All posts by Trevor Brookins

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The Socialist’s Journal: The Fourth Major Sport

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*As a native of New York City this spring marks the third time in the past few years that I have gotten interested in hockey. Of course my interest has gone along with the playoff runs of the New York Rangers.

And then when October comes back around I tell myself that this will be the year that I follow hockey all season. The Rangers have consistently been a team hockey analysts say have the potential to win the championship. And the team also has star power in the form of arguably the best goalie in the league: Henrik Lundqvist.

In fact the excitement of the Stanley Cup (tied with the Heisman for the best trophy in all of sports) Playoffs always makes me wonder why professional hockey isn’t more popular in general throughout the season. After all the NHL combines two elements that spectator sports rely on: fast pacing and physicality.

Hockey is a sport played at a breakneck pace up and down the ice. A team and player must transition from offense to defense and back to offense in split seconds. There are very few scheduled stoppages of play and depending on the philosophy of the team there may be none. In short, and unlike football and baseball, there are very few opportunities to stop watching the game when you aren’t risking missing something important.

In addition hockey players are just as big and strong and fast as football players – otherwise known as the men everyone thinks of as the biggest and strongest and fastest individuals in our society. Hockey players routinely crash into each other and a wall while skating at 20 mph. And they give full effort while they are on the ice; so much so that out of a 60 minute game in regulation the best players can only get 20 minutes of ice time. When was the last time the best football players played only a third of the game and it was OK?

But then I realize why hockey is a seasonal thing for me and most other fans of spectator sports, and why it will never get to be higher than the fourth most popular sport in the United States. In no particular order: there isn’t enough scoring, there is a geographic barrier, there is a financial barrier, it cannot/does not market its stars, it’s in direct competition with basketball.

The problem of scoring in hockey is the same as in soccer. Non fans turn into casual fans when there is a payoff (why I and many like me get energized when the Rangers start winning playoff series). On a game to game basis there isn’t enough of a payoff for all the action. The NHL realized this a few seasons ago when they eliminated the possibility of regular season ties and opted to decide games with a shootout after one overtime period.

Hockey is naturally a winter/cold weather sport. That may have been good for a professional league in the United States when population centers in the northern half of the country thrived with industry. But with the demographic shift in the country of jobs and people moving south, the league is automatically in a difficult position. Luckily there is a recent technology that allows for “ice” skating on a non-ice surface year round. This is good but it highlights another issue.

Hockey is a middle class sport. It takes a commitment of resources to equip someone to play hockey. Then once a person has all the equipment, they have to find another handful (I’m not sure – how many people is the least amount that can play a pickup game of hockey?) of people to play with them that are also fully outfitted. Then this group has to find a place to play. Altogether that’s a lot of obstacles to generating casual fans.

Ultimately if kids looked up to hockey stars and decided they wanted to be like those guys, some of these issues would naturally be overcome. But unfortunately it is difficult to market stars when at best you are playing 25 minutes maximum in the most important games. In addition there is the fact that the players are helmeted that adds another layer of anonymity to them.

But perhaps the biggest obstacle hockey faces is that its season runs basically alongside professional basketball. Most every casual sports fan in the United States has played or currently plays basketball. It is one of the first sports Americans learn, it takes almost not financial investment, and there are courts everywhere. There is a reason that the biggest basketball games (and even some second tier games) will get covered before the top tier hockey games on American sports shows.

Because of all of those reasons I don’t believe hockey can rise above fourth place in the American sporting landscape. Nevertheless, in a country like the United States fourth is a great place to be and the NHL should concentrate on solidifying its place – especially in the face of competition from soccer, tennis, and auto racing.

Because while fourth might be as high as the NHL can go, there’s nothing stopping it from dropping.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Draft Day

Brookins Head Shot

Trevor Brookins

*Bear with me because this should have been written a few weeks ago. The NFL draft is the biggest non-event in professional sports but somehow the NFL has figured out a way to get people to pay for it.

Really the idea of any draft being publicized is a sham designed to get fans excited about some vague possibility that is a disappointment as often as not. But the NFL has taken this hoax to another level. Not only do they televise the draft, which means ESPN is getting ad revenue from it, which means they are paying the NFL for the privilege to broadcast it; but they also sell tickets to fans to attend the draft in person.

First consider that the average NFL fan is not knowledgeable about college football. The seasons run parallel to one another and the people who attend the draft are the people so invested in an NFL team that they aren’t spending their time following college football with any depth. They basically know a few top name players from a few top name schools. This is how every year fans boo players who turn out to be extremely durable and successful professional athletes.

