Author Archives: Graydon Gordian

HustleJunkie: The Return of the Hustle

2712304087_5097aef9a41After taking an extended break from my HP duties, the hustle is back. During the summer time, I used this column as a space to explore some of my more esoteric beliefs regarding basketball: Questions regarding the body, aesthetics, radical politics, and other topics that seem surprisingly out of line with the tone and style of the Paroxysm. So, ladies and gentlemen, after countless conversations with the imitable Matt Moore, I have decided to get back to basics.

The original purpose of this column was to praise a certain style of basketball. As I mentioned in my very first post for HP, I was raised a Knicks fan. Under the tutelage of Charles Oakley and Larry Johnson, I came to believe basketball was not a game for the faint of heart. It required a special kind of grit. If a man came into your lane, he better be prepared to get mugged on his way to the hoop. If a loose ball was sliding across the floor, it would take a brick wall to keep you from snagging it. For those of us who love our hoops a tad bit rough and tumble, the mid-to-late nineties were heady times.

But those halcyon days have passed. We live in a land of flops and ticky-tack fouls. But on the periphery exists a class of player who remembers that basketball is supposed to be a man’s game: I call them “hustle junkies.” Embracing a style that is rugged and raw, they carry on the grand tradition of Dennis Rodman, Karl Malone, and Bill Laimbeer.

Once a week here at HP we will crown one of these men as “HustleJunkie Player of the Week.” I am proud to announce that our first ever HustleJunkie Player of the Week is Jeff Green of the Oklahoma City Thunder.

83008006LS008_KINGS_THUNDERIt’s becoming cliche to say the Thunder are a joy to watch this season but only because it is true. It’s not just that they play with reckless abandon because they have nothing to lose. It’s because their perfectly imperfect composition features such wonderfully different styles of ball. You have the wildly precocious grace of Kevin Durant, the unbridled athleticism of Russell Westbrook, and the piston-powered tenacity of Mr. Green.

So why Green this week? It’s not just because he has been averaging 8.3 rpg over the last 4 games. Or 21.5 ppg on 43% shooting. Or putting in a workman-like 39.4 minutes a night. It’s the manner in which he does so.

When Green plays basketball it is a celebration. His gruff, fearless style is not born of the cynicism or spite that seems to inspire other hustle junkies. His intensity is driven by respect and love: To work any less hard would be to not give the game the thanks it deserves. One day this joy may fade. As the grind of each season takes its toll, Green’s exuberance may lose a bit of its luster. But for the time being his unique combination of innocence and ruggedness have helped make him the first ever HustleJunkie Player of the Week.

Jeff Green: In the spirit of Kermit Washington, we salute you.

15 Footer 2.3.09: The Six Sides of Rob Mahoney

Who is Rob Mahoney?

Sure, He’s made you laugh, he’s made you think. Maybe even made you shed a tear every now and then. But how much do any of us really know about the internet’s marquee man of mystery? We here at the Paroxysm dispatched our finest investigative reporters deep into heart of Texas to answer these questions and more. No one could have predicted the horror we would find.


Look Ma, No Hands (Toronto at Cleveland):


As in, “Cleveland could beat Toronto at home without even using their hands.” The physics is mind-boggling but it could happen.

Loves to Rock (Minnesota at Indiana):



One of These Two is Stronger Than the Other (Boston at Philadelphia):


It’s a shame because once upon a time I actually thought the Sixers might contend. Well, everyone makes mistakes.

Surprisingly Good Looking (Milwaukee at New Jersey):


Wait. The Nets and the Bucks are even remotely relevant. Have we been watching the same NBA?

Quit Your Whining (Chicago at Houston):


A little mental toughness could do these boys some good.

Deceptively Cool (San Antonio at Denver):


Somehow a match-up between the most boring team in the NBA and a surefire first round exit has turned into a struggle for second place in the West. Just goes to show you that season previews don’t mean a thing.

The Passing of John Updike

john_updike_wideweb__470x3170As nearly every prominent media outlet has done over the course of the last 24 hours, Slate published a piece commemorating the life and work of John Updike. Penned by John Irving, the reflection focuses on Updike’s belief that “you’re a writer because you can write well, not because of your subject.” For those of us who fancy ourselves sportswriters, there is much to be learned from this recently deceased giant of American letters.

