• Otter Views: Deflategate and the Potato Method

    First, pro football.

    Sunday’s Super Bowl will lower the curtain on a season the National Football League would probably just as soon move past. Yes, fan fervor and league revenues soared higher than a Ray Guy punt. But worrisome cracks appeared in the sport’s carefully managed façade.

    Among other things, the 2014-2015 season may be remembered as the year two of pro football’s touchier issues converged. The league’s long-suppressed concussion problem was 2013 news. But it reloaded this season when several of the NFL’s biggest stars were embroiled in abuse scandals.

    The NFL likely felt it had laid the concussion issue to rest by implementing a long-overdue “protocol” requiring concussed players to sit out practices and games until medically cleared to return. But as reports proliferated this season of players abusing wives, girlfriends, children and animals, a troubling new question arose.

    Does football-related repetitive brain injury foster abusiveness?

    To the league’s dismay, studies have established the concussion-abuse link as more than a statistical anomaly. It’s only a whisper now, but the issue is likely to gain traction in coming years. Pro football’s repetitive brain injury-mental illness link was a whisper once, too.

    In another noteworthy convergence, this week has showcased the NFL’s heaviest and most trivial scandals of 2014-2015, both involving the Super Bowl-bound New England Patriots. On the somber end, a jury was empaneled in Massachusetts Monday in the first of two murder trials of former Patriot star Aaron Hernandez.

    Hernandez is accused of the 2013 shooting death of semi-pro football player Odin Lloyd. The former Patriot tight end faces a separate trial in May on murder charges stemming from a pair of 2012 killings of which he is also accused.

    Once the murder accusations surfaced in the 2014 pre-season, the Patriots swiftly cut Hernandez loose, but questions linger as to why the team overlooked their star receiver’s long-rumored criminal associations. Could it be the game’s culture?

    As possible answers, consider Vince Lombardi’s dictum: “Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing” and Al Davis’ admonition: “Just win, baby.” In fairness, overlooking player misdeeds is not just a Patriot syndrome. The supposedly wholesome and honorable San Francisco 49ers this season fielded stars involved in substance abuse, car wrecks, aggravated assault and other transgressions.

    Its stars’ impropriety has long tarnished the NFL’s all-American image (see Vick, Michael), but murder charges bring especially unwanted scrutiny. I’ll be curious to see if Aaron Hernandez’ legal team plays the concussion card during his upcoming murder trials.

    On a more frivolous note, the Patriots had to spend a near fortnight batting down accusations they had cheated during the conference championship by under-inflating 11 of their 12 game balls. The ensuing “Deflategate” sucked the air out of the NFL’s principal happy-talk time, the Super Bowl run-up. Instead of burnishing the league’s reputation with heart-warming stories about superstars not under indictment, the NFL wasted 10 precious days talking ball inflation protocols and air pressure metrics. It was not a big win.

    Hoping to put Deflategate out of mind, I drove Sunday to the San Antonio mission for the annual midwinter “Cutting of the Roses,” an event even more venerable than the Super Bowl. I was told it started in 1962, when Franciscan fathers planted the first of 500 roses in the mission’s courtyard.

    A midwinter pruning evidently helps roses thrive, so it is said the friars trimmed the plants, held a celebratory mass, and laid out the cuttings for parishioners. A modest feast followed. A similar format prevailed on Sunday, although the brunch was quite extravagant, and time and periodic neglect had roughly halved the original 500 roses.

    That any roses remain at all is a testament to Tina Lopez and other King City volunteers who waded into shoulder-high weeds in 1992 to start restoring the garden. On Sunday, Wesley and Trina Beebe were still at it, pruning roses and laying out the cuttings for parishioners and visitors. The couple has helped maintain the mission rose garden for 23 years. They wore really good gloves.

    Among the visitors was Steve Holz of Oregon, who planted a fragrant ”Mr. Lincoln” in memory of his mother Rita Holz, a former San Antonio parishioner. “She always complained if a rose looked good but didn’t smell good,” he explained.

    Also on hand were Thomas and Janett Sekel from Orangevale, back to mark the 50th anniversary of their San Antonio mission wedding. The Sekels turned heads with a high-tech cutting transmission system they called “the potato method.” While others lost valuable blood trying to prod the thorny stems into paper sacks, Mr. Sekel donned gloves to painlessly insert his stems into cored potatoes.

    “This is supposed to keep rose cuttings moist,” he said. “Our daughter read about it on the internet.”

    posted to Cedar Street Times on January 30, 2015

    Topics: Otter Views


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