The NFL: Why the King Will Fall




I always snort when people tell me baseball is too slow. The average National Football League airs for just over 3 hours, which happens to be exactly how long the average baseball game lasts. Believe me, way more happens in baseball than in a gridiron match, unless you really enjoy watching men on steroids huddled together and patting each other on the butt. If nothing else, baseball has the excuse of not having a time clock. How can it take three hours to play gridiron, a one-hour sport?


You’ll notice that I used the term gridiron. The rest of the world thinks “football” means teams chasing a round ball across a grassy pitch and trying to deposit it into a net. Only in North America do we call that “soccer.” You might have observed that real football is catching on here. You might also infer that demographics suggest that King Gridiron will be dethroned when white people cease to be the majority.


That’s a discussion for some other time, though. Gridiron, like baseball, simply needs to pick up the pace. There are far too many just-shoot-me play stoppages. What if gridiron adhered to similar standards as real football?  


·      Throw an incomplete pass. Lineup, because the clock will continue to run.

·      Want to kick a field goal before a quarter runs out? Have the kicking team ready.

·      Technology can replace serious-looking referees with a chain. It will say first down or bring in the punting team. Keep the clock running.

·      Allow the clock to stop only for penalties or injuries. If a team is penalized, the offending player must sit for two minutes and his team plays shorthanded. If someone is injured, time is added back by the referee as in soccer, and only s/he knows the exact amount of time left.

·      If the offense doesn’t get a play off in time, it forfeits a down and the clock continues to run.

·      It would help the game flow immensely–especially running plays–were the field widened by 12 feet, as is the case of Canadian gridiron.

·      Get rid of video reviews. Controversy over calls is one of the things that makes sports fun to discuss.

·      Cut halftime in half. Wow, it sure is fun hearing those 15-second clips of marching bands and all the “analysis” from beefy former jocks regurgitating what you’ve already seen.



Here are some other thoughts:



·      I’ll bet head injuries would be far fewer in number if gridiron players wore less gear. Warrior garb encourages some players to behave as if they are human missiles.

·      It would help immensely if outside groups tested players for banned substances. The NFL won’t admit it, but it has a drug problem that makes baseball’s steroid scandal look as innocent as a girl scout withholding some of her cookie money. Or maybe you believe it’s perfectly normal for a 300-pounder to run 40 yards in under 5 seconds! That’s the equivalent of over 20 mpg and the fastest hockey players seldom touch 30 mpg on skates over ice.  



·      The thing that will harm gridiron in the long run is that enough parents will wise up and withhold permission for their children to suit up. CTE is a real thing and it’s doubtful that any amount of tinkering with helmets will change that. Other than beating a kid over the head with a baseball bat, it’s hard to imagine a worse thing to do to a developing brain.


Rob Weir


Consequences of Fear a Thrill, Despite Forced Ending



By Jacqueline Winspear

HarperCollins, 342 pages.

★★★ ½ 



British author Jacqueline Winspear has a successful franchise going in the character of Maisie Dobbs; The Consequences of Fear is said to be her 16th. It is the mark of a good writer that you don’t need to have read any of the others to come to know the characters or follow the story. In brief, though, Maisie Dobbs has (at least) a triple life. She is a private investigator (PI) with an assistant named Billy Beale, and also works for British intelligence under the imperious, often sexist leadership of Robert MacFarlane. In addition, she’s widowed but has an adopted daughter, Anna, who is the darling of a rural aristocratic family for whom Maisie is a veritable ward and for whom her father and mother-in-law are employees.


As we meet Maisie this time, she is beginning to feel her age. Her reputation was made during World War I, but it’s now 1941, Britain is at war a second time, and London is being bombed by the Germans on a regular basis. The tale’s mystery pivots around young Freddie Hackett, a lad swift of feet who is a runner/messenger for hire. In one of his dangerous sprints across London, Freddie thinks he witnessed a murder in progress. There are several problems. Scotland Yard doesn’t believe him and Freddie can’t speak up too much as he needs the coins he gets to buy food for himself and his mother, Grace. He also has to funnel just enough to his brutal father, Arthur, to waste at the pub. An abused wife and child is all Maisie needs to champion Freddie, but she too needs to tread lightly; there’s no solid evidence to support Freddie’s story and Maisie is already suspect for her unconventional life. Plus, she suspects that André Chaput, a celebrated French major from the previous war, might be the killer and no one wants to accept that. She grows even more suspicious, though, when the body and plane of a French flyer are pulled from the Thames.


The Consequences of Fear has a lot of irons in the fire, many of which involve the roles Maisie is trying to juggle. She is being courted by an American political attaché, Mark Scott, threatened by Freddie’s father, given butt-out orders from MacFarlane, and is charged with a highly secretive and distasteful task from him. Maisie has been handed the job of vetting French-fluent young women to be airlifted into Nazi-controlled France to gather intelligence. The life expectancy for those chosen is measured in weeks, not years, and two of the candidates are her niece and a woman she has known for 20 years, both of whom are beloved by her best friend and former nursing comrade Priscilla Everdeen. It’s not as if Priscilla doesn’t have enough on her plate with three sons in uniform. Maisie’s dilemma is stark: duty or friendship?


