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I Hate July

HR Derby fan

I hate July.

Sure, I loved summer break as much as the next kid, but as a sports junkie in a world of climate changes, it just means it will be smokin’ hot and I will be really bored.

July is by far the worst sports month of the year. The NHL and NBA wrapped up only a month earlier, NFL training camps are just opening late in the month and only Major League Baseball is in the swing of things. The MLB All-Star Game, other than the snoozefest known as the Home Run Derby, does take some time and interest, but baseball still has almost 75 games still left, so the pennant races are only starting to take shape.

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Pat Summitt Reveals Alzheimer’s Diagnosis

Pat Summitt, like all legendary athletic coaches, is a fierce competitor who has led her team to many victories. She is well-regarded in her field and in her community, and is by all accounts beloved by her colleagues and her current and former players.

So it’s no surprise that the Tennessee Lady Vols basketball coach is as determined and forthright off the court, announcing her diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer’s disease at the start of the new school year — and only telling her players as soon as she knew the remaining two were off the court in China and back in Knoxville.

Summitt, 59, learned that she had Alzheimer’s disease after many tests at the Mayo Clinic in May. She said that troubling issues with her memory last season that caused her to lose her confidence and concerned her enough that she wouldn’t meet with players individually, motivated her to seek answers. The tests that can clinically diagnose Alzheimer’s disease and its related dementia indicated that Summitt had the “mild, early-onset” variety of the disease.

Denial ruled the summer, Summitt said, but as it wore on, she realized that she needed to talk to her players and her Tennessee administration. More importantly for her, she says that she came to a certain kind of terms with her condition that allowed her to move forward with her life.

The upshot out of Tennessee this week: Summitt will continue to work. She will remain at the helm of the Lady Vols, with the tactical and personal support of a team of assistants who have been at her side for decades. She will remain the coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols basketball team, and she will take care of herself as best as she can.

Summitt’s close friend Sally Jenkins wrote a lovely, understated, and quietly sad piece about her in the Washington Post, that left me thinking that as much as I don’t think I’d have the strength to write such a story about my best friend, at the same time I’d like to be the only one to do it, and I can only hope I’d find the strength and the grace at the appointed time. Jenkins said that talking about the situation had been a good, if painful thing, for everyone involved:

Over the last few days, with the clarity of her diagnosis and decision to go public, Summitt has recovered her confidence. More often than not, it is she who comforts others, as usual. Her staff have grief-stretched looks around their eyes, and seem quietly destroyed under their skins. Every so often you find one of them has ducked into her laundry room to weep. It’s Summitt who puts her arms around them and talks quietly into their ear. “I don’t want you worrying about me,” she says. Strong has always been her natural, preferred state.

Alzheimer’s disease is a demon. It’s a brain plaque from hell that erodes valleys in the cerebral cortex, kills neurons, disrupts synapses, and therefore robs individuals of their intellectual capacity. It steals likewise from families and friends, causing the person they love to change before their eyes (sometimes slowly, sometimes not.) I worked with people with dementia and their families for six years, when I was a very young, very green counselor, right out of graduate school. I went into their homes, heard their stories, absorbed their fears and profound need for answers, and in return I gave them the best advice I had about how to navigate this often-terrifying period in their lives. I immersed myself in Alzheimer’s, learned all that I could, knowing even then that I’d never have enough information, no matter how many research studies I memorized (and I memorized a lot.)

I also spent countless hours with people with Alzheimer’s, of all stages.They told me their fears, they told me I was full of shit and that it was really 1946, so shut the hell up. They revolted against the artificial schedule of long-term care, and wondered after their (sometimes dead) parents, siblings, and much-younger spouses. During this time I worked with a relative handful of early-onset patients, as obscure as Summitt as prominent, and their spouses, kids, and even sometimes parents. They were the roughest cases. These were people usually in the prime of their lives, ready to transition to golden years after decades of working and raising families, when their brains revolted and got them lost coming home from work or unable to complete a crossword puzzle. One of my clients was an elementary school teacher who, like Summitt, did brain puzzles and complicated step aerobic routines during the day while her husband was at work, to work her brain and try to stave off the deterioration the doctors said was imminent.

I told her she was working too hard. I told her that it wasn’t her fault, not any of this, and she did it anyway. She was a brilliant badass, and I always, inappropriately, unprofessionally, wanted to hold her in my arms. I can say the same about Pat Summitt.

What I’m taking away from this more than a decade after my own experience, and knowing what I know about the continuing stigma against Alzheimer’s, the fear and confusion that it causes, is Pat Summitt’s utter courage in speaking this aloud, not just with her loved ones or with her employers, but in the public sphere. She, quite frankly, could have worked a deal. Early stage Alzheimer’s (as best as it can be understood in terms of timeframe) can last for years — frequently not as long in early-onset, where it has seemed in my very limited experience to take hold and move more quicky, but still, years. She could have shown up courtside for at least another season and not disclosed this very personal information. She chose to be open, to approach this differently. And this sports writer thinks that’s pretty cool.

