A few days ago it was the 50th anniversary (“anniversary” seems like an oddly inappropriate word for such a thing, doesn’t it?) of President Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas? Say it out loud. Fifty years. Fifty years. Fifty years! Gives you goose bumps. But it doesn’t make it any easier to get your mind around it.
For me, an eight-year-old kid growing up in a very small town in Iowa, JFK’s execution was the first and still-best proof of the kind of world we live in and tippy-toe through. In other words, who are the bad guys pulling our strings, people? But fear not, this is not going to be (primarily, at least) a ‘Conspiracy vs. Lone Nut’ column. For one thing, it’d take too long. For another, I have found that trying to convince someone of what really happened to JFK is tantamount to trying to change somebody’s mind about politics or religion. That said, I don’t mind stating my position. I think that for an average marksman to fire three shots from a mediocre bolt-action weapon at a moving car all within less than six seconds, and “succeed” with two of the three, then conveniently leave all the evidence right there in the crow’s nest, and then run like mad down four flights of stairs in less than forty-five seconds, buy a coke, and stand there not a bit out of breath or at all flustered and calmly drink the coke without any thought or effort regarding getting the hell away right after having just committed the crime of the century is virtually impossible. But that’s just me.
So no, this column is not a detective piece.
Nor is it going to be some lame lionization of JFK the man. For while there was plenty of good attached to our 35th president (the Peace Corps, the crackdown on organized crime, the emphasis on racial tolerance, the drive toward lunar exploration, the youth, vigor, and vitality of Jack & Jackie’s Camelot of a White House etc.), there was also much that was comically bad and terribly flawed; the cold-bloodedness and mean streak, the electoral corruption securing his election, the Bay of Pigs fiasco, the reckless womanizing, and so on. So no, this isn’t a tearful eulogy five decades in the making.
Well, after all, this space has always had at least a little something to do with Sports, and a little something to do with the larger world around us beyond Sports, and I see no reason to abort that dual-relevant principle now. In other words, it’s time for a little historical perspective.
First, the worldview. The way I see it, the way the dominos have fallen since 11-22-63 seems pretty easy to follow: JFK’s death meant we stayed in Viet Nam, it meant LBJ and the ratcheting up of the war’s body count, which lead to Nixon, which begat Watergate, which begat Gerald Ford, who though a very nice guy couldn’t restore America’s lost faith in its government (and don’t forget, Ford was on the Warren Commission), and that meant Carter, and economic chaos, not to mention American hostages in the Middle East, which made it easy for Reagan, down came the Berlin Wall, Bush Sr. rode in on Reagan’s coattails, which split the Republican party in ’92 (Perot), in rode Clinton, and then Clinton again, his wagging finger and the stained blue dress generating great humor fodder for late-nite comedians, Bush the younger becomes the patron saint of the lucky sperm club, then 9/11, amazingly we elect Bush Jr. again, then we suddenly decide we don’t like him after all so we switched parties yet again, meaning the time was ripe for Obama. And here we are.
Now look at Sports. Almost every single sport in this country has changed radically 1963. And in my opinion, I’m sorry to say, not for the better.
Consider what has happened in sports these last fifty years, since Dallas:
1 Football. It’s not the same game at all. Playing defense wasn’t illegal back then. In the old days, a defensive back could mug a wide receiver all over the field. Then came the “Mel Blount rule”, prohibiting contact after five yards. Result? Passing stats have gone through the roof, and offensive strategies have evolved accordingly. And ever since, there has been a parade of rules adopted making defense harder and offense easier. Liberalized pass blocking rules. Punitive late-hit rules. And now, quite recently, all sorts of rules protecting the quarterback to where you can’t even sneeze on the QB anymore. It cost the 49ers a ballgame against the Saints last week, there was a perfectly legit sack and fumble over-interpreted into a penalty by the zebras, simply because Drew Brees “looked” like he was hit illegally. One of the Niners remarked that the penalty happened because the 5-11 Brees is small and helpless looking, and he was exactly right. They didn’t clothesline him or spear him with a helmet or hit him in the head or neck or knees, they just hit him too hard! The 49ers were penalized essentially for doing their job too well. And don’t get me started on how they have all but eliminated the most exciting play in football, the kick-off return, because it’s “too dangerous”. Football dangerous? Wow. What a shocking discovery. Who knew?
