Hard and heavy

In case you haven’t heard, Andrew Luck (quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts) recently announced his retirement, to the surprise of everyone. For those less inclined to watch football this is huge because Luck was, for all intents and purposes, the centerpiece of the Colts franchise. A Stanford grad and seemingly decent dude, he blindsided everyone by making his announcement before a preseason game.

In most cases, athletes tend to retire at the end of their respective sports’ seasons, usually citing age and declining performance as factors. What makes Luck’s situation so peculiar is that he’s relatively young (29) and in a sport known for its hyperviolence, quarterbacks tend to have longer careers than other positions; Tom Brady, for example, is 42 and just received and extension with the Patriots. For a qb that young to essentially walk away from millions of dollars is reflective of a larger issue in the National Football League–the increasing awareness of how much damage the sport does to its athletes.

My wife and I have been watching the Netflix series “Last Chance U”. I’d already seen it, but didn’t mind watching it again because it’s really good. You see these kids throwing their bodies around, knocking the everloving piss out of each other, in hopes that they’ll eventually get Division-I scholarship offers and, eventually, get drafted into the NFL. Time and time again, these kids (some of them as young as 17) battle through injuries, lifetimes of poverty and socioeconomic struggles, all while saying “all I know is football. I gotta make it.” Your heart breaks when you realize that the odds of a high-schooler eventually making it to the NFL are jarringly slim–just 0.08 percent of high school football players will make it to the pros.

But then, what if they do make it? What’s the cost? Even if, say, they don’t go broke, don’t suffer a career ending injury, what then? They have this to look forward to. And this. And also this. So Luck, rather than have his brain rattled into early onset dementia, retired. And what does he get in return? Hot takes. Crowds booing at him.

Whole lotta “protection” happening here

I grew up in Texas, so naturally football is a part of my psyche. I’m in a fantasy football league, which measures athlete performance by a set criteria week after week. And yet, I’m become more and more disillusioned with the sport knowing just how much it asks of its laborers and how little it gives back in return. I’m part of the problem, for sure and its part of the reason why I’ve transitioned to watching basketball instead–I feel less complicit in the offenses the sport commits on its employees.

Andrew Luck isn’t a “millennial snowflake” – he read his coverage and made the call to sacrifice short term gain for long-term dividends. To treat him as some sort of traitor to a sport or team is disingenuous at best, completely insidious at worst. And if you feel the need to fire off your own spicy hot take, think about people like hall of fame linebacker Junior Seau, who was so debilitated by CTE that he died by suicide after suffering from years of mood swings. This is a symptom of a larger problem within the NFL, one that won’t go away, no matter how many obstacles the league tries to put in front of it. Luck knows the game all too well and made a choice. People like Doug Gottlieb are contemptible ratfucks for giving Luck even a modicum of static for it because they’re not the ones who will forget their family members’ names, or become violently angry at the drop of a hat for absolutely no reason, or will only live until the ripe-old age of 52. Luck made the right call, and I sincerely hope there is a place in hell reserved for people like Gottlieb.

Back from the east

I’m back in Seattle right now after having spent almost two weeks in China. This is the second, and most likely, last year I get to do this and now that the jet lag has (mostly) worn off and I’m back to some semblance of a normal routine, I’m using this time to dwell with my feelings on my experiences – both in China and this past year.

My hotel room the first night in China. My accommodations were not like this the rest of the time, trust me…

At my (now) former university, I was one of a handful of instructors who had the opportunity to teach for 12 days in Wuhan, China. The university has a partnership with the South Central University of Nationalities (SCUN) and as someone with a background teaching in Tech Writing, I was offered the chance to teach graduate students my first year there. However, I couldn’t at the time because I was too busy getting married…The second year, I jumped at the chance and it’s been very enlightening.

