Friday, September 27, 2002

Three weeks into the seaon, and already two of my NFL predictions have already proven incorrect. I predicted the Rams would go 14-2, and they've already lost 3 games. I perdicted the Panthers would go 2-14, and they're already 3-0.

Oh well, hope nobody comes here for accurate predictions.
As Christians, our first response to someone's suffereing must be compassion. But what does that mean? It seems a lot of people think that compassion must lead to policy conclusions. For example, if I have compassion for X, I must favor policy Y, designed to favor X. The converse is also sometimes adavanced. If party Z is causing X's suffering, and policy A is designed to punsh party Z, then if I don't favor policy A, then I must lack compassion for X.

I reject both premises.

  • One can have compassion for victims of crime without favoring the death penalty.
  • One can have compassion for prisoners, and still think that prison is the right place for them.
  • One can have compassion for the poor, and not support the expansion of government welfare.
  • One can have compassion for Iraqi civilians hurt by the sanctions, and still believe the sanctions are neccesary.
  • One can have compassion for pregnant teenagers, and not favor abortion on demand.
  • One can have compassion for victims of priestly sexual abuse, and not favor Zero Tolerance policies.
  • One can have compassion for priests who are having their names dragged through the mud, and still think that publicizing those names is neccesary.
  • One can have compassion for gay Catholics, and not favor same sex marriage in the Church.

Some of these cases are harder than others. For example, it is difficult for me to imagin how one could have compassion for the unborn and favor abortion on demand. Or have compassion for condemned prisoners and still favor the death penalty. It seems like there's a bright line where it's hard to have compassion for people and be in favor of policies that kill them (actually, my Iraqi example may fit that bill -- I'm still discerning).

In any case, it seems like our rhetoric these days is filled with accusations of lack of compassion. Either, that, or expressions of compassion are taken to mean that one favors one policy or another.

Neither need be the case. Compassion is simply "suffering with" those who are suffering. Sometimes through this suffering with, we realize that some policies are unfair and need to change, but not always.

But our first response can just be that simple compassion. The cries for polcy changes can come from that, but not before.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

Bill Simmons writes about how today's local sports media can make a disappointing season for a high-profile team, in his case this year's Boston Red Sox, almost unbearable:

With everyone competing for air time and attention, there's an inherent pressure to "up the ante," to come up with "something good," to produce an "angle" that nobody thought of before

There's similar thing going on with this year's St. Louis Rams, I think. I've been avoiding sports talk radio and the sports page for that reason. The Rams of course, are currently 0-3. It's obvious they are not performing up to expectations. But that's boring. We've got to go deeper than that!

So, let's look at this morning's sports page...

And on and on. Does this help a sports fan's enjoyment of the game? Not really, but it does help these columnists get hired when sports talk radio and ESPN and all the pre-game shows do their, "What's wrong with the Rams?" stories.

Everyone's got a theory. Mike Martz's ego is too big. It's Kurt Warner's thumb. They miss Az-Zahir Hakim. Isaac Bruce has lost a step. They need to run the ball more. They need to get back to the free-wheeling stlye they used to have. And on and on..

(Side note: I have my own theory -- it's encapsulated in the fact that Rams' offensive lineman Orlando Pace has his own weekly talk show, and fellow OL Adam Timmermann is often the most quotable Ram. This is a stark contrast to a team like the late 90's Denver Broncos, whose OL's famously refused to talk to the media until the Super Bowl. (They also cheated and tried to injure their opponents, but that's another matter.) Here, the linemen think they're individual stars, but they need to think of themselves as a unit. Football offensive line play, more than any other task in team sports, is something that demands cohesion, the entire squad playing as a unit. The Rams's OL seem to want some of the publicity that gets showered on Marshall Faulk and Kurt Warner. But they've forgotten what got them here. Anyway, that, coupled with the quick learning curve of NFL defensive coordinators, is my theory).

Last night, they did not play well, but being realistic, some of that had to do with Marshall Faulk, the best player in the NFL, getting hurt. Two of Warner's interceptions last night were a direct consequence of Faulk's young replacements running different routes than Kurt Warner was expecting. If those interceptions are taken away, we have a different ballgame, one which the Rams probably would have won.

Yes, of course the Bucs dropped some other possible INT's, and you can question Martz for not having someone better to put into that situation.

But my point is that NFL teams are so close to each other that when a team loses the league's best player while on the road against a tough opponent, it should not be surprising that that would be enough to cost them the game.

