Saturday, December 29, 2012

The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game

Lawrence Taylor willed himself to destroy the quarterback via the blind side. This lead to a changing of the way football was played. Unfortunately, there was a limit to Taylor's willpower, and he wasn't able to will himself out of an addiction to drugs.

Michael Oher similarly exhibited strong willpower. He grew up in a broken "family" in the projects of Memphis. He was in and out of school, and bounced around from place to place, trying to avoid being taken away by child protective services. His goal was to become the next Michael Jordan. He continued to work at it, even as his body grew to enormous proportions.

Through a series of fortunate events and coincidences, he was able to attend a private, predominantly white, Christian school on the "good" side of Memphis. There he was adopted by wealthy white family who helped train him on how to navigate the wealthy, "white" world. He was also discovered by the football coach. Oher's size and speed allowed him to become the centerpiece of the team's offense. Would he have had these opportunities if he were not a great athlete? Almost certainly not. However, even if he were a great athlete, if he didn't have the support network, he would never have succeeded in sports, and would probably still be on the streets.

He was recruited by many schools, and interrogated by the NCAA for rules violations. (The dark underbelly of college athletics is well exposed.) He had to a cram in many last-minute correspondence classes to get his GPA high enough to play college football.

For many inner-city kids, sports seem to be the only way out of the projects. Yet they are caught in a catch-22 where success in sports requires you to first get "out of the projects" and perform well enough in school to play for your high school and make it to college before you can finally make it to the pros and get a paycheck. There are so many chances to fail in the process, with the best "consolation prize" often being work as a gang bouncer. Does glorification of the athlete really benefit the community as a whole?

This book does present a nice uplifting story, told primarily from the point of view of Oher's supporters. (Oher is remarkably silent in this book, though he has since written his own book.) It is clear that he was strong willpower and character, but needed some guidance and opportunity to channel it. He knew he would succeed and he did.

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