Sports is often considered a pulp topic; a subject saved for the simple-minded and brutish. In news rooms across the country the sports desk is known as the “toy department.” But in Updike we can find inspiration. For Updike, no topic was too banal, no detail superfluous. His characters were often uninspired, wheel-spinning members of the middle class and yet the richness of his prose granted their everyday toils the sanctity of prayer. And every so often, his pen stumbled across a basketball court:

Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a back-board bolted to it. legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires. Rabbit Angstrom, coming up the alley in a business suit, stops and watches, though he’s twenty-six and six three. So tall, he seems an unlikely rabbit, but the breadth of white face, the pallor of his blue irises, and a nervous flutter under his brief nose as he stabs a cigarette into his mouth partially explain the nickname, which was given to him when he was a boy. he stands there thinking, the kids keep coming, they keep crowding you up.

The opening paragraph of Rabbit, Run introduces us to Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a former high school basketball star turned salesman whose got an existential crisis bigger than his pregnant wife’s belly. Aside from being one of the most touching testaments to middle class malaise ever written, Rabbit, Run includes some of the finest prose ever crafted regarding the game of basketball.

Updike’s famous Rabbit tetralogy (there are 3 more Rabbit books) is hardly the only place you can find reflections on basketball. In his poems and short stories, tales of auto mechanics dribbling inflated tires and quick-shot carnival games crop up time and time again.

Throughout american literature there are examples of men and women who have let athletics be their muse: The tennis writing of John McPhee and David Foster Wallace; the boxing writing of A.J. Liebling and Joyce Carol Oates; the baseball writing of Bernard Malamud. Updike’s passing casts a hint of sadness over the literary landscape but it is also an opportunity to reflect on how inspirational the games we love have been to so many talented writers. If you have never taken the time to explore the prose of Updike, I encourage you to. Start with the Olinger Stories. They’re a personal favorite.


19 minutes and 41 seconds. That is the length of time I just saw J.J. Redick play professional basketball. Is that a world record? I don’t think anyone has seen Redick play basketball in years, much less actually have enough time on the floor to get off 4 3-pointers (and only make 1). Supposedly he is averaging over 16 minutes a game this season, but I don’t believe it. I guess when you take a 16 point lead over the Bulls in the 1st quarter anything can happen.

You know had the best play of the game. This guy:

I’m being completely serious. Benny the Bull hit two behind the back, half-court shots in a row. That is impressive. Oh, and Thabo Sefolosha threw a nasty no-look alley-oop to Tyrus Thomas. Too bad it came with 2 minutes left in the fourth quarter of 19 point loss to a Orlando team that is firing on all cylinders. Is it just me or has the Eastern Conference hit its stride this season?

A Sad State of Affairs

This evening I was watching the Lakers of Los Angeles take on the Suns of Phoenix in a match-up between two perennial powerhouses of the Association of National Basketball. Traditionally this is a win-win situation for your humble author: I hate both the Lakers and the Suns and luckily, given the circumstances, one of them had to lose. But this evening was different than other evenings. The colors may have been the same but the names were changed. I looked up at the screen to find Goran Dragic, Grant Hill, Matt Barnes, Louis Amundson and Robin Lopez on the floor for the Suns. I felt confused. I felt angry. Most of all I felt sad.

Make no mistake, I despise the Phoenix Suns with the white hot passion of a thousand, well, suns. So initially the idea that such an inept crew of misfits would don the purple and orange caused a soft smile to creep across my face. But as I thought about all the good times we’ve had, all those 5 and 6 game playoff series against the Spurs that weren’t really that competitive to begin with, I realized I kind of miss the old Suns. Shallow rotations. Non-existent defense. Impotent half-court sets. Those were the days.

Obviously the glory days of Suns basketball have passed us by. By picking up Grant Hill, trading for Shaq, and finally showing D’Antoni the door, the Suns franchise made it clear they were leaving the fun-and-gun days behind. But I guess I never realized what a shadow of its former self the franchise had become until I beheld the the aforementioned rotation of Dragic, Hill, Barnes, Amundson, and Lopez. Don’t get me wrong, this Suns team is going to win its fair share of games. But we all know winning was never the focal point anyways.

Hey Rob, Do You Like Basketball?

Hey Rob, Do you like the NBA? ME TOO! We should be friends. Which team is your favorite? The Mavericks! Oh man, that is so funny because I like the Spurs. Even though our favorite teams are rivals we can still be friends. When was the last time the Spurs and Mavs played? They played tonight! That is awesome! What happened? OH MAN, THE SPURS WON IN DOUBLE OVERTIME! That must have been exciting. I wish I had watched the game. I don’t watch basketball often but when I do, there’s nothing I love more than a good, competitive game between respected rivals. But I don’t get it? The Mavs couldn’t pull it out in a close game? That doesn’t seem like Dallas to me.

