The Night before Nationals

It’s the night before I depart for Vegas and the NFL Tournament. I have a sequence of horrible flights, but I can’t really complain too much since they’re a freebie from the airline. I also now am on some list of terrorists, so I can’t check in online anymore. A guy who’s never been out of North America and always travels with 5-15 adolescents, I guess, is highly suspicious; probably true, but not usually for carrying bombs. Pattern matching software is notorious for generating a huge number of false positives. Ah well, there’s a website where one can register one’s bafflement at this condition and see what happens. I bet I’ll get audited, though I’m sure the cavity search tomorrow will be gentle.

It’s raining. It’s a beautiful rain; that cold humidity in the air making one unsure if it’s hot or cold or both at once. It’s thundering, and pouring, which is something of a summer ideal for me. Watching the rain fall in a warm summer night with little lights here and there under the leaves just fills me with a sense of normalcy. You see, I grew up in the shadow of a mountain that flung thunderstorms at us with clockwork regularity. We get far fewer down here in the coastal areas, and I miss them, so whenever one does come roaring through, it quiets and comforts.

I mention this because this last night and last two weeks have had a pace of normalcy about them that’s often missing from the forensics life. Tomorrow I’m headed to Vegas, but I’m also staying longer than the tournament, and explicitly going to have a good time. The presence of the national tournament is tangential at best. It helps that I’ve come to not care about the NFL and its Nationals one way or another. They make their tournament too big a deal, spend too much time backslapping coaches publicly, and it’s a little too much about sponsors; no sense of a balance there. Most of all, they run their organization entirely on the incorrect assumption that everyone sees it as the singular apotheosis of forensics, which prevents them from seeing, or at least acknowledging and correcting, certain problems.

The NFL for me is now eminently skippable, while once upon a time I saw it as a Big Freakin’ Deal. But at this point it’s hard for me to see anything in forensics as a Big Freakin’ Deal. I’ve run tournaments, I’ve had kids win them, I’ve had them lose, and I’ve not noticed much long term difference between, outside the fact that kids sometimes learn something. I also lose respect for tournaments each time I realize that education and competition are at cross currents. It irks me when I tell the kids to do things that I know risks them defeat. I won’t compromise on that, but it saddens me when I become aware of it. And it really kills me when the kids themselves — and every kid I’ve ever coached has done this — push back and do the lesser thing to win the tournament, and get a trophy in return for their integrity. Bad trade.

The NFL does that to my kids more often than most tournaments. I hear the collective voice of NFL judges pushing back at me through the students’ mouths a lot, despite the fact that we don’t even get ballots back and so we don’t actually know why NFL judges do what they do. The tournament overall has a distorting effect, and cheapens the education I feel I can present my students. So I go there tomorrow, but I try to leave no wake, make no waves, and remain as anonymous and concealed as I can. And hope to God nobody asks me to fix their !@$#%!@ website.