Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Only in Brooklyn: Kids Reading the New Yorker

On Tuesday night at Kol Nidre/Yom Kippur services, I took a break from the prayers (as usual) and went to sit in the lobby with this week's New Yorker. After a few minutes of reading, a young boy, no older than 12, approached me.

"Did you find this New Yorker here?" he asked me. "Because I was reading one with the same cover. I left it around here."

I shook my head and motioned to the address label on the bottom, which had my name. "Nope," I said. "This is mine."

"Oh," he said. "Well, maybe I left mine somewhere else."

I went back to my reading for a few minutes and then looked up. The pre-teen was sitting across the room, reading his very own copy of The New Yorker, same issue as the one in my lap. I barely suppressed my laughter. What sort of  kid would a bring a copy of The New Yorker (or The Economist for that matter) to services. And actually read it. And claim it as his.

And then I wondered if he was also reading the article about drug resistant gonorrhea.

Only in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Did gymnastics' popularity decrease after we lost the Perfect 10?

I just finished listening to Part 2 of the Tim Daggett new gymnastics podcast, Gymcastic, which you can now subscribe to on iTunes.

This episode, unlike the previous one, was more focused on the code, skills, and deductions. This was a pretty good listen especially when Daggett started to delve into men's gymnastics, which I know far less about than I do the women's side of the sport. As a coach and former athlete, he clearly knows his stuff.

This might seem odd coming from me since I wrote a very critical article about the NBC trio that includes Daggett. But in my critiques, I've never doubted his gymnastics intelligence. Also, I'm fully willing to accept that Daggett has limited input as to which routines are broadcast. Rather, it's been about how he and the others (especially the other two) comport themselves on air. Knowing their stuff is one thing. But they dumb down what they see so that it is practically meaningless. They also way overhype the drama and use misogynistic tropes in their commentary. I know that the broadcasts are not geared towards me, a knowledgeable uber fan. But I don't think raising the IQ of the commentary by a few points will drive away the four year fans or make it too hard for them to follow. Basically, I think their commentary has gotten lazy. Their approach hasn't changed in over a decade. I think they can do better, but I suppose there is little incentive for them to change anything. Gymnastics ratings has little to do with what is said or isn't said on air.

Further, I don't think NBC's rating success this summer had anything to do with how they chose to commentate and broadcast. Those things remained virtually unchanged from previous Olympic Games. Rather, the Games in London as a whole were more popular than the Beijing spectacle. Also, the fact that the U.S. women won (and were clearly dominant heading in) played an enormous role. The women's team this year was an incredibly likable, photogenic group.

And finally, forces outside of NBC's purview--such as the way fans use social media--help drive a lot of the discussion and fervor. (I mean, who didn't want to watch with Samuel L. Jackson just so you would get his hilarious twitter commentary.)

Another point Daggett raised during the podcast is how the "new" scoring system confuse casual viewers. (Folks, it's been around for six years at this point. This is sort of like my mom telling me not to jump on the "new" couch, which was five years old at that point. I think what both she and Daggett meant by "new" is "not as old as the last one we just got rid of.")

Now, Daggett is hardly the only person in the gymnastics community to make this assertion. Basically, virtually everyone in the gymnastics community has made similar claims, about how iconic the Perfect 10 is, how fans are put off.

But has it really put fans off of the sport? I know we keep hearing that but are people less interested in gymnastics than they were in 2004 merely because there is no longer a 10.0 ceiling? Where's the proof? (Someone needs to do a scientific poll. After the presidential election, I'll put it to Gallup.) Which casual Olympic fans now won't watch because a 15.7 rather than a 9.7 is considered a good score.

For about as long as I've watched the sport, I've been asked to explain it to others, especially the scoring. This happened under the old system and it's happening under the newer one. It might take an extra few minutes now because there are two scores--difficulty and execution--to account for, but I don't think my friends are less interested because of it.

Cause here's the actual truth that we gym fans know all too well--irregardless of scoring protocols, virtually no one cares about gymnastics during non-Olympic years. Bringing back the 10 won't change that.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Why I Don't Like Prayer

This year, I didn't go to synagogue over Rosh Hashanah. Does that mean I'm a terrible person? I hope not. It just means that I've finally and truly given in and admitted that prayer simply doesn't do it for me. I don't like it. I never have.

Of course, I couldn't keep this epiphany to myself so I wrote a piece that is up over at Jewcy called, "Shul's Out For Rosh Hashanah."

Here's a snippet:

At times, however, I took a grim satisfaction in surviving the service as though I had run some sort of liturgical marathon. Back at school after the holidays, we’d boast to one another about how long our davening lasted. The winners (and losers) were the ones who didn’t get to eat lunch until it was practically time for seniors in Florida to get their early bird specials. (This same sort of competition was applied to Passover seders. Eating dinner before midnight was a sign of impiety.) In Orthodox Judaism, as in my beloved sport of gymnastics, your grit is measured by how much suffering you can endure.

You can read the rest (which includes a quote from Buffy) over here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

New gymnastics podcast

Today marked the debut of a new gymnastics podcast--punnily called "Gymcastic"--for the hardcore gym fan (though I think that even Olympic year fans of the sport can also enjoy it).