All kidding aside, you know what two teams you shouldn’t write off? The Mavs and the Spurs (if one of your guesses was the Suns, you were wrong. Feel free to write them off). They are better than you think they are.

HustleJunkie: A Tribute to Fire Joe Morgan

Graydon returns with a tribute to FJM. You can read more of Graydon’s work at 48 Minutes Of Hell.

Although fundamentally a democratic medium, blogging has a ruling aristocracy. Sites like Kissing Suzy Kolber, Free Darko, and The Basketball Jones have transcended the “parent’s basement” chatter and begun to fundamentally change the way we think and talk about the sports they cover. Included in this esteemed group is Fire Joe Morgan.

Driven by a love for baseball and a hatred of insipid sportswriting, FJM pioneered the brazen disrespect for God awful commentary that is now so popular online. But as many of you may have heard, FJM is closing up shop. I don’t take the time to criticize print journalists very often, mostly because I can hardly stand to read them anymore, but the passing of FJM deserves a tribute. Imitation is the highest form of BLAH BLAH BLAH.

But there are so many terrible basketball writers out there. Which should I choose? Woody Paige is a complete fool. Peter Vescey, a brazen liar. And the mere thought of Jay Mariotti, who blessedly can no longer be found on the pages of the Sun-Times, makes me so frustrated it’s hard to type. But only one man has that special combination of choppy prose (uhh, it hurts to call it that) and soaring overreaction that time and time again causes me to dream of throwing him out a window: Bill Plaschke.

The lisp-laden musings of the L.A. Times columnist found their way onto the pages of FJM often because, in so many words, Plaschke is a hack who often mails it in. But don’t take my word for it, let’s go to the source:

Mortals, we knew.

Mushy, we had no idea.

Wait, before I go any further I want to point something out. The article I am quoting from, entitled “Lack of toughness remains a problem,” has 40 paragraphs. 33 of those 40 are single sentence paragraphs. If this seems like a shockingly high ratio, you don’t read Plaschke often. Comparatively it’s pretty low. And does he realize he actually used the word “Mushy”? Moving on.

But they lost it at home, to an aging team playing the second of back-to-back games, with a starting center named Kwame Brown.

Yeah, that one.

Sure, most analysts would focus on their championship caliber core, the recent addition of a first ballot hall-of-fame guard or their stacked bench, but it’s a lot easier to portray the first loss of the season as an epic failure rather than a reasonable stumble if you focus on a secondary player your franchise didn’t have the patience to develop.

But the numbers 10 and 10?

Those will be a little harder to digest, seeing as they came from Brown, the former Laker single-digit debacle finishing with an unfathomable double-double, 10 points and 10 rebounds. This is not a misprint.

“This is not a misprint” isn’t actually a reference to Brown’s surprisingly solid night, which isn’t so surprising when you consider the fact that he is finally under the tutelage of one of the more sophisticated post players of this era. It’s just a helpful reminder from Plaschke’s editor that, yes, in fact, a newspaper of record actually employs this man.

The Pistons, fueled by new guard Allen Iverson, used dizzying passing to create a dazzling collection of open shots, leading to 51% shooting.

This is not a review of a “Blue Man Group” show. “Dizzying” and “dazzling” have no place in a description of the Pistons offensive style. I’d also like to point out that it took him 12 paragraphs to mention a Pistons player aside from Kwame Brown. To his credit, 11 of the 12 were single sentence paragraphs so it’s not like it took a long time to read them all.

Well, um, er, actually, they are not a great offensive team yet.

This is a completely reasonable point to make. I respect the idea that it is too early in the season to declare the Lakers “great” in any capacity (although expect a convincing win on the part of the Lakers in the near future to elicit the exact opposite statement from Bill). I would just appreciate the remark more if it weren’t prefaced with such obnoxiously inorganic stuttering.

Vladimir Radmanovic was even more amazing, a 6-foot-10 man who somehow managed to completely disappear in 15 minutes, one basket, two rebounds, zero impact.

Is it really accurate to describe a disappearance on the part of Radmanovic as “amazing”? I think the word he meant to use is “predictable.”