Wednesday, September 18, 2002

There's been a lot of talk about how whether or not it's appropriate to to show graphic representations of the horror of 9/11 in the media. This has picked up again with the "woman hitting pavement" statue in Rockefeller Center.

On the one side, people say graphic depictions are exploitive of the victims.

The other side is represented by a writer to the Corner, who writes , "Let the statue stay- I want to remain angry." This has been a theme for James Lileks lately. Bring on the graphic images, lest we forget the horror of that day, and let go of our anger.

But you know what? I don't want to "remain angry." Yes, the anger I and others felt and still feel is real and should not be discounted. But it's not pleasant, and it's not what I want to live with for the rest of my life, and I don't think my desire to let go of my anger is some sort of affront to the victims. Our natural anger must run its course, but we don't need artificial reminders to keep our anger at a fever pitch.

Anger is not a destination -- it must lead us somewhere. People like to cite Jesus overturning the tables in the Temple as an example as righteous anger, and it was, because it led Him to act against injustice. But He wasn't griping about it months later, the incident ended there.

That's why I was so moved by the Holy Father's words of prayer for the terrorists. We don't have to forgive the terrorist for them; we have to forgive them for us. Hanging on to anger puts us in a place, like the servant in last week's parable, where we are unable to recieve grace. It's not a good place to be, and not a place where we shouild want to be. It's neccesary for us to acknowledge our anger, and move through it, not trying to find short cuts, but we don't need to do things to stay there.

Another writer to the Corner made this point well, in responding to comments about grace and forgiveness -- "Refusing to forgive is like taking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.”

Maybe forgiving the unrepentant is "cheap grace" (even though all grace is intrinsically unearned) for those who have harmed us, but opens us up to real grace, grace which we have worked to dispose ourselves to receive. I'd rather see a million people get "cheap grace" because I forgave them too quickly, then deny myself the grace that I cut myself off from by refusing to forgive.

Monday, September 16, 2002

I've been watching a lot of foot ball through the years, but it seems like I've seen more helmets fly off during football games in the first 2-3 weeks of this year than I've seen in all previous years combined. Seeing a helmet on the ground used to be a genuinely scary experience -- I'd be afraid there'd be a head in the helmet. Now it happens every other play.

I know that players today hit harder than they used to, but I'm not sure that completely explains the sudden jump. Has there been a change in helmet design that makes them easier to come off? I guess it would make sense from a physics perspective, since the enrygy that goes toward projecting the helmet doesn't go to the (now lidless) player's head. Is the risk of injury from that hit greater than the risk that the player will be hit again without protection? I don't know.

Friday, September 13, 2002

David Halberstam says they don't, or at least shouldn't. While I agree that a city's fortune shouldn't be tied to a team's performance, I disagree.

As I've mentioned before, I was at the first Cardinals' game after the terrorist attacks last yearm when Jack Buck read his poem. I think a lot of healing happened that night, both in a lot of cities. We were 40,000 folks gathered together in a stadium, defying those who would harm us. (Yes, I know, going to a ballgame shouldn't qualify anyone for a Profiles in Courage award, but it felt like a big deal at the time). Buck's poem, and spirit in the place helped me believe that we were going to get through this.

The Cardinals won that night, but that didn't really matter.

Now, did the Yankees' improibable run last year help NYC heal? Probably. Would it have happened anyway? Probably as well. Sports can be a shortcut away from frim reality, and it might have happened faster. But I thik things would be quite similar if Jeremy Giombi slid, or Derek Jeter didn't make That Play, and the Yankees were bounced in the first round in the playoffs.

And the Yankees' losing the World Series didn't undo the healing, either.

Hlaberstam's right -- there's a lot of fans who lack perspective. Right now, a jury is deciding who will own a baseball. But most of us see sports as a pleasant diversion. Heck, last year in consecutive weeks, my favorite football team (the Eagles) and my second favorite team (the Rams) lost close playoff games. I would have been a bit happier had they won, but it didn't send me to the depths ther terrorists attacks did.

Hey, it's neat that the Yankees had such a great year, and that a team named the "Patriots" won the Super Bowl. But, like the NY Lottery coming up with a number of "911," (how I was dreading the reaction to that little event) these things were little more than coincidences and distractions. It would be a mistake to think of them as anything more.

Would it heal the Catholic Church if the New Orleans "Saints" or Arizona "Cardinals" win the Super Bowl this year? Probably not.

Wednesday, September 11, 2002

I'm not sure how I feel today.

