Losing our Inner Pirate

Losing our Inner Pirate

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t like politics very much. Seriously. In fact, some days I kinda hate it. It’s not that I dislike the processes or the philosophies or even the history of it all. I just hate that it’s everywhere, in everything, all day, every day. There’s no escape.

Once upon a time, more than a decade ago, I moved away from Washington, in large part because the lovely and talented Mrs. Soukup and I wanted to raise our kids away from the constant buzz of politics that dominates the DC area. It’s unhealthy for kids to grow up in such an atmosphere. And yet, we escaped only marginally and, even then, only momentarily. Today, the entire nation is as Washington was fifteen or twenty years ago. Politics, politics, politics. It’s to the point where a kid can’t even wear the fake high-end athletic slides he bought for twenty bucks because the guy whose name is on them is an antisemitic lunatic and wearing the shoes is considered a political statement. The world has gone mad. Politics is all there is. And it’s all so wildly depressing.

Sometimes, we think that maybe we should get out of the politics game. After all, if we find it so grotesque, what’s the point of hanging around? Then, of course, we realize that we really only have one marketable skill, and it’s not like we can use that skill to address other subjects, leaving politics behind. Today, it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, to find any writing on any subject that doesn’t also touch on politics. Music? Nope. Culture. No way. Sports? Are you joking? Even corporate communications is political these days. Our entire civilization is, tragically, up to its damn eyeballs in politics.

It is cold, and dark, and gray today in Lincoln, Nebraska. And it SHOULD be cold, and dark, and gray today in Lincoln. And in Norman, Oklahoma. And in Austin, Texas. And Columbus, Ohio. And Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And Ann Arbor, Michigan. And Athens, Georgia. It should be cold, and dark, and gray today anywhere that college football is an important part of day-to-day life. It should, of course, be especially cold, and dark, and gray today in Starkville, Mississippi, home of Mississippi State University. The MSU Bulldogs football team has lost its head coach, its leader. Dozens of young men have lost their mentor. College football has lost a great innovator. And the nation has lost more than a little bit of its inner pirate.

Now, we know what you’re thinking. “Oh, no. The big dopey guy from Nebraska is gonna tell us about college football. How original and unexpected!” But that’s not what this piece is about. Yes, I was raised in Lincoln, Nebraska. And yes, as a boy, I cried real tears when Turner Gill’s two-point conversion pass bounced off Jeff Smith’s shoulder pads and fell to the ground, giving Miami a victory in the 1984 Orange Bowl and denying the best college football team in the sport’s history a national championship. But truth be told, I really don’t care about college football enough to write a whole piece about it. I went to the University of Kansas, after all, where generations of students have been taught, by tradition, that the most important phrase in your sports-lingo lexicon is (and always shall be) “Wait ‘til basketball season!” Four years in Lawrence, Kansas is more than enough to break anyone of their interest in college football.

That last bit notwithstanding, my general distaste for college football didn’t happen all at once. It took time. And it took some evolution in the sport. First, it went from a game to a business. Then it became an industry. Then it became an adjunct to the sports gambling industry. And then it too became political. As long as I live, I’ll never be able to shake the disgust and dejection caused by the 2020 – i.e. COVID-year – football season. Leagues in the northeast and upper Midwest weren’t going to have games because that would be irresponsible. Then they were going to have games, but only if the teams were healthy. Any positive tests and the game would be canceled. The Southeastern Conference, with its “all games, all the time” policy was – naturally – backward and stupid and right-wing. Do players need masks? What about coaches? And fans? Who the hell said anything about fans? There will be NO fans.

Yuck. And yikes.

It’ll never be the same.

We will miss Mike Leach, not because we care about college football but because Mike Leach represented what used to be great and good and noble and wonderful about college football, everything that has been lost in the industrialization and politicization of football…and basketball and college sports in general. And music. And entertainment. And…well…everything.

It’s not that Mike Leach wasn’t political or had no political opinions. He was. And he did. He endorsed Trump in 2016 and remained friendly with him. Nevertheless, Leach transcended politics. Just as he transcended the commodification of his sport. He saw sports as they were originally intended to be, as metaphors for life, opportunities to learn the lessons of life and leadership in a controlled environment. Like Orwell, Leach believed that Waterloo may have been won n the playing-fields of Eton but that subsequent battles were lost and would continue to be lost if the young men on those fields were not taught the proper lessons.

Most importantly, of course, Mike Leach understood that candy corn is disgusting.

We’ve given you some of Leach’s greatest hits here today, and if you scroll around the internet this week, you’ll undoubtedly find more – many, many more. But we will close with one final clip. This clip is ubiquitous on the internet, and most copies of it are of better quality than the one below. We like this version, though, for one reason. It’s a recording of the ESPN replay of Leach’s comments. At the very end, you’ll see that the camera cuts back to the anchors in the studio, who are laughing hysterically at Leach and the brilliance of his deadpan delivery.

You may notice that the anchor on our right is Jamele Hill, who has made a name for herself over the last couple of years as an aggressive leftist political commentator and critic of race relations in the United States. She now writes for The Atlantic, which tells you everything you need to know. And yet here she is laughing her backside off at Leach because he is was hilarious. And note for the record that Hill hosted SportsCenter for ESPN in 2017 and 2018, which is to say AFTER Leach endorsed Trump. That didn’t matter to her, though, because none of it mattered with Leach. As I said, he transcended all of that garbage.

Needless to say, we think Leach’s death comes at a terrible, terrible time – mostly for his family, friends, and players. He was only 61. But we also think that it comes at a terrible time for those of us who enjoy and are desperately seeking people and experiences that are beyond the usual political malaise that encapsulates the nation. What a loss.

Rest in Peace, Pirate.

Stephen Soukup
Stephen Soukup
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Steve Soukup is the Vice President and Publisher of The Political Forum, an “independent research provider” that delivers research and consulting services to the institutional investment community, with an emphasis on economic, social, political, and geopolitical events that are likely to have an impact on the financial markets in the United States and abroad.