Wait a minute. Isn’t this the same tired song we heard last June in Boston? The Celtics controlled the Lakers’ inside presence and easily won the game?

Actually, Friday’s loss was the same kind of knock-kneed performance that cost them the NBA championship a few months ago against the Celtics.

Is anyone really shocked to hear the Lakers had a hard time with a physical frontcourt? And the use of the word “actually” doesn’t make sense. The second sentence is in no way an alteration of the first. He just repeated himself.

They had more energy. They have more fight. A perfect example occurred at the end of the first quarter, when Iverson stole a Bryant pass, ran downcourt, and tossed up a runner that floated into the basket at the buzzer.

Another example was Detroit’s last basket of the first half. It came on a Prince tip after three Pistons misses. How does any team get three tips on one possession against the Bynum-Gasol Lakers?

Midway through the third quarter, another example of poor defense occurred when Brown barreled past Bynum for a dunk, then Prince drove past Radmanovic and Bynum for another dunk.

Do you guys remember 9th grade where we learned to construct paragraphs using a topic sentence and then cite supporting examples? Many 9th graders implicitly understood that when supporting your claim it wasn’t actually necessary to use the word “example” over and over.

“Lots of teams have gotten off to good starts and not even made the playoffs,” he said.

This won’t be one of those teams.

Now that is a bold prediction.

HustleJunkie: Memories Before the Storm

Graydon Gordian is the author of 48 Minutes of Hell and a contributing writer for HP. His HustleJunkie column runs weekly here at HP. He is NOT leaving me all alone for some sort of position with an NBA Team, because he’s not a traitor. He will be spared when my reign is affirm…HE’S A COOL DUDE.

The 2008-2009 NBA Season is nearly here. Needless to say, I can hardly wait. Soon the paroxysms of joy that only the hardwood can provide will come storming into our lives again. The ferocious dunks. The athletic blocks. The clutch last second shots. In one gigantic wave, the game that we love will be back. If only I could concoct some scheme that would keep it here for good.

As a Spurs fan, I’ve learned one lesson repeatedly: The minute the referee tosses that ball up into the air and the clock passes from 12:00 to 11:59 for the first time, all the achievements of the past seep away. The only victories that count are the victories that lie ahead. It’s this lesson that has helped keep my beloved Spurs competitive for so long, but it’s a lesson we need not heed just yet. The first tip-off and the first click of the clock have yet to come. So before we are caught in the whirlwind of the upcoming season, I’d like to take a minute and reflect upon my favorite memories from the season that has recently subsided.

One cold early spring evening, I sat in the Old Town Ale House In Chicago, Illinois with my friends Andrew and Brenna. In the corner was an old television which no one but me was paying attention to. On the screen, the Boston Celtics were playing the Minnesota Timberwolves in what was surely an emotional affair for all involved. It was the first time Kevin Garnett had returned to the court he had previously haunted for a decade, but as one fan’s sign aptly put it, he returned “a wolf in celtic clothing.” Despite the respective records of both teams, the game was extremely competitive. In the end, the Celtics stole the ball in a manner I can’t quite recall (I was at a bar), and with it the win.

I don’t remember the score or the man who scored the winning bucket, all I remember was feeling oddly emotional. I don’t have any allegiance to the Timberwolves, but something about their loss struck me as tragic. I also don’t harbor any ill will towards Kevin Garnett. If anything, he is sure to make a heroic appearance later in this piece. But it seemed to me that Minnesota had a chance to prove something. They had a chance to prove the game is about more than superstars, that in actuality its about some fleeting conception of pride. At that moment I felt that they missed that opportunity. But you know what, now that I think about, they didn’t miss it at all.

My mother had come to visit me here in Chicago to help me shop for furniture because I’m inept when it comes to providing for myself and for some reason she loves me nonetheless. At the time I didn’t have dining room chairs or a kitchen table, much less cable, so our shopping excursion was accompanied by a trip to the Four Farthings, a pub near my apartment. You see, that day was the first day of the NBA playoffs and the San Antonio Spurs were playing the Phoenix Suns.

I’ll let you in on a little secret about your pal, Graydon: When I get watch the Spurs, I get very anxious. And when I’m anxious, if beer is placed in front of me, it is consumed at an alarming rate. To cut to the chase, I was drunk and the sun was still shining. If I have to remind you about this game you must have been living in a cave at the time as it was arguably the most exciting game of the playoffs, if not the whole season. It took two overtimes to come to a conclusion. The game was initially extended by a booming 3-pointer from the veteran Michael Finley. But the most miraculous moment came in the closing seconds of the first overtime.

