Winning & Musing…Volume 3.20

We meet again…five months later. The good news is there have been sporting events that we can talk about. Having said that, 2020 has been an undeniably challenging time to be a fan. Will the new year see a return to normalcy?? Probably not, ateast at first. But we’ll watch anyway, and occasionally ponder related topics right here.

 

 

 

 

As happy as I am that the NFL & NCAA have given us a football season the fact is it just isn’t the same. It’s so strange to watch a game being played in an empty or nearly empty stadium. We didn’t do our normal preseason poll or NFL preview because I just didn’t know what to expect. My nephew & I haven’t done our weekly picks like in years past and we won’t be picking bowl games (several of which have been canceled anyway). There have been way too many games canceled and players who have missed time after testing positive for The Sickness or being in close proximity to others who have tested positive. Kudos to all involved for making the effort and taking the risk, but even though I have watched I am admittedly not as invested as usual.

 

 

I was dealing with my own (non-Covid) health issues this past summer, so I really didn’t pay all that much attention to the abbreviated baseball season or the bubble-wrapped NBA playoffs. The Los Angeles Dodgers won the World Series and the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA title, so in a world turned upside down I suppose two big city franchises with enough money to buy their championship provided some semblance of status quo normalcy. Also, the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup, but honestly I had to look that up because I paid even less attention to hockey this season than usual.

 

 

I appreciate the fact that the Indianapolis 500 and The Masters were both rescheduled instead of being outright cancelled, but as a fan it just didn’t work for me. I watched a little bit of The Masters, but was mostly focused on football that weekend, as I’m sure most fans were. I didn’t even know the Indy 500 was on until about an hour after it was over. I just completely forgot about it. Congrats to whoever won each event, but I don’t recall who that was and at the moment it’s not important enough to me to look it up.

 

 

Folks, we need to get something straight. Just because a fan is upset at their team losing and expresses some negativity does not mean they aren’t a “real” fan. I saw this kind of debate rear its ugly head after my Pittsburgh Steelers had their hot start come to a screeching halt and lost a couple of games. Fans were upset…mad at the NFL for bumbling the rescheduling of games and seeming to apply the rules differently to different teams, angry about wide receivers dropping way too many balls, frustrated by mounting injuries to the team, peeved at sports media types who were questioning the Steelers legitimacy even before they lost, disappointed by questionable coaching strategies, and of course debating dubious calls by referees. In my opinion this is normal fan behavior. However, there are those who say anyone who expresses any kind of doubts or frustration aren’t true fans. That’s poppycock. My perspective has always been the irritated passion a fan exhibits when things aren’t going well proves just how deep & fervent their fandom really is, contrary to the kind of blindly loyal fan who acts like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House, shouting “All is well!! Remain calm!!”, even as chaos reigns down all around him.

 

 

It would be negligent for me not to address the latest in the PC Police’s War on Sports, and guess what…the fans are losing. In the midst of the uproar caused by the #BlackLivesMatter hoopla last summer the NFL’s Washington Redskins finally bowed to media created pressure and dropped the “offensive” nickname. They’ve played this entire season as the Washington Football Team, which is all kinds of stupid. And now the Cleveland Indians have announced plans to drop their century old moniker. I’ve just never understood how anyone could possibly be offended by a sports team honoring a group of people by naming their team after them. Have y’all ever  had a friend or family member name their baby or even a pet after you?? It’s meant as a compliment. Do you know how thrilled I’d be if West Virginia got an NFL/NBA/MLB/NHL franchise and called them the West Virginia Sams?? I’d be verklempt!! But that’s what liberals do in the name of “progress”. They suck all the joy out of the room, like sort of giant, evil vacuum. It is what it is, and it makes me sad.

 

 

I’m not sure what the answer is, but in no way do I feel like an Ohio State Buckeyes team that has only played six games should be in the College Football Playoff. In retrospect this would have been the perfect year to do a test run of an expanded playoff with 8 or even 16 teams. I won’t ride the powers-that-be too much for their lack of foresight because they, just like so many of us in all walks of life, have been making things up on the fly in the midst of all the craziness, but it would’ve been nice to see some fairness & common sense implemented instead of what it looks like is happening, which seems to be “let’s do whatever we can to get four traditional power programs in the playoff by any means necessary because it’ll be good for TV ratings”.