2 Baseball. Since 1963 there have been many domed stadiums and Astroturf fields in pro baseball, things which did not exist before 11-22-63. Then, suddenly, they did. Coincidence? Maybe, maybe not. I’m a Karma guy these days. Astroturf was bad enough. But worse than that, they made a rule in the American League in 1973, whereby the pitcher didn’t even have to hit, and his spot in the batting order could in fact be taken by another player who didn’t even have to grab a glove and go out onto the field when his team wasn’t up to bat. They called it the “Designated Hitter”. What a stupid clunky name for a stupid, moronic rule. All praise goes to the National League for never adopting this insane policy. But I’ve never liked (or understood) two leagues with two different rules within the same organizational entity. And now we have the enervating taint of Steroids hanging over the game like a fart in the wind….
3 Boxing. Championship fights are 12 rounds now, not 15. John L. Sullivan and his bare knuckles are probably turning over in his grave. I guess they figured out that boxing was dangerous too….
4 Tennis. Watch footage of a tennis match from the 60s or 70s. Because the racquets were made of wood, the ball floats over the net like a drunken butterfly. Compared to today’s metal-driven power, it looks like a badminton game! But the game back then had far more strategy, skill, and creativity than now….and the players had more personality.
5 Golf. Speaking of wood. This one is weird. In the old days, the driving clubs were called “woods” because they were made of wood, and the fairway clubs were called “irons” because they were made of metal. The stuff of genius. But then, somewhere along the way, the wood woods were replaced by metal woods. Metal woods? Good grief. Wouldn’t you think there would have been a rule in place somewhere, whereby woods would always be made of wood??? Golf commentators still don’t know what to call these newly evolved clubs, usually opting for “metal-wood” or “fairway metal”. As for me, about the most eloquent I can be on the subject is to say that the whole thing is really bogus, dude.
6 Basketball. In the old days players wore tight-fitting shorts, ran up and down the court constantly, and games always went into the hundreds. Nowadays the shorts are as baggy as 1920s bathing suits, they walk the ball up court, scores are in the 80s, and banging really hard into guys in the low post is not only allowed, it’s encouraged. At some point hoops changed from grace and skill to violence. I hate it. I almost never watch an NBA game any more….
7 Horse Racing. This one has suffered the most. Year-round racing and off-track betting have ruined a once-great sporting spectacle. Over-breeding and over-emphasizing breeding over racing has made it even worse. In other words, greed has actually made for less profits, less attendance, less handle, less interest, less of everything. Crowds are down by 70%, 80%, 90% in some cases. Tracks close down all the time. Hollywood Park is closing. It’s a dying sport. Horse racing killed itself. Accidental suicide. Rest in peace. Sad.
Here’s what I want to know. Does the decline in virtually every sport have something to do with the JFK thing? Is the decline in the quality of Sports in general part of our penance, for our national complicity in allowing the kind of evil factors and complacent, naïve acceptance of corruption whereby such a crime could take place right under our noses??? I wonder. Nothing surprises me any more. Perhaps this penance stems from not taking a break from football for a couple weeks after JFK’s murder. Two days later, on 11-24-63, the NFL played a full slate of games. It bothered a lot of people, a lot of players too. In 2001, at least we took a week off from baseball after 9/11. But in ’63 we didn’t. I don’t know if we angered the gods or not. I don’t know. I mean who knows.
One thing is for sure. A lot of people from my generation live with the innate feeling that things have never been quite right since November 22nd, 1963. I myself am one of those people. It’s a hard thing to put your finger on, a hard thing to quantify. Who’s pulling our strings? Who’s calling the shots? Who’s really in charge? For me, now age 58, it was the first time in my life I realized that there was something very wrong with the way people treat other people in this world. Maybe that’s it. For Baby Boomers like me, at least. It really was the day the music died….
PS—*And if you’re like me, and want them to move the kick-off line of scrimmage back 5 or 10 yards, in order to bring the kick-off return back into the sport, write Commissioner Goodell a letter. He’ll listen. All government tends to move in the direction it’s pressured. Just ask him. Ask not what football can do for you….ask what you can do to bring back football.
Brad Eastland is an author, an historian, a film buff, an undiscovered literary savant, and is a sucker for a good conspiracy theory. Brad’s other recent columns for La Verne Online can be found in the Sports Section under ‘The Sports Philosopher’ and also in Viewpoint under ‘Brad Eastland’s View’. His columns on very old and very underappreciated movies can be found by clicking Arts & Entertainment, then clicking ’Upon Further Review’. Brad has also written 4 fine novels* and over 20 short-stories.
*Brad has a new book out. It’s called
“L.A. JOURNAL”, a collection of stories about Los Angeles. To pick up a copy simply search for that title in both hardback and paperback on amazon.com, iUniverse.com, or bn.com. And then order it. And then READ it. And then tell everyone about it. And then read it again. And then post your praise on Facebook. For all this and all your support he thanks you…..
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