Furthermore I would venture to guess that most NFL fans are not that knowledgeable about football in general. Sure we all know the point is to score a touchdown on offense but given the playbook of their favorite NFL team and most fans would be lost. So even when they know the player, fans can’t really say whether the player will be successful in the type of system their favorite team employs. Essentially they are wasting their time watching or attending the draft because there is no real basis for their reactions. Truth be told even the people who earn a living evaluating college players are basically making educated guess and get things wrong just as much as they get things right.

The NFL draft is taking the brunt of my criticism because it just happened. But the NBA deserves the same treatment when it comes to their draft. MLB does not attempt to monetize their draft. This is probably because there is the understanding that most of the players taken will never make it to the major league club, or perhaps it is because there are 40 rounds. The bottom line is fans have been duped into thinking that these drafts are anything but guesswork.

I recognize that the NFL has a right to make money any way they can. And if people are willing to pay for the privilege to listen to the commissioner read names and shake hands, so be it; No one is being harmed by this. And of course there is the element of hope that every draft provides – that universal human emotion that allows us to push ahead even under adverse circumstances.

I guess I’m just jealous that I haven’t figured out a way for people to pay me for the best cake in the world even though I’m really just giving them flour.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Teenage Sexting

Trevor Brookins

Trevor Brookins

*What do you do if a group of teenage boys share a bunch of sexts sent to them by a bunch of teenage girls? If you are a high school in Liberty Missouri you suspend the boys and wag your finger at the girls.

Problem 1: By punishing the boys and not the girls you establish a double standard. Both groups of teenagers passed around of nude/semi-nude pictures but only the boys are suffering the consequences. Somehow if the roles were reversed and the girls were passing around pictures of boy bits, I don’t believe only the girls would be punished.

Problem 1A: There is a chance you are establishing/reinforcing another double standard. By admonishing the girls not to participate in these kinds of behaviors but not the boys, you are supporting the idea that female sexuality should be contained while male sexuality cannot be contained and therefore should be punished. And I am fully aware that some people in society do not find this to be a problem at all; I, on the other hand, would like people of both genders to be able to express and advocate for their sexuality with the belief that doing so leads to happier and stronger relationships and ultimately happier and stronger families.

Problem 2: it would appear the solution to problems 1 is to also punish the girls. Doing that would send the message that distribution, in any form, of sexts is unacceptable. Unfortunately that action sort of exacerbates problem 1A. By punishing the girls you still send the message that they are behaving wrongly; that they should not express their sexuality in this way.

Problem 3: Eliminating consequences altogether seems to send the message that sexting is OK. Furthermore it might send the message that distributing pictures of nude/semi-nude teenagers is OK. This leads us down the road of child pornography.

Allow me to address these issues.

First I would like to state clearly that I don’t want to see anyone exploited by anyone else. The reason there are laws against child pornography and sex with minors is because the law (correctly in most cases) assumes that someone older and with more life experience will be in a position to take advantage of someone younger and with less life experience. This isn’t really a ground breaking idea. Watch two siblings who are 14 and 6 play together and count how many times the 14 year old can persuade the 6 year old that the cool thing to do just happens to be the thing the 14 year old wants to do. This issue doesn’t go away when the ages are 15 and 23, probably not even 25 and 33. At some point though the younger person has had enough life experiences to more strongly advocate for themselves. Because this point comes after high school, I am alright drawing a line in the sand at 18 (or at whatever arbitrary age your state decided).

Having gotten that disclaimer out of the way let’s all admit that the rules should be a little different for students than they are for adults. If we’re being honest we would admit that the rules already are a little different for students than they are for adults. A fight might land two people in court and in jail for an extended period of time when both parties are 41, only gets both people suspended when both parties are 14. Because of this I think a little leeway should be given to students who find themselves in the position of having sent their junk in a text message.

Certainly age differences should be considered. The exploitation I described earlier could happen between a senior and freshman at the same high school. But there should be a way to consider if the people involved were dating, and/or of the similar age groups before determining if a punishment is justified instead of using a one size fits all approach.

Teenagers have always pushed the boundaries of what their elders thought was appropriate sexual conduct. In the 1900s it was girls working outside the home; in the 1920s it was riding in cars; in the 1950s it was drive-ins; in the 1990s it was phone sex on your own cell (I think – I couldn’t afford one). The ultimate takeaway from this situation should be that sexting is the newest way teenagers have sex. And adults should figure out how to adjust to this situation without overreacting.