The Polarity of Memorial Day

All is repose and peace. Untrampled lies the sod. The shouts of battle cease…it is the Truce of God! Rest comrades…rest and sleep! The thoughts of men shall be as sentinels to keep your rest from danger free. Your silent tents of green we deck with fragrant flowers. Yours has the suffering been…the memory shall be ours. –  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

 

 

 

Once upon a time what is now referred to as bipolar disorder was known as manic depression, while what we presently call dissociative identity disorder was commonly christened split or multiple personalities. Memorial Day has a little in common with both.

 

When I was a kid I used to get Memorial Day and Veterans Day confused (and that’s without throwing Armed Forces Day into the mix), but there is a subtle yet significant difference. Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving, whereas Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans. In other words, though it may seem counterintuitive, Memorial Day is not the time to thank current or retired soldiers for their service. It is my understanding that, while most would likely smile & nod and give an appreciative “You’re Welcome”, others might possibly be offended because…well…they’re not dead, and probably have military friends & family that are. To add to the confusion, since 1950 Armed Forces Day has been celebrated about a week before Memorial Day on the third Saturday in May, and it specifically honors those currently serving in the U.S. military. Armed Forces Day doesn’t seem to resonate all that much with the general public, and there are plausible reasons for that, not the least of which is its redundancy and the fact that it doesn’t provide a three day weekend.

 

Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day and originated in the aftermath of The Civil War, which ended in 1865 after more than 620,000 casualties… more lives lost than during any military campaign in American history. The astounding number of deaths led to the establishment of the country’s first national cemeteries, and on May 5, 1868 General John A. Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic…an organization of Union veterans founded in Decatur, Illinois…established Decoration Day as a time for the nation to decorate the graves of the Union war dead with flowers. General Logan stated “Let us then, at the time appointed, gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with choicest flowers of springtime. Let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor. Let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us as sacred charges upon the nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow & orphan.” President Ulysses S. Grant presided over the first Decoration Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery (which until 1864 had been Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s plantation), and General James Garfield (who would become President just thirteen years later) made a speech before 5000 participants decorated the graves of 20,000 Union & Confederate soldiers.

 

The preferred name for the holiday gradually changed from Decoration Day to Memorial Day, which was first used in 1882, and as early as the 1890’s some observed a “growing tendency to make Memorial Day an occasion for festivity and indulgence in games & sports foreign to the purpose of the day and the sacred spirit which ought to characterize it”, and professed “pastimes and all amusements on Memorial Day as inconsistent with the proper purposes of the day.” It probably didn’t help that perception when The Indianapolis 500 ran its inaugural race on Memorial Day in 1911 and continued to do so until the early 70’s when the event was permanently moved to Sunday as part of the long holiday weekend. In the late 19th century there were only a handful of holidays on which workers got a day off, so Decoration Day became an unusual respite from the daily grind, an opportunity for sports fans to attend afternoon games or families to take excursions. It soon became common practice to split the difference on Memorial Day, visiting a cemetery in the morning then relaxing in the afternoon.

 

As the 20th century dawned a younger generation who hardly remembered The Civil War was emerging, but Memorial Day lived on. By then, it was well entrenched in American social life and didn’t require a direct connection to war to be meaningful. But it wasn’t long until World War I started and the United States found itself entangled in another major conflict, and so Memorial Day evolved to commemorate American military personnel who died in all wars. Just a few decades later WWII happened, which further solidified the holiday.

 

Charleston SC, Waterloo NY, Columbus GA, and various other towns all claim to be the birthplace of Memorial Day. Some assert that the first Memorial Day was held in April 1865 when a group of former slaves created a proper burial site for more than 250 Union soldiers at a Charleston horse track. But on May 26, 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson designated an official birthplace of the holiday by signing a proclamation naming Waterloo as the holder of the title. Waterloo earned this distinction because in the summer of 1865 a local pharmacist named Henry C. Welles came up with the idea to place flowers on the graves of those who fought in The Civil War and hosted an annual community-wide event, during which businesses closed and residents decorated the graves of soldiers with flags as well as flowers.