The Lady Vols don’t open until November 1. I’m marking it on my calendar now. Best of luck for a great year, Coach Summitt.

Do Athletes Think Faster?

Can playing sports actually help focus your brain? Researchers are starting to think so.

An article published in The Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine earlier this month shows research that seems to support the theory that athletes excel not only at sports, but at every day tasks. We all know that athletes are more likely to be in excellent physical shape than someone like me. Sure, I exercise and occasionally play a game of softball or basketball, but I am a writer. I spend most of my time sitting in front of my computer. While I expect a soccer player to be able to run faster than me or to have more physical endurance, I like to think that I am mentally agile.

Perhaps I am just special (again, I find myself in need of the sarcasm font) but researchers at the Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have proven that the athletes made quicker decisions than the non-athletes in a study that tested how quickly and safely students could cross a trafficked road.

From Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times:

The student athletes completed more successful crossings than the nonathletes, by a significant margin, a result that might be expected of those in peak physical condition. But what was surprising — and thought-provoking — was that their success was not a result of their being quicker or more athletic. They walked no faster than the other students. They didn’t dash or weave gracefully between cars. What they did do was glance along the street a few more times than the nonathletes, each time gathering slightly more data and processing it more speedily and accurately than the other students.

“They didn’t move faster,” said Art Kramer, the director of the Beckman Institute and a leader in the study of exercise and cognition, who oversaw the research. “But it looks like they thought faster.”

That is fascinating.

I am a musician. I’ve seen tons of studies that show music is good for the mind. We know music is math based and kids who can read music tend to do better in school. The stereotypical child who takes orchestra in school usually gets pretty good grades. (Yes, I realize that the parent that encourages their child to play the a stringed instrument is also likely to be concerned with academics, but let’s just roll with the stereotype for now.) But we rarely think of the jock — the wrestler, the basketball star, or a football player — as being a straight A student, or even all that bright in the first place. I am not saying that the perception is fair; I am talking about societal archetypes — think The Breakfast Club.

Sure, we all know the wide receiver who was valedictorian, or the girl on the soccer team who got a full academic scholarship to an Ivy League school, but it isn’t necessarily the first thing you think of when you think of an athlete.

But maybe it should be. You’ve heard of “the zone,” right?

Sports emphasize the importance of mental conditioning for athletes in order to yield success on and off the field.

When an athlete is “in the zone,” the synchronization of mind and body allows the individual to excel beyond mental and physical challenges; the results of the revelatory study performed at the Beckman Institute show exciting new evidence that skills conditioned by athletes may impact their mental dexterity and the way they think entirely.

– Jessica Rutledge, The Informer

Sports offer physical and mental conditioning. This might just be what is giving our athletes the edge on processing information. It seems to hold true for both individual and team sports.

It is fascinating research and it makes me very happy that I signed my kids up for t-ball. Now I just have to up my own game. Mind, body and spirit right? Well that and I don’t want my kids thinking faster than me. That is how a person ends up buying a pony.

Originally written for and posted on BlogHer.com

[photo: Adensw]

Is Watching Football Wrong?

Cross-posted at BlogHer.

When I clicked the link to the article in the New York Times and the title of the article was “Should You Watch Football?” I thought: Is this a trick question?

Should I watch football? Does that question mean to point out that shouldn’t I be doing laundry or writing that article that is due next week? Shouldn’t I be out building habitats for humanity? Yeah, probably, but that isn’t what Michael Sokolove was asking.

Sokolove is asking if we are irresponsible for supporting a sport that is so violent.

Let me back up for a second. This is kind of weird, but I am going to quote myself. This was from a post I wrote a week and a half ago when the NFL announced it was changing some of its rules.

After the brutality of week 5 – James Harrison knocked out two Browns, Dunta Robinson lead with his head and knocked himself out and he took DeSean Jackson out with him, and Brian Meriweather knocked the crap out of Todd Heap – the NFL decided that this cannot go on. It is too dangerous.

The word on the street (and by “the street” I mean ESPN) is that tomorrow the NFL will announce that effective immediately, even first-time offenders face suspension for “devastating hits” and “head shots,” or so says Ray Anderson, the league’s executive vice president of football operations.

That week was bad. Beside the incidents I mentioned above, a college football player was paralyzed form the neck down when he was making a tackle. Nobody wants that, and the NFL is making huge strides to make the game safer.

CHARLOTTE, NC - OCTOBER 24: Michael Crabtree  of the San Francisco 49ers is tackled by Richard Marshall  of the Carolina Panthers during their game at Bank of America Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Football is a dangerous game. There is no avoiding that fact. Knocking people down is part of every single play. Critics think that people should just stop playing football – that it is too dangerous. Concussions can cause brain damage, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, and depression. Spinal injuries can cause paralysis. These same critics are opposed to boxing.

I understand that. I guess. The thing is, football and boxing are voluntary. Nobody has to play football. Every man in the NFL knows the risks.

The critics don’t like it at all. But what about the fans?

