The Slow Fade of Fall

A hot Arkansas August left us long ago for a wet November.  Burnt grass and shriveled streams turned to windy nights and flooding fields.

For most, August was a time to stay indoors and away from it all.  For others, the first few weeks of August marked the start of something more communal: football.  Revered and unrepentant, football still reigns supreme over many an American heart and wallet.

Football brought with it many things- not the least of which are the stories that attempt to recreate an imagined glory of football past; a past to be vicariously lived and replayed through all the forms that football stories take.

Football stories are common this time of year.  Some stories are benign- efforts at assessing your team’s chances for the coming year mixed with remembrances of past wins over rival teams.

Others are actually more malignant-football stories that morph into football-as-a-metaphor-for-life stories.  These stories, the ones where life is explained and lived fully through those 100 yards of a football field, are often the best written.  Yet they quickly spread and can do much damage in attempting to explain everything that right and wrong under the sun.

Why do we feel the compulsion to moralize football as such?  Does using metaphors for life justify the jubilation and sorrow from the field, avert our gaze from the rest of our lives?

One reason for the resilience of these football-as-life stories may be that many start with the obligatory ‘Back in the day, they worked hard….’  This start is all good and well, and it is important to emphasize that hard work underlies any success, athletic or otherwise.

But all too often we get caught up in the camaraderie and pageantry, and forget that the kleig lights of football, be it from Friday, Saturday, or Sunday, inevitably fade.  Simply because your team may have worked hard and won, or the world seemed simpler from the eyes of a teenager in fall practice, does not mean that football teaches us all the right life lessons.

If fact, these football stories can teach us the wrong lessons.  Take one example: the pedestal upon which we place young football stars.  Every year, readers are told of the great character of a star running back or quarterback.  Many players are great role models, but these football stories conflate athletic strength with moral fiber.

What are young kids to think of the quarterbacks and running backs daily lionized in the paper or online, now to be in the headlines for arrests as the season fades away?  We can have our football heroes, but let’s not imbue in them more to the story than is necessary.  All that is necessary for straightforward sports analysis is this: a player is a great because he is great at football.

Alas, we are left with the boys of fall held up as heroes.  Let’s have our heroes, and let’s hold fast to the hope that drives the game of football, but let’s have our fall back from sappy stories that conflate life and football, and confuse us all in the process.  The scandals at Penn. St. and Ohio St. should have taught us as much and more.  If we learn anything from the Arkansas Razorbacks’ current football season, surely it is not that our heroes have fallen.

Perhaps the play on the field has been poor, but let’s not make this into something it isn’t.  All our sound and the fury- particularly the frenzied football chatter-is often as empty as a stadium in February, or if there is meaning in it, such meaning signifies nothing so much as life itself.

About Chris Burks, Contributor

Chris is an Arkansas attorney and writer. He graduated from Davidson College and the University of Arkansas School of Law. He writes a bi-monthly politics column for The Log Cabin Democrat newspaper in Conway Arkansas, and practices primarily in the areas of property and family law in Central and South Arkansas. His all-time favorite basketball player is "The Floor General'" Corey Beck -- the starting point guard on the Razorbacks 1994 NCAA Championship Team -- someone whose story perfectly encapsulates both the triumphs and madness of our sports, culture, and time.