My answer to the situation? Safer sex education. If we all thought that young people had a better idea of what they were getting into, wouldn’t we feel better about their activities? Don’t you think some of this would be avoided?

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: Opting Out – Common Core

Brookins Head Shot*For the past two weeks, parents throughout New York have been keeping their kids out of school in protest of the new Common Core exams. The actions of these parents is a bad idea based on the wrong perspective.

The Common Core is an educational philosophy that all students in the country should get the same basic education. This philosophy led the federal government to create national standards.

The positives of the Common Core are that the standards are generally higher than what states had before. Even in my state of New York, which had a reputation for producing high level students, the Common Core has changed things enough that students, teachers, and parents were all a bit intimidated. But ultimately once everyone adapts to the different and higher standards, all states that operate according to the Common Core will be sending better prepared young people to college and/or into the workforce.

But looking at the Common Core from the wrong point of view yields the opting out phenomenon sweeping New York.

First there is the tension between educators and the public at large regarding tests. Most people took standardized tests at some point in their life and see them as a necessary part of schooling. Teachers on the other hand, tend to look at standardized tests as a nuisance that hinders them because they lose instruction time to test prep. Teachers like to proclaim that they know their students and can assess them better than a general exam. And while this is probably true, each teacher would be subjectively assessing students on the parts they emphasized of a curriculum they may have helped to create. When each class has a slightly different criteria for excellence, the commonality is minimized.

Of course educators would gripe about the Common Core a lot less if two things changed. The difficulty of the standardized assessment and the fact that teacher effectiveness is tied to how students fare on these tests. Once teachers realized that student performance could reflect poorly on them, the protests got a lot louder than times past with other changes.

Teachers do have a point in this case. Teachers are only one of three ingredients that go into student achievement. If a student is unmotivated and/or they don’t have lots of parental support, event the best teacher would struggle to produce a high achieving student. Conversely teachers with highly motivated students that come from supportive families generally look brilliant regardless of their ability. Increasing the difficulty of standardized tests only exacerbates this problem.

Nevertheless I still believe the Common Core is a good idea and that parents should allow their children to participate. If for no other reason parents should encourage their children to take the tests because sometimes they will be challenged in life. But because of the very vocal and visible protests of the tests and the Common Core in general, the two positives are being lost: number 1: having a national standard for K-12 is a reasonable goal. There is plenty of room in the high school curriculum for literature classes that are based on traditional texts, and social studies classes that focus on specialty topics (neither of which would be covered in the Common Core). But if we believe the country is falling behind other developed countries educationally, steps should be taken to reverse that trend. Yes this means the federal government having a larger role in an area that traditionally was the purview of individual states. But I don’t believe states and local school districts are completely shut out of the process. Furthermore if international trends are correct than the states as a whole have been doing a poor job.

Number 2: students will adapt. All of the issues I highlighted are real but many of the issues will go away as time goes on and students are introduced to the Common Core earlier in their academic career and teacher are forced to aim for the higher standards year in and year out. As students adapt and test scores increase the Common Core will magically seem like a good idea and the right path for the country educationally.

Hardly any educational program will look great in 2-3 years. I just hope we make it to years 4-5.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

trevor brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: NBA Playoffs

Brookins Head Shot

Trevor Brookins

*I generally define conservatism as wanting to keep things the same or trying to get things back to how they once were. By contrast liberalism is an openness to new ways of doing things.

If these definitions sound like value judgments let me assure you that, while I am generally liberal, I don’t not think conservatism is necessarily bad. Looking at these definitions a different way, liberals think about a situation and believe the best is yet to come; conservatives believe the best is happening or already happened.

The thing about idolizing the past is that doing so ignores the fact that we as a global civilization are constantly making progress in various areas. Unless you are a very particular kind of person chances are you don’t sell your car and begin commuting by horseback. Hell, chances are you don’t sell you current car for an older model unless it’s something classic (think: 1970s Ford Mustang, not 1980s Datsun). In general we use the advances of society to overcome the hurdles that we are faced with. (We use planes and refrigeration to make it possible to have Kiwi in North America when that fruit has no business in the northern or western hemispheres.

Sports is really no different in how it progresses with society. But for some reason we don’t apply the same logic. For some reason the National Basketball Association (NBA) is continuing in the traditional playoff structure it established over half a century ago when the league was barely surviving. The idea of having an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference probably made a lot more sense when teams couldn’t afford to charter a plane to be used at their discretion and travel was a big deal. If that’s the case by all means play games close to your home city.

