Tuesday, May 3, 2016

The NFL Draft is a Collective Hallucination

For the past week, the National Football League has taken over Grant Park, the Auditorium Theater, and the surrounding environs for a three-day list-reading spectacle. Now, it has blown town like an indolent carnival, only leaving the indentations from the CHRYSLER DRIVE TO THE ENDZONE LEGAL BRIEF ZONE and the VERIZON 4G LTE ENTERTAINMENTS TENT featuring some hideous corporate simulacrum of a good time. Now, after a fanfare-laden Schedule Announcement, there is little the NFL can do until the Beginning of Minicamps and the inevitable revelation of some hideous football scandal that requires Roger Goodell to grimly sit behind a lectern in front of a gaggle of gravely tweeting reporters.

All of the major American sports leagues have expanded their drafts into spectacle.  Major League Baseball now televises its draft, even though many top prospects will need to be outfitted with cadaver ligaments before they throw a pitch in the big leagues.  The NBA has turned the ordering of lottery picks into a show itself, where general managers cringe as the capricious whims of fate reward their season of tanking with the rights to draft high-upside teenagers who might not know how to play basketball and wispy Europeans harangued by basketball xenophobes.  The NBA draft itself has become a fashion spectacle, far removed from the days when players would dress like bellhops and, during the 1990s, an entire textile's factory worth of fabric hastily cut into the shape of a suit.

Bonzi Wells's NBA career was undone by a massive scandal 
when he was revealed to be three children sitting on each 
other's shoulders

The NFL draft's bloated, grotesque self-importance has become its most entertaining aspect.  Over the course of three days and countless hours of coverage, the draft broadcasts features men in suits discussing some MAC tight end with the gravity of an unfolding missile crisis interspersed with ineptly stage-managed spectacles involving children or the armed forces.  The draft combines the demented square-jawed football authoritarians with the uncanny valley corporate branding strategists who are genuinely excited about product integration in an exciting contest to determine the most irritating type of person on the planet.  The ringmaster is Roger Goodell, the loathsome avatar of swaggering corporate dick-swinging in whose hands a minor rules infraction about football air pressure turned into a months-long legal siege that has generated thousands of pages of legal briefs and tied up the actual United States judicial system.

Roger Goodell reacts to boos like an indignant vice principal while dressed, inexplicably, like a 
secret policeman from a dystopian future movie who works for a shadowy government cabal with 
a name like The Curators

The NFL draft also serves as an annual symposium on stilted language.  Draft analysts, driven mad by the existence of their job, struggle each year to come up with new and increasingly abstract ways of describing players as fast, strong, and skilled, which are the same qualities that football teams have looked for in their players since time immemorial.  Instead, they combine a desperate desire to say something new witbh the requisite QUARTERBACK POSITION IN THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE dialect that surrounds the sport to convince anyone listening that they are finally suffering the neurological effects of a lingering elementary school dodge ball injury.  This year, analysts decided to, for the first time in the history of English, describe human beings as "sudden."  That nonsensical usage could only appear in an NFL draft broadcast or by an unhinged Dostoevsky translator in one of those scenes where the protagonist is thrown out of a tea reception when everyone becomes incredibly hostile for some reason.

You do not need me to tell you that the NFL draft is tedious, ponderous, and hilariously self-serious.  The entire NFL brand revolves watching enormous men tear each others' ligaments described by a panel of shouting Jack Webbs that pauses only to sell us trucks and boner medicines.  And yet, the biggest moron of any person involved in the NFL draft is me for paying attention to it because Chicago's Big Ten Draft would possibly involve Wildcats.

GODDAMMIT I CAN'T STOP TALKING ABOUT THE STUPID NFL DRAFT

Two Wildcats were chosen in the draft.  Dan Vitale followed in the footsteps of Drake Dunsmore and went to Superback City.  He enters the NFL as a fullback because superback sounds like it is a position that exists only in those fake intramural Harry Potter sports.

Dean Lowry's draft selection video features a man broadcasting from a creepily-preserved Vince Lombardi office mausoleum.  Then, the draft analyst immediately denigrates Lowry as short-armed and possessing the brain pan and skull contours of a rotational player who may lack the alimentiveness of a full-time defensive end.

McSHAY: This fellow's ratio of brow-ridge to frontal cortex indicates such a pronounced 
                       deficieny in the philoquarterbackal instinct that I should look askance at anyone 
                       who drafts him as anything other than a common grout-monger
KIPER: Must improve: skull

Most distressingly, Lowry now plies his trade for the hated Packers.  While I hope for Lowry to have success in the NFL, his victories will be won over the prone body of Jay Cutler.  I don't know how fans of teams with armies of draftees reconcile their divided loyalties between college and pro football other than by yelling roll tide at all football occasions and damning everything else.