 

From 1868 to 1970 Memorial Day was annually observed on May 30, with some believing that the date was chosen because it is not the anniversary of any particular battle, while others say it is an optimal date for flowers to be in bloom. Both assertions are probably true.

 

On June 28, 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act, which moved three holidays from their traditional dates to a specified Monday in order to increase the number of three-day weekends for federal employees. Washington’s Birthday in February and Veteran’s Day in November were also changed (although Veteran’s Day was later moved permanently back to November 11 in 1978), and Columbus Day was established. The change moved Memorial Day from its traditional May 30 date to the last Monday in May, with the law taking effect in 1971.

 

And this is where the dichotomy really began to propagate.

 

Many opine that changing the date merely to create a long weekend diluted the meaning of Memorial Day, turning it into “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose”. With its move to Monday in the 1970s increasing commercialization also turned the weekend into an occasion not just for sports & vacations, but for shopping as well.

 

In addition to the debate about long weekends & the date of Memorial Day, we must also consider the evolution of the summer season. Meteorologically & astronomically speaking summer officially begins with the summer solstice on June 21 and ends with the autumnal equinox on September 21. However, in the late 19th century standardization reforms in education led to the creation of the nine month school calendar with which we are all familiar, meaning that children typically begin school in early September and end their year in late May. This essentially redefined summer from a cultural perspective to being June, July, & August, and created a “summer leisure economy” in which families are encouraged to go outside, relax, & have fun. It became logical to bookend summer with Memorial Day and Labor Day. Kicking off summer with Memorial Day gives it a sense of anticipation, a sense of good things & coming attractions when summer is perfect and it hasn’t even happened yet.

 

It seems natural that as individual sorrow fades a tragic event gradually loses its impact, and so a Memorial Day tug-of-war between solemn remembrance and summertime fun has ebbed & flowed for a century & a half. The holiday was conceived in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. After a few decades those tear-stained memories faded, but then two World Wars happened, which galvanized the nation. Vietnam came along in the 60’s, but America…unlike during previous military conflicts…became fragmented about what it meant for an American soldier to die and the purpose of war in general. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that patriotism rebounded as a foundational aspect of the Reagan Revolution, and then there was another period of ambivalence & malaise before the tragic events of September 11, 2001 led to renewed respect & appreciation for our military.

 

So the question remains: how should we treat and “celebrate” Memorial Day?? I don’t know if there is a simple answer, but I certainly have a few opinions.

 

First of all, I have always been uncomfortable with people wishing each other a “Happy” Memorial Day. It’s kind of like running into an old friend at a funeral and enthusiastically saying “It’s great to see you!!”. It may be nice to catch up with a friend, but the venue and the occasion certainly aren’t joyful. Some things are just better left unsaid.

 

Secondly, the holiday is clearly going to mean something different to folks depending on the circumstances. For those of us who haven’t had any family or close friends die while serving in the military it really is simply a fun weekend and the kickoff for summer, and kids are justifiably excited about getting a break from school or graduating. However…especially with our nation’s involvement in places like Iraq & Afghanistan in the past 17 years…there are plenty of spouses, families, & friends mourning the loss of a loved one, and we must be respectful of that fact.

 

In 2000 Congress passed the National Moment of Remembrance Act, meaning that all Americans are supposed to pause for a minute of silence at 3pm on Memorial Day to pay tribute to the men & women who have died while serving the nation. If this is the first time you’ve heard of that legislation you aren’t alone…I didn’t know about it either, which calls into question its efficacy.

 

There is a school of thought that going out & enjoying yourself on Memorial Day…whether that means swimming, shopping, a picnic, attending a concert, chillin’ out with a good book, or going to a movie…is appropriate because it is exercising the very freedom that so many gave their lives to secure, and I don’t necessarily disagree. That being said, I am reminded of the constant refrain every December about the commercialization of Christmas, which has minimized “the reason for the season”. In the same way that I take no issue with Santa Claus, It’s A Wonderful Life, or The Chipmunks crooning about hula hoops as long as proper reverence is given to celebrating the birth of Christ, I happily embrace the frivolity of summer’s grand opening weekend on the condition that we respect our military, appreciate their sacrifice, & honor fallen heroes.