Manu Ginobili set up at the top of the key as the clock ticked below 10 seconds. Raja Bell stood across from him, sporting that Mephistophelean grin I despise so much. Manu drove to his left, as the wily Argentinean is known to do, and kicked the ball back to a long and awkward man in a white jersey who had perched himself just beyond the 3-point line. The ball slid into the hands of number 21, Tim Duncan, who, having been abandoned by Shaquille O’Neal, took his time setting up the shot. His knees buckled, his eyes focused, and he let it fly. To be honest, I had no idea what was going on. I saw the ball go through the basket and instinctually exploded from my seat in an elated fit. But it took me several seconds to realize who had actually made the shot.

After a layup by Ginobili in the second overtime the game came to a close and I started hugging waitresses and receiving hearty handshakes from giggling patrons who were probably more entertained by my drunken enthusiasm than the game itself. That was good day.

I strongly dislike both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Oh, screw it. I hate both the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics. Both rank near the very top of my least favorite franchises. So the NBA Finals provided me with a predicament, to say the least. In some ways, I was happy to just watch some solid basketball without the previously mentioned Spurs-induced anxiety that accompanies me like my own shadow. But for some indiscernible reason I felt compelled to pick a side. So originally, I settled on the Lakers. I decided that something about the inorganic composition of the Celtics meant they didn’t deserve a title. But somewhere along the way, amidst Kobe’s temper tantrums, and Paul Pierce’s hot hand, I started to switch sides. But my complete transformation didn’t really happen until game 6. And even then, until one particular play.

I was in a little soul food joint near my apartment enjoying some fried chicken and mashed potatoes. My eyes were locked on the screen. Kevin Garnett found himself with the ball in traffic. He went up, was fouled, and collapsed to the floor in an odd yet electrifying manner. His body became flat as a board, and before making contact with the court he seemed to momentarily float completely parallel to the floor itself. While hanging suspended, he hurled the ball at the backboard, ricocheting it back through hoop with violent force. “And one.” I erupted from my chair, nearly flipping my plate of chicken onto the floor. Half the room let out a collective roar; the other half immediately turned towards the screen to see what had just occurred. The bartender, an acquaintance of mine, quickly asked me what had just happened. As I explained to him the details of the play, he didn’t seem as enthused as those of us who had witnessed it live. He turned to watch the replay, admitted it was a good shot, and returned to his duties not nearly as excited as those of us who had originally seen the play.

He was missing the point. Yes, the play was great, but it wasn’t about the play in and of itself. It was about the message that it communicated. I have always argued for an understanding of the basketball court as not just an athletic space but a communicative one: a space where those who play the game are actually empowered to a level of self-expression. This play is one of my most formidable examples. Without a word, everyone watching knew exactly what was going through Garnett’s mind: “There is no chance in hell we are going to lose.” It was at this moment I relaxed. It was in the second quarter, but the outcome to me seemed inevitable. Not coincidentally, the Lakers seemed to lose hope as well. Rather than fight for survival, they submitted in an underwhelming fashion. Garnett got his point across.

You know what was the fun thing about writing my column this week? Realizing that by June, I’m going to have a lot more of these.

HustleJunkie: David Foster Wallace as Reconciliatory Experience

Graydon Gordian is the author of 48 Minutes of Hell. His HustleJunkie column runs weekly here at HP. This week he reflects on David Foster Wallace and human beauty.

David Foster Wallace, aside from being a brilliant novelist and an insightful cultural critic, was a bold and thoughtful sportswriter. His passion was the game of tennis. He was an accomplished player but he never achieved the dizzying heights on the court that he would in his discussion of it. His most notable piece of sportswriting was entitled “Roger Federer as Religious Experience.” In the essay, he establishes an expansive vision of sports, in which games have an aesthetic value that few intellectuals of his caliber are willing to grant it:

Beauty is not the goal of competitive sports, but high-level sports are a prime venue for the expression of human beauty. The relation is roughly that of courage to war.

The human beauty we’re talking about here is beauty of a particular type; it might be called kinetic beauty. Its power and appeal are universal. It has nothing to do with sex or cultural norms. What it seems to have to do with, really, is human beings’ reconciliation with the fact of having a body.