Maisie has to pick her way through entangling thorns that will reopen her own past, including trying to keep her cool and remember the lessons of her old mentor, furtively picking the brain of another former role model, consulting with a child trauma expert, keeping Freddie and Grace safe, acting as a role model for a young woman/driver aptly named Corporal Bright, and balancing her military orders with her PI instincts. Maisie has a well-defined sense of right and wrong, but such distinctions are not always clear during war—especially when honor and old scores are involved. Maisie has to come to terms with fear and consequences, both her own and that of others. As she learns, “Fear [is] sticky, like flypaper….” She’s not always successful in keeping everyone out of harm’s way.


This is a thrilling novel about the early days of World War II, a time in which normal life and customary morality were not drawn in either/or ways. Unfortunately, Winspear loses her footing as the novel draws to a conclusion that relies too heavily on forced coincidences. Though hers might not be a happily-ever-after ending, it leans in that direction. Maisie Dobbs is a marvel, but once we’ve seen her flaws and limitations, it’s hard to imagine her as a miracle worker. Or content, for that matter.


Rob Weir


Another Round is a Good, but not Great Film



Directed by Thomas Venterberg

Nordisk Film, 117 minutes, not-rated.

In Danish with some English and subtitles.



Another Round won the Oscar for Best International Film. Critics heaped praise upon it, though audiences have been lukewarm. Go with the audiences. It’s a decent film, not a great one.


This Danish/Dutch/Swedish joint venture follows the travails, triumphs, and let-downs of four teachers in a Copenhagen gymnasium school, college-prep as North Americans would see it, though it’s a bit more than that. In the exam-driven European educational system, students are tracked early on; good grades in a gymnasium are the only entrée into higher education. In this film, teachers are pushed hard by parents who blame them if their children fail to sparkle. (Alas, that seems to be universal.)


The central character is Martin (Mads Mikkelsen), a former jazz and tap dancer, who is now a soporific history teacher facing entitled adolescents would rather party and be spoon-fed than think. That’s also the teaching scenario for three of Martin’s colleagues: Tommy (Thomas Bo Larsen), Peter (Lars Ranthe), and Nickolaj (Magnus Millang). Martin used to be close to them, but he’s burnt out, depressed, and has trouble connecting with anyone. That includes his wife Anika (Maria Bonnerie) and their children.


Martin’s tipping (and tippling) point comes at Nickolaj’s 40th birthday celebration. Even though the restaurant conversation centers on workplace complaints, it doesn’t escape notice that Martin is physically present but emotionally absent. This prompts Nickolaj to discourse on the psychological theories of Finn Skårderud, who postulates that sobriety is a detriment to peak well-being, performance, and efficiency. Skårderud is a real person who claims that individuals are at their happiest when their blood alcohol content (BAC) is 0.05 percent. To put that in perspective, most states define drunk driving as 0.08 percent or above, so Skårderud essentially advocates having a buzz going all the time.


The four make a pact to test Skårderud’s theory and each is initially enthralled by the results. Martin transforms into a dynamic, creative, and bold teacher whose students jolt to alertness and immerse themselves in history. His family also feels the change, with Anika expressing how wonderful it is to have the old Martin back. If this sounds too good to be true, it’s because Skårderud’s controversial research downplays the addictive dangers of daily drinking. If a .05 BAC renders wonders, why not push it to .08 or above .10? What returns can easily go away again; many things in Martin’s life are in severe danger of doing so.


Martin is mildly better off than Tommy, a bachelor soccer coach. (There’s a reason why drinking alone is viewed as particularly problematic.) When Tommy shows up visibly plastered for a faculty meeting in which the school’s head (Susse Wold) is addressing rumors of teachers drinking on school grounds, we visualize The Fates unspooling their thread. The others try to curtail drinking, but once new lines are drawn, who can recall the old ones? Martin tries hard to put the lid back onto an exploded can, a process that leads to a post-graduation Zorba-like exuberant dance along the Copenhagen waterfront with students cheering him on. Its ambiguity makes it something less than a Dead Poets’ Society ending.


“Ambiguous” would be a good one-word review for the film. It’s billed as a comedy/drama and those ideals often fail to mesh. Note also that Another Round is a fluffier title than the Danish Druk, “binge drinking.” There’s an important definitional shading between the convivial-sounding English title and the social problem implications of the Danish. Is it acceptable to make light of the heavy drinking of students? Is it okay to sneak drinks between classes if it gives teachers more confidence? Are teachers supposed to be peers, or role models?


Another Round is well-acted and some might argue a portrait of how things are rather than how they should be. Mikkelsen shines as the very embodiment of world weariness, a very human condition that is hard to convey visually. Nonetheless, in my estimation the film walks a very narrow line across which it occasionally staggers. Even had Another Round handled its subject perfectly and stuck the landing, its premise hovers in the red zone. To add to the danger, Hollywood again seeks to remake a successful European film. Buzz has it that Leonardo DiCaprio will play Martin. Why do I have a bad feeling about that?


Rob Weir