Friday, July 1, 2011

The Blind Side

I really wouldn't think that I would be disappointed by a Michael Lewis book, especially when I had read the wonderful piece on the subject matter that spawned the book (which can be found at this great new (to me) site, Byliner), and especially when I enjoyed Liar's Poker and Moneyball so much.

So why didn't I like it?

Nothing that had to with Lewis, per se. What made me dislike the book was Michael Oher and others after him got the treatment they did because they had some sort of athletic ability. Sure, it's nice to be able to pull kids from bad settings, broken homes, no finances. But when you're only doing it because the kid can play on the football field or basketball court, and strings are being pulled left and right to enable the kid to eke by academically so that he can put his skills to use for the school/team, who is it really helping?

Even for the longshot kid like Oher, who finds his way to millions of dollars as a professional athlete, what good is it? Where will they be when they can't play anymore and the money is spent? Right back where they began it all.

For those of you don't know the story, I recommend reading the article above. But in a nutshell, Michael Oher was a big athletic kid who grew up in a poor part of Memphis, Tennessee. He had numerous brothers and sisters, same mother, multitude of fathers (I seem to recall counting seven). Didn't go to school. Didn't learn to read. He was friends with a kid whose father was trying to get him into a rich private school. He brought along Oher in an attempt to do the same. Because of Oher's size, exemptions were made so he could attend. His size and athleticism made him an ideal left tackle, a position in football that is important because it protects the quarterback's blind side (assuming a right-handed throwing quarterback).

One of the families at the school adopts Michael and then later they start a foundation to help underprivileged athletes follow in Oher's footsteps.

Special treatment for athletes is nothing new and so it probably shouldn't bother me. But it did if for no other reason than you have these people with money and a willingness to help and instead of doing something that could help multitudes, they are singling out kids who can run fast or who are big. Athletes get hurt, their talents don't develop. The percentage that make it big is very low. Why not promote them learning? Why not develop skills that can be used to help others in a manner other than entertainment? It just frustrated me.

And it's frustrating because I live in a state whose politicians seem to find ways to cut funding to schools and libraries. Why educate our children (and our adults) when we can outsource all our jobs to educated people in other countries who work cheaper? Why not incur more debt? Sorry, I'm getting sidetracked in a major fashion. I just don't understand how people with money and power can be so stupid. And why smart me is so broke. Guess I should've played football or run for senate.

No stars for this one. My recommendation is to read one of Lewis' other books.


Gabriel Schechter said...

You're right on the money here. It does kids no service at all to push them through the educational system without educating them.

But I don't think you're right on the "Moneyball". I thought it was a terrible book that spent most of its time sucking up to its subject. While championing an emphasis on on-base percentage, it ignored the fact that the A's success during that time period came because of their three strong starting pitchers. Whatever success Billy Beane is still having is largely due to their starting pitching, which was ignored in the book. In addition, Lewis' treatment of scouts as a hybrid of sheep and dinosaurs was ignorant and insensitive.

Mad Guru said...

I disagree with your disagreeing to an extent. To me, Moneyball was not a celebration of or homage to Billy Beane. It was a look into a team doing things differently. The plan may not always have been successful (as a look at the draft covered in the book will show) but the point was that the Athletics did not have the resources and were willing to break free of "how things were always done".

And while the scouts were slighted, I feel it was necessary in order to show non-baseball fans the mindset Beane and the A's faced.

I question whether the success of small market teams like the Rays could have occurred without Beane leading the way. If not for Billy Beane, I'm not sure the Red Sox are World Champions. The A's broke new ground and for that reason, I think Moneyball is an important book.