Many wonderful writers and bloggers that I know are involved in the production of this podcast--Blythe Lawrence of the Gym Examiner, Spanny Tampson of Spanny Tampson's Big Fake Smile, Uncle Tim of Uncle Tim Talks Men's Gym.

And their first guest was a big one--NBC's commentator (and Olympic gold medalist) Tim Daggett. Check it out here

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Gabby Backlash

Tackling racism and abortion in the same week on this site? I hope that this doesn't bite me in the ass.

The Olympics are over and it will be a little while until we have competitive gymnastics news to report. Thankfully (?), our Olympians are still making headlines and sparking discussion. Most notably of all-Olympic champion Gabby Douglas.

As everyone knows, Douglas and her mother were interviewed by Oprah. During this interview she mentioned that teammates (not the coaching staff) had at times bullied her and occasionally made remarks that were racially insensitive.

Predictably (or unpredictably depending on how close you follow race relations in the U.S. and the ongoing tensions between Douglas and her old gym Excalibur), there was an immediate and nasty backlash to these remarks.

The response to her comments have been disturbing, to say the least. Rather than at least consider the charges, Excalibur coaches, parents, and gymnasts dismissed them out of hand and attacked Gabby for having made such statements to begin with. Every attempt has been made to discredit what she said from accusing her of lying outright to saying she misinterpreted to using the "kids will be kids" excuse for bad behavior. But my favorite has been the claim that because the gym has trained other high level African American athletes and those girls girls haven't experienced or reported any racist remarks (this is what they've said and just as I am willing to take Gabby at her word, I am willing to believe that they didn't have a bad time) then Gabby couldn't possibly have experienced this.

Something similar came up with the furor over Girls not representing all young women in the continental U.S. Though I didn't care for the show, I felt that the criticism being lobbed at Lena Dunham was particularly unfair. It's deeply misogynistic to expect one show to represent all of modern women as though we're a monolithic mass. Similarly, it's quite unacceptable to take one African American's experience and extrapolate from it and then assert that because X has nothing but wonderful things to report so Y must be dishonest or misinterpreting things or is overly sensitive. Newsflash--it's possible, nay, likely for two different African American women to have different experiences in the same gym. The assumption of sameness--that one member of a group can stand in for all of them--itself smacks a little bit of racism.

I'm not denying that the African American women who spoke out in defense of Excalibur did not have wonderful experiences at the gym, but for them to use their experiences to invalidate someone else's is unfair. Some of these girls overlapped for just a year or so with Gabby so they were not witness to what she claims happened.

Nor were the outraged coaches. Again, I'm willing to believe that neither coach had any knowledge of the incidents. After all, most children make it a habit not to bully directly in front of authority figures lest they get in trouble. But the coaches' reaction to Gabby's revelation is troubling to say the least. They've gone after relentlessly for her comments, saying that if she doesn't cite names and dates then it didn't happen. But here's my question--wouldn't it have been worse for her to cite names? Would the gym have preferred that Gabby actually named one of the kids who made racist comments on national TV? Wouldn't she then have been accused of using her media platform to beat up on an unknown 16 or 17-year-old?

Also, as investigative journalist Spanny Tampson, pointed out and thoroughly documented, the bad blood between Douglas and Excalibur pre-dates the racist bullying remarks.  It dates back to an article in the Virginia Pilot, which immediately followed Douglas' unofficial "win" at the American Cup. (You should really check out Spanny's in-depth analysis of the whole affair. She's divided it into three terrific blog posts--herehere, and here.) In this article, the Excalibur coaches demand recognition for the role they played in Douglas' gymnastics development. One gym mom described the fact that Chow will be photographed near Gabby on the floor as "sickening." They also laid bare Douglas' family circumstances--from her parents' divorce to her mother's medical problems and disability payments and owing of money.

(According to the Citizens United decision, money=speech. So following that absurd logic, if Douglas' mom owes money then she can't talk. And I supposed since I'm thousands of dollars in debt to my student loan creditors I can't speak out on the issue of student loan reform.)

This is really indefensible. I can understand that they were hurt when Douglas left (though gym switches at this level are hardly uncommon). And I can definitely understand how hard it must be to watch an athlete you trained find success and fame elsewhere. But to air a child's family history  to the press? To betray whatever trust existed between themselves and their former pupil? It's truly wrong. I know that unlike with a doctor or shrink, where there is a legal expectation of confidentiality, none exists with a coach or teacher. But still, most people who work with kids would not go to the press with information about a former pupil. Douglas' family circumstances were hers and hers alone to disclose. Given this history, it's not difficult to understand why Douglas wasn't falling all over herself to show her gratitude to her former coaches.

Ultimately what we have here is a bunch of grown ups--coaches, former gymnasts, gym moms, and even some bloggers--ganging up on a teenage girl for saying what she thought and felt. And judging by how the grown ups at the gym have behaved in the aftermath, they've given Douglas more, not less, credence.

[UPDATE: My Jezebel story on the situation is now up. You can read it here.]