspicuously absent from the statement was any mention of the victim or efforts that will be made to mitigate her suffering. There was plenty of mention of a support network for Logan that would accompany the millions of dollars he will make. Even when a player attempts to show accountability and observe a penance for their action, the multi billion dollar teams choose profits and ratings over moral leadership.

War. War never changes.

Now we come home. I am a passionate Adelaide Crows supporter. I try and see a game every year if possible. There’s a membership with my name on it and plenty of merch in the drawers that gets a fair bit of use. In recent years, the Crows reached a grand final and went in as clear favourites only to be beaten comprehensively in all facets of the game by Richmond. This triggered a review by the club and they opted to think outside the box and sent their players on an ill-fated and now infamous leadership camp. Without running over the details it went very badly, the players were put in gross and demeaning positions and a lot of faith was lost in the club, both internally and externally. This resulted in a cleaning of the cupboards and many staff and players were moved on. What remained was a young team, the youngest in the AFL, who were belted up hill and down dale for much of last season and parts of this one. However it seemed apparent to those who have been watching that the foundations, the culture and the direction of the club seemed to be in alignment and heading in a good direction which would give supporters great hope for future success.

One of the players that moved on from Adelaide after the saga was a favourite of mine, and mostly everybody’s, Eddie Betts. in 2016 he was involved in an incident with a fan performing a racist action towards him. This was swiftly and widely condemned and another one of my favourites, Taylor Walker, was on the front foot with his response:

Fast forward to 2021, same month, and Taylor Walker has been sanctioned for making a racist remark at a local football game towards an opposing player. I wanted to start the next sentence with “to their credit”, but it is not to their credit. Taylor Walker, The Adelaide Football Club and the AFL have acted appropriately to this matter. That is all. There is no credit here. It obviously should not have occurred and that it still continues to is a problem much wider in scope than the AFL or this blog, however the response was swift and, again externally, seems correct.

Once more, I couldn’t help myself and clicked on the comments. Once more my heart hurt as the most common sentiment shows exactly how far we still have to go:

The fact that commenters have to provide the context that they don’t condone racism for the rest of the statement is a problem. “I’m not racist but…” never ends well. Liars often try to add emphasis phrases like “believe me” to add credibility where it is lacking. The variants of “I’m not racist but…” are essentially the same thing, it’s spin. These are the top comments for the thread and none of them have any regard to the victim and only want to support Walker. While Walker does not necessarily need a public tar and feathering and has accepted his sanction and will be actively working with the victims of this offence the priorities that the culture of big sport has created are clear.

War. War never changes.

The Fallout series is iconic among gamers. As I stated earlier, it examines the way in which humans ultimately trap themselves in an endless cycle and that the environment is irrelevant as human nature and the suffering it ultimately causes is the constant. The game itself is the ultimate example of this as its premise is that humanity nearly annihilated itself by launching all the nuclear weapons and you, the player, have to venture out into the resultant apocalyptic wasteland and explore the vestiges of society left over. The game doesn’t offer any solutions, and indeed it’s a very complex problem.

The high level of all of this is the Fermi Paradox and how we can consider filters in light of it. Basically the Fermi Paradox suggests that the universe has near infinite stars and planets and even within the Milky Way there are an unfathomable amount of stars which could have life supporting planets and so with that in mind, where are all the aliens? One explanation is that life has filters. See this video for a better explanation. A filter is an event that life cannot exist through. We have already been through some filters, such as the ice age. One answer to the Fermi Paradox is that there is a filter we have not yet reached which means that at some point in the future, we are doomed. Fallout shows the possibility that human nature is a filter. We eventually become advanced enough that the issues plaguing society will inevitably cause its destruction.

I understand it’s a long bow to draw from people in sport continuing to be awful and refusing to evolve, however when looked at in the broader context, you can see the issue is not one simply confined to sports nuffies. This stubborn refusal to accept progress, to hold on to unhelpful and outright damaging pillars in society are, in this arena, profoundly hurtful to individuals and communities. This same inability to conquer our demons in the future could portend our ultimate destruction.

Fallout doesn’t offer a solution. I don’t have one either. But I do know a good place to start, which I will get to next time. While you wait, remember always:

#trynottobeadick

References:

https://amplifyfitness.com.au/are-we-ok-with-who-marketers-think-we-are/

https://boston.cbslocal.com/2021/07/01/nfl-no-written-report-investigation-washington-football-team-workplace-environment/

https://www.espn.com.au/nhl/story/_/id/31848676/logan-mailloux-renounces-nhl-draft-asks-teams-not-pick-incident-sweden

https://www.espn.com.au/nhl/story/_/id/31872117/montreal-canadiens-select-logan-mailloux-nhl-draft-teen-2020-trouble-sweden

https://www.nhl.com/canadiens/news/statement-on-the-selection-of-logan-mailloux/c-325764184

https://www.theaustralian.com.au/sport/afl/afl-woman-who-threw-a-banana-at-eddie-betts-could-be-banned-from-future-games/news-story/9cc94134028d9b9d976348be248c57b4

https://www.afl.com.au/news/659276/-deeply-ashamed-walker-cops-lengthy-ban-and-huge-fine-after-racial-slur?fbclid=IwAR1DknatvWAeBfoeTWir-MNphPszkBy4avUPQrfgg_OoBPc9WWFSOTUI7A4

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/spycatcher/201708/believe-me

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sNhhvQGsMEc&t=0s