Amidst Wallace’s prose lurks the origin of much of my thought on the same subject. In fact, it wouldn’t be inappropriate to interpret the entirety of “Speak, Body” as an attempt to elaborate upon Wallace’s conception of “kinetic beauty.” But in this brief quote, he takes the interrelationship of aesthetics and sports a step further, and he does so with one word: reconciliation.

When people discuss “beautiful” moments in sports, they typically focus on the types of plays that end up on highlight reels: walk-off home runs, last-second prayers, game-winning penalty shots. And it would be difficult to argue against the immensity of such moments. They are the cornerstones on which a lifetime of myth and memory can be built. But if you’re really going to capture what Wallace is getting at, you have to look at the dystopic along with the utopian. We must consider the beauty of fouls.

For those familiar with the Wallace article quoted above, this may seem like an egregious misreading of his thought: the cited passage is from an examination of Roger Federer, a man whose style of play closes in on perfection. How could the beauty of fouls possibly be what Wallace is hinting at? Yes, Wallace’s reflection is focused on our perception of Federer as miracle made flesh, but it is in the relationship between the surpassed and the surpassing that lies the need for reconciliation.

Our bodies, although vehicles of joy, are also simultaneously the primary vessels of pain. Obviously the human body is inflicted with aches and pains, but existential pain can just as easily manifest itself in our muscles and bones. Federer’s charisma derives from the stark contrast his abilities immediately draw with our own (certainly it doesn’t derive from his calm and collected demeanor). Wallace may understand Federer’s play in terms of its divine inspiration, but it is only the writer’s limitations that allow such light to be shed (I would like to note that Federer’s eventual decay can be mined for just as much significance. When we one day compare his finest matches to the level at which he will play in the winter of his career, the same sense of human limitation will be forced to the forefront).

But still, how does Wallace’s inability to play tennis professionally make a foul in basketball beautiful?

During Wallace’s essay, he includes an interesting detail. He notes how another tennis player, Jonas Borkman, referred to competing against Federer as having “the best seat in the house.” It seems that Wallace searched for catharsis amidst the same sense of personal limitation experienced by Federer’s competitors as well. If anything, the experience is all the more visceral: the sweet-stroking Swiss is kicking your particular ass. And somewhere in that unique relationship lies the beauty of the foul.

Physically, it is a mess. The complete antithesis to any balletic potential that may lurk in the game of basketball. Flesh slaps, limbs flail, bodies smack against the hardwood. Most people’s first reaction wouldn’t be the word “beautiful.” Neither would most people’s second, third or fourth reaction either. But there is an acknowledgement in the foul that doesn’t occur during other plays. In some ways it is the most intimate moment in all of basketball: By fouling, you are letting your body honestly and openly communicate your vulnerability. You cannot stop your opponent unless you break the rules.

Fine, you may say. Fouls reveal something about the fouler. But beauty exists in the sky, not in the mud.

Hardly so. The history of human shortcoming and suffering is the history of the artistic impetus. Our earliest poems describe war, our earliest theater incest and murder. Canonical art confronts our imperfection head on, mud or no mud. It does not disguise it by playing in the clouds. Acrobatic dunks and late game heroics may strike you as a revelation, but oftentimes it is in those brutish and brushed-aside moments that the most is revealed. It is easy to find peace in moments of victory. It is when we fall short that we must reconcile with ourselves.

HustleJunkie: Renewing the Body

Graydon Gordian is the author of 48 Minutes of Hell and a contributing writer for Hardwood Paroxysm. His HustleJunkie column runs every Tuesday here at HP. This week’s column continues his discussion of the body and modern culture.

Infatuation, sadism, lust, avarice
possess our souls and drain the body’s force;
we spoonfeed our adorable remorse,
like whores and beggars nourishing their lice.
-Charles Baudelaire

We Americans have an awful relationship with our bodies. The heavy-handedness of our Puritan history combined with the unbridled nature of American capitalism has twisted our understanding of our own flesh past the point of perversion. Parents shield their children’s eyes during sex scenes but openly allow them to view fictional murders, as if human intimacy was a greater threat to moral fortitude than taking another person’s life (I am not suggesting children should be allowed to view sexual content on film, merely that withholding such content while simultaneously exposing them to fictional violence is a dubious moral judgment). Video games like Grand Theft Auto, although somewhat controversial from the outset, only inspired a real backlash when it integrated an overt sexual element: Never mind the fact that the game’s original content was based off of glorifying theft and murder.