I haven't posted, not because of some memorial, but for lack of anything to say. I don't think 9/11 should be a holiday, and I think refraining from our normal activities is exactly the wrong response.

I have been actively avoiding the network coverage of events, because I generally can't stand the way the networks handle anniversaries like this with their mawkish soft-focus interviews. I feel compassion for the victims, but I just don't feel like watching a story about babies who were born after their fathers died on 9/11, or couples that met while digging through the rubble, or group interviews with families of victims.

I also don't think it's a time to beat our chests and proclaim how great we are as a country. The flag-waving was appropriate to show unity in the immediate aftermath -- I don't see much purpose in it now.

So, what to do? I honestly don't know. I'll say some extra prayers for the world leaders and those who lost loved ones that day, and avoid network TV. That's probably not right for everyone.

Friday, September 06, 2002

As promised, I'm actually getting around to AFC Previews. Enjoy!

AFC East

  1. Miami Dolphins (10-6): Smart team that could be in the last year of its window. I've always liked Ricky Williams, and always thought he got a bit of a bum rap.
  2. New England Patriots (10-6): Don't see any reason why they shouldn't be just as good this year.
  3. New York Jets (8-8): I'm not buying the pre-season undefeated record.
  4. Buffalo Bills (5-11): Not yet

AFC North
  1. Pitssburgh Steelers (11-5): Probably a repeat of last year's strong regular seaon and post-season meltdown.
  2. Cleveland Browns (9-7): Could make a jump this year on weak schedule.
  3. Baltimore Ravens (6-10): Not many are lamenting the Ravens' quick slide back to mediocrity
  4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-13): Pulling ahed of the LA Clippers, and nearing the Tamp Bay Devil Rays for Worst Franchise in Sports.

AFC South
  1. Tennessee Titans(11-5): They should put it back together this year, now that Eddie George has a fullback again.
  2. Indianapolis Colts (8-8): It'll probably take a year or so for Dungy to turn this team around.
  3. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-10): Still in Cap Hell.
  4. Houston Texans (2-14): We'll see...

AFC West
  1. Oakland Raiders(10-6): Still better than the rest of this division
  2. Denver Broncos (10-6): I'm still not sold on Brian Griese.
  3. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8): Tough schedule does them in.
  4. San Diego Chargers (6-10): Not just yet.

Thursday, September 05, 2002

After the smashing success of my baseball previews, we have NFL Previews. We'll do the NFC today, and the AFC tomorrow. (And I really will get to the AFC this time, I promise).

One more note: I will predict records for each team, but I am making no effort to ensure they "balance." out to .500 overall. If this bugs you, I'm sure there are plenty of "balanced" NFL Previews out ther.

NFC East
  1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4): Concerning that they didn't do anything to make the team better in the off-season, despite plenty of cap space, but Andy Reid is a great coach, the defense is solid, and Donovan McNabb can win some games on his own. Deuce Staley must stay healthy and carry the load on the rushing offense.
  2. Washington Redskins (9-7): I think Spurrier will be successful, if only because he'll bring some fun to a team that's been toliling under intense pressure for the past couple years. Could be a surprise
  3. New York Giants (6-10): Team could self-destruct this year.
  4. Dallas Cowboys (4-12): I love Emmitt Smith, but there's not much there.

NFC North
  1. Green Bay Packers (11-5): Not sure about Terry Glenn, but the Pack should win this somewhat weak conference
  2. Chicago Bears (8-8): 16 road game won't help.
  3. Minnesota Vikings (5-11): Randy Moss still seems to be running this team, and that's not good.
  4. Detroit Lions (3-13): On the long road back

NFC South
  1. Tampa Bay Buccaneers(11-5): I like what I'm seeing from this team. Michael Pittman looks good in the backfield, but they may have missed their window with the defense
  2. New Orleans Saints (8-8): Will we see the tough, surprising team of 2001 or the team that had already given up in 2002.
  3. Atlanta Falcons (7-9): Michael Vick should provide some excitement.
  4. Carolina Panthers (2-14): Not much to like here.

NFC West
  1. St. Louis Rams(14-2): They're ticked off after the Super Bowl loss
  2. San Francisco 49ers (13-3): They put it all together this year.
  3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10): Another disappointing season for Holmgren & co.
  4. Arizona Cardinals (5-11): Pass

Monday, September 02, 2002

I don't like it that August National doesn't allow women to be members. But I think it's interesting to note that a lot of the same people and groups that beleive that the destruction of a preborn child is a private choice that is nobody else's business are the same folks who think it's their business whom a private club will admit as members.