Momma Rollett has this all worked out:

There seem to be three basic positions on the issue:

1. Those who feel that the violence IS the game, and that any attempt to make the game safer (or “wussify” it, as some would have it) changes its basic character in an unacceptable manner;

2. Those that don’t want to see the game toned down, but don’t like to see head hits; and

3. Those who think that avoiding head injuries is more important than preserving the “historical character” of the game.

I think I fall somewhere between 2 and 3. I want people to be safe, but part of the reason I like football so much is the physicality of it. It taps into something primal in me.

I’ve been watching football for a long time, and I think the NFL is doing an admirable job trying to keep their players as safe as possible. Almost every season there are new rules implemented that are intended to protect the athletes. I applaud the new guidelines.

Should we stop watching football because it is too violent? Not if we are going to keep watching Oliver Stone films and the 5:00 news.

Favre might have contacted Sterger in 2009: Whatever

In the ongoing Favre penis saga, according to Sterger’s manager, Favre contacted accuser Jenn Sterger in 2009.  Assuming all of these things are true, then Brett is unbelievably persistent . “Well, I tried the trainer thing, the voice mail thing, the ignoring her ignoring me thing, sent her a picture of me masturbating… nothing. I followed all the steps… I don’t get it. I’m just going to give her a little while to cool off and work on her next season.”

Do you think Brett got laid that night? I mean, do you think he was just so in love (with the girl he never talked to) that he was just pining over Sterger, and rather than call the list of girls in every town who are willing to blow Brett Favre, he hung out in his hotel room, stroking his manhood, thinking about Jenn? Well, he probably did that, too.

Sterger is contemplating whether or not to talk to the NFL.  Phil Reese, her manager, has said she is “seriously considering it.”  Whatever. I really don’t care.

Sure, sexual harassment and the such, which is bad and I’m not discounting it, but GIVE ME A BREAK, NFL. Women in the NFL are used like Hooters waitresses.  I have no facts to back this statement up, but how many less-than-hot ‘hostesses’ are there? Cheerleaders? The girls who launch t-shirts out of cannons?

Women in male sports are used as eye candy and many of the women who gravitate around it are interested in dating athletes. Wow. Crazy, right?  In fact, think about all the movies where the head cheerleader and the qb were practically married. When basketball players were lured  into a pool by the cheerleaders with the promise of a Roman-style orgy, then those evil, evil women stole their bathing suits (Porky’s…1? 2? They were both wonderful).  It’s just how it works in our fucked up heads. Or is it just in our heads?

cheerleader

The NFL is an elite club where they play hard and they play even harder. Not one man who lives it doesn’t understand its underbelly which, from time to time, exposes itself to us all.  Something that even we like to pretend doesn’t exist, but is well-known to us all. All I can say is, “whatever”.

The NFL and male sports have a long way to go. From cheerleaders to ring girls, they’re pretty unnecessary. No one goes to a football game to watch cheerleaders, and the ones who do scare the living hell out of me and should be on a list.

Brett Favre has denied nothing (and there are other claims by other women of similar behavior, duh), so if we assume this is true, there are a couple of things that need to happen.

1. The woman should be compensated. When a powerful man focuses his creepy attention on you, and it clearly makes you uncomfortable, and you do your best to ignore him (because that’s pretty much what you need to do to keep your job, in your mind), then you deserve some sort of compensation. It’s the very definition of “sexual harassment”. Not that Brett could hire or fire, but the power he wields within any organization is, well, duh.  For months, entire teams have waited on Brett to decide what he wants, from the owner to the waterboy.

2. Brett Favre (and those like him) needs to learn when a woman says “no”, she fucking means it and it doesn’t mean, “I need more convincing. How about a picture of your cock?”  Fortunately, I think he’s getting the hint.

Funny thing, guys. Women aren’t nearly as interested in pictures of your penis as you are in pictures of their vaginas.  Now, some girls might be enticed by, you know, the kind of johnson we wish we all had, but that’s not Brett’s.

The writers here recently had a discussion about this, and this is where I learned most women are only interested in what your junk is doing for them at the time and if you send a picture of yours, you might as well be texting them a picture of a ’97 Ford Taurus.  The reaction will be exactly the same.

Brett Favre should be punished, because there is a victim here. More than one, actually. But the league has a much larger problem to address, and that’s the NFL (and professional sports, in general) being a breeding ground that cultivates and literally nurtures this behavior.

However, after 3 interceptions in a gut-wrenching loss to Green Bay at Lambeau on Sunday night, you get the feeling this is the end. Bad ankle, bad tendinitis, league hot on his trail, 2-4 with the Patriots on deck… and the argument can now easily be made that he is the problem. So, does a man who has already proven he can’t walk away, walk away? Or does the coach have to make him? If I had to take a wild stab at what Childress was thinking about last night when he rested his head on his pillow, I’d say he was counting Bret Favre interceptions with dances of sugar-plum Tavaris Jacksons in his head, knowing he has to have a serious and hard talk with someone about his very immediate future. I’m also guessing the last conversation Childress wants to have is where he forces Brett to end his streak, his career.

Walk away, Brett. Just walk away. Do your coach a favor.

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