But in 2015 it makes no sense that travel would be such an issue. And if geography is the main reason that two and possibly three teams that couldn’t win more games than they lost are going to make the playoffs, something is wrong. Even though it is rare that one conference is bad enough that this is an issue, this happens to be the second year in a row that the Eastern Conference is letting teams with losing records have a chance at the championship. Nevertheless the rarity of this occurrence doesn’t mean that we should allow it. This way of doing things probably isn’t hurting anyone (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Oklahoma City and will lose out on the revenue that playoff basketball produces). But it also wouldn’t hurt anyone to simply put the best sixteen teams in the playoffs regardless of geographic location (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Boston, Indiana, or Brooklyn – in which case the team in your town doesn’t deserve the playoff bump as much as Oklahoma City anyway so stop complaining).

And if sports conservatism is the only justification for this, then someone (maybe a bunch of someones) should be relieved of their jobs. Because “this is the way it’s always been done” is code for laziness. Within the realm of sports there was always a college football bowl season where certain conferences were committed to certain bowl games and the best teams might never face one another – until this season when a playoff system was initiated. Within professional sports, major league baseball had two leagues with the winner of each league playing in the World Series, until they split the leagues into two divisions and added a round of playoffs, until they split the leagues into three divisions and added a wild card round of playoffs, until they added another wild card team and another playoff game.

Even with professional basketball the league recently admitted that it didn’t have to follow the same path that was laid out decades ago because of geographic and travel considerations. Up until last season the championship round always followed a specific schedule to minimize cross country flights, now the schedule is designed to make the series as competitive as possible.

The playoff format should be changed.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.

Trevor Brookins

The Socialist’s Journal: The Problem with Theocracy

Brookins Head Shot*Last week I said to let me know when the issue with Indiana’s new religious freedom law had run its course.

Ultimately if no one spoke up about the law, it would stay on the books and could be used to discriminate so I’m glad that it is out in the open right now and the Indiana state legislature has been forced to alter it. On the other hand by shining a light on this law, religious conservatives have taken up the banner of being the persecuted group – which I don’t think is what anybody wanted.

Looking beyond this specific law for a second let’s consider the big picture. Five years ago I wrote about the difference between theology and theocracy. Here is an excerpt:

In its most basic form theology is about understanding the nature of God and answering basic question about human existences, two of which tremendously influence our interactions with others. The question of “how ought we behave?” is the part of any religion that outlines ethics and there are many commonalities between faiths; the question of “where are we going” address what happens after death and its answer contains fewer commonalities and therefore where the potential for conflict arises.

Given enough time a group of people will eventually make contact with another group of people who do not answer the afterlife question the way they do. When this contact is made these two groups can make the ethical question most important in which case they will attempt to live peacefully harmoniously alongside their new neighbors – this is the theological. Or the two groups can make the afterlife question most important in which case both groups perceive the other as heathen and attempt to eliminate the other religious perspective by converting their adversaries if not outright killing them – this is the theocratic response.

This latest controversy in Indiana is about conservative Christians adopting the theocratic stance; in other words the society should operate according to their interpretation of their sacred book. The problem is that theocratic societies inevitably involve intolerance and violence.

That is because of the variety of religions in the world. There are numerous indigenous and traditional religions practiced in South America, Africa, and Asia; there are over 100 million Buddhists; there are over a billion Hindus and Muslims; and of course there are over 2 billion Christians. To mandate which belief system will be followed is not a good idea and probably not possible anyway. Even within Christianity there are dozens of sects, each with different details emphasized. When a society (be it a city, county, state, or country) attempts to standardize things based on religion they are setting themselves up for failure. This is especially true in the United States where there is supposed to be the free exercise of religion.

Case in point: Indiana has also recently had a new religion attempt to be established. The First Church of Cannabis has a system of belief (effectively defining it as a religion), and is attempting to secure a location for meetings. It is already being funded. And of course it identifies marijuana as a sacred substance in the religion.

If you believe this is silly and there is no way Indiana should pay any attention to an upstart religious group, then you don’t understand the history of Christianity. If you think the First Church of Cannabis can co-exist with other religious perspectives, then you also think they should be able to discriminate against all those who think marijuana should be illegal (I don’t know that this is really a principle of theirs but you get the point) – and I don’t think anybody is willing to go along with that line of reasoning.

There is a reason that the church and state are separate. When they get entangled too many things go wrong.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.