And all the while, our economic culture swings to the opposite extreme. Our current food system, bereft of any sense of foresight or responsibility, sacrifices public health in the name of mass consumption. As Jonathan Rowe, a community organizer in California, noted in his March 12th testimony before the Senate committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, current economic indicators such as the GDP, which is driven not by our quality of life but by the volume of our monetary transactions, are actually bolstered by unhealthy lifestyles:

By that standard, the best kids are the ones who eat the most junk food and exercise the least, because they will run up the biggest medical bills for obesity and diabetes.

And while one half of corporate culture implores us to feast without reservation, the other half feeds women (and increasingly men) wildly unrealistic images of what they must look like in order to have any semblance of worth: You can never be too thin, you know. No matter which direction you head, the current nature of our socio-economics seems to lay waist to any attempts to have a healthy relationship with our bodies.

Whether moral or economic, a recurring aspect of American culture seems to be our inability to not fall into the trap of the extreme.

As my polemical tone has hopefully suggested, this need not be the case. Humans are not destined to look upon their own bodies with a regrettable combination of inadequacy and shame. Our sense of our physical selves is taught, and therefore can realistically be reformed.

Which brings me to back to sports: Sport is often used pedagogically. Most contemporary team sports developed in academic settings, oftentimes as a vehicle to instill in adolescent men (the history of sport cannot be divorced from the gender divide) a form of Aristotelian virtue ethics (it is no coincidence that sport was and continues to be highly emphasized in the Catholic educational system: in many ways Aristotle provides the moral foundation for both). Respect. Teamwork. Honor. The classical pillars not just of successful athletics but what our society deems to be proper socialization. And for the most part, youth sports seem to remain a tool through which these virtues are passed on.

But much of American youth and adolescent athletics has been corrupted by our inherent competitiveness. Don’t get me wrong: I am an intense competitor, and when on the court I hustle ceaselessly from buzzer to buzzer. I’d love to act as if that is an aforementioned virtue that was instilled in me during my youth but really it’s a survival tactic: I’m a pretty mediocre basketball player, and to make up for it I go all out. But we have allowed the nobility that comes alongside struggling for victory to be corrupted by our cultural inclination towards the extreme.

Youth sports are no longer a place for “play.” They have been corrupted by a ceaseless pursuit of excellence which not only threatens young men and women’s sense of self-worth, but also their bodies. As Michael Sokolove noted in his New York Times Magazine article “The Uneven Playing Field,” children are increasingly encouraged to specialize in a sport earlier and earlier during their childhood, leading to not only a false sense of promise but the increased likelihood of serious injury:

The club structure is the driving force behind the trend toward early specialization in one sport — and, by extension, a primary cause of injuries. To play multiple sports is, in the best sense, childlike. It’s fun. You move on from one good thing to the next. But to specialize conveys a seriousness of purpose. It seems to be leading somewhere — even if, in fact, the real destination is burnout or injury.

By only playing one sport, and increasingly playing it year round, children continually stress only select muscle groups, which are only partially developed and uniquely open to injury. As Sokolove notes, young women are more susceptible to these types of injuries than young men, but both genders fall victim to our current athletic culture.

By standing back and assessing this reality, I can’t help but feel that our entire society has it backwards: Shouldn’t our morals put us at peace with our sexuality? Shouldn’t our food system be driven by a vision of healthy, balanced eating, rather than function in spite of one? Shouldn’t athletics be the centerpiece for fitness and well being in our society rather than a threat to it?

Obviously my argument is laced with hyperbole: Many adults encourage healthy eating, realistic and responsible sexual habits, and athletic diversity and moderation amongst the younger members of our society. But the tendencies I have touched upon our real, as is the potential for change.

I don’t want to parade as a wonk that has some clever policy proposal tucked up his sleeve. I don’t. Many of the cultural shortcomings I have railed against cannot in all likelihood be legislated away. But so many of our bodies have been pushed towards two contrasting extremes: While 20% of American children are overweight (not to mention more than 60% of adults), a growing number of children suffer lifelong athletic injury at increasingly younger ages. If I cannot offer a plan, the least I can do is hope to bring about a brief moment of reflection and greater consciousness going forward.

In the New Testament there is a story in which Jesus, upon entering the temple in Jerusalem, finds that a marketplace has been setup on holy ground. Enraged by the desecration of sacred space, Jesus famously begins overturning tables and chases the traders and moneylenders from the house of God. It may be about time we began overturning some tables of our own.