The Chicago Bears performed a number of trades to draft a bunch of people I've never heard of based on the work of dozens of scouts and phrenologists.  I'm pretty sure they drafted a linebacker named Kwiatkoski specifically for the benefit of sports radio callers so they can demand he play more because dat guy's hard nosed instead of calling to complain about Jay Cutler or attempting to order Italian beef sandwiches when they mistakenly think they've hit the other number on their speed dial. 

CHICAGO IS THE BASEBALL CAPITAL OF THE UNIVERSE

Chicago is the epicenter of baseball.  The ballyhooed Cubs have lived up to the ballyhooers, storming their way to the top of the NL Central.  Jake Arrieta has continued his rampage from last season with another no-hitter.  He now appears in hitters' dreams to strike them out and terrorize them with fiendish wordplay.  The Cubs have walked and bashed their way to victory after victory, even after the beefy lad Kyle Schwarber tore all of his knee ligaments running in the outfield like a Chuck Jones cartoon character. 

Schwarber flies too close to the sun

Meanwhile, on the South Side, the White Sox have been equally destructive.  The Sox, bolstered by a new infield and nuclear pitching rotation led by enchanted Fantasia broom Chris Sale, have lain waste to the American League.  Last year, a young and exciting Cubs team became the darlings of baseball while a promising Sox team languished.  The Sox have succeeded this year while managing to overcome the all-consumingly bizarre Spring Training saga of Adam LaRoche. LaRoche retired after the Sox attempted to prevent his thirteen year-old son from spending every single moment with the team.  This protest spun into a near-mutiny, with LaRoche's supporters on the team hanging the younger LaRoche's youth-sized jersey in the locker room and describing the precocious lad as team leader.  The whole affair climaxed in a interview with the Elder LaRoche that detailed his work in overseas prostitution sting operations.

Adam LaRoche's season unfolded like the first chapter of a Murakami novel
(Original ambiguously sinister caption from the Chicago Tribune)

It is the sad lot of the White Sox that, through no fault of their own, they remain overwhelmed by the droning media cacophony over the Cubs.  Both teams are historically terrible; after the Versailles Peace Conference, both Chicago teams dedicated themselves to complete baseball ineptitude.  While the Cubs and Red Sox garnered the losing streak sympathy, the White Sox, whose streak eclipsed the Red Sox, attracted far less attention.  When the White Sox finally won a World Series in 2005, the national baseball media treated it like a baseball championship; the Red Sox victory a year earlier was greeted with the cathartic jubilation usually associated with the end of world wars.  Ken Burns's Tenth Inning addendum to his endless baseball documentary included what seemed like an entire feature film's worth of people in book-lined studies rapturously celebrating the Red Sox victory while barely acknowledging the White Sox; this is even though the White Sox won with a stunning series of dominating pitching performances, a dramatic fourteenth-inning game-winning homer from an anonymous bench guy who could have been invented by Ken Burns, and an unhinged maniac manager.  As the Cubs suck up all of the baseball oxygen, the White Sox have quietly matched them in heroics.  Chicago boasts the two best teams in baseball.

That said, there is nothing more likely than the White Sox winning a World Series in a year filled with overwhelming Cubs hype.

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IT IS COMPLETELY INSANE THAT THE NFL DRAFT IS LIKE IT IS

It is possible to trace the evolution of the NFL draft into the ludicrous spectacle it has become. Americans like professional sports, they love football, and even after the league has added national games, invested in football-adjacent products like fantasy pools, and purchased an entire television network to broadcast old football games and football talk and underwear-clad draft prospects running around cones, they still have not managed to exhaust interest in professional football.  The overproduced telecasts with 37 panelists and aggressive animated robots makes sense as well-- football's maximalist pageantry is part of its appeal.  The attachment of advertising and sponsorships to everything but the air surrounding the stadium can be explained because this is America.  

 Yet, while the NFL draft makes sense within the insane context of twenty-first century sports, its grave tone and air of pompous pronouncement remains jarring.  Each pick immediately becomes subject to a tribune of solemn haircuts who sit in judgment of their 40 time, game tape, and phrenological skull construction.  Players may rise and fall based on a few hundredths of a second in a drill or because of "character concerns," an amorphous concept that covers prospects equally tainted by marijuana usage, saying dumb things on social media, and terrorizing people with violence.  None of this bloviating has anything useful to say about the success or failure of any of draftees, but that does not stop anyone from releasing voluminous grade reports made of guesswork and, more recently, tedious value charts that add another layer of abstract analytics talk to people smashing into each other.  

The worst part about the NFL draft, though, was that it did not take place in New York when the Jets moved up to take Christian Hackenberg.

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