Just outside the dorm I stayed in at SCUN

It’s a strange sensation to step into a country and have your biometric data scanned while seeing all of the cameras around. It’s another thing entirely when it’s all happening in a context where the language is so different from yours. But taking the taxi from the airport, to the hotel, to the next flight, and then to the university, I start to get a sense of just the immense size of this country. My students referred to Wuhan as a “small” town: this “town” has a population of over 10 million and just the amount of buildings, high rises, and apartment complexes is staggering. SCUN itself feels less like a college campus and more like a self-sustained suburb within a larger town.

I’d jog past this building sometimes. I believe it’s the “cultural center”.

My schedule: up at around 5 a.m., call my wife and chat for half an hour, make myself some instant coffee and eat some sweet bread, shower, then head to the “canteen” (cafeteria) around 8. From 8:30-12:00, it was class time every day (except Sunday). The first couple of days I’d just pass out in my dorm and nap for a couple of hours. After that, I’d get up and either a) grab food from the canteen, or b) head out to the shopping center and grab food there. The whole time I’d just have my headphones blasting (usually Bombay Bicycle Club, Tool, or the new Bon Iver album).

The students are extremely friendly: they’re quick to invite you out to lunch when you arrive and are (almost to a fault) eager to get you to try the various regional dishes that stand as testaments to each students’ particular home province. At some point, a student will ask if you “like spicy food”. All I’ll say is be careful if you say, “yes”.

From Summer 2018. The dish I really liked was translated as “black fungus” (sauteed mushrooms).

I know I’m not always the most social person around, but it’s hard to even mimic social behavior when you’re in a completely different social context and can only say “thank you”, “hello”, and “beer” in that language. I took to taking long walks in the evening before it would get dark.

This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.
This shrine was tucked away in front of a shopping center. I paused for a moment to briefly still my mind, but not too long as to arouse any suspicion. I am a brown American and very aware of my American brownness regardless of country.

Outside of class and lunch, I was pretty much left to my own devices. Dinner meant walking to the store to restock on water and maybe more sweetbread. But mostly, I tried to limit that as it’s still kinda embarrassing to only be able to communicate through points and nods. It gives you a lot of time to think about things. Here I was, 37, teaching graduate students in China. If you’d have told 13 year-old me that I’d be here, I’d have chucked a rock at you.

Outside an art studio that I decided to name “A E S T H E T I C”.

I’ve been going back-and-forth about my commitment to academia, which is understandable given the year I’ve had. I’ve moved from a tenure-track position at my previous university to a full-time lecturer position and, though my wife and I fully believe our current university will do everything they can to find something more permanent for me, it’s still risk. I built three years of tenure and stellar reviews at Previous U and, as one of my best friends pointed out, it’s an ego hit to put that work on hold. That, coupled with the economic anxiety that comes with having to wait months for your first paycheck while living in a city that’s more expensive than Tokyo, makes me question what value there is in this prestige-chamber that is higher education. I don’t want platitudes; I want to get paid, and this shit sometimes makes me think that all those seminar papers, theses, dissertations and applications were just an extended exercise in fucking around. Some sick, masochistic labyrinth of obstacles meant for people who can afford to get paid in praise or esteem. Does that praise and esteem feel good? Of course it does. Does it keep the lights on? Fuck no; if anything, academia does a wonderful job of making you feel like you’re always hobbling to a finish line that never comes.

Cohort 16

I’ll be honest: I’ve applied to several jobs these past few months. My wife has been supportive of this idea the whole way, which is helpful, but I don’t know what this year is going to bring. Right now, I think I’m taking more of a wait-and-see approach with higher ed. This could be the year my publication submissions start to take hold and the teaching rhythm starts to hit a groove. But I can’t help think about any other industry that, granted, would be pretty fast paced and likely higher stress.

This was one hell of a view (by that I mean the scenery, not me). Not pictured: the rest of my sweaty Macho Man t-shirt.

But the students this summer were so kind that maybe they’ve pushed me towards the wait-and-see. So as of right now, I’m still teaching. I can’t say that this’ll be the case a year from now, hell even a month from now. But I think I’d be doing these students, those from Previous U and Grad School U a disservice if I didn’t give it one last shot.

My taxi driver was fuckin next level. An iPhone Megatron, if you will.