A Handful Of The Times The Premiere Of A Season With Reminded Your Correspondent That These Athletes Need To Get Paid
The ethics of gladiatainment.
A Season With isn't a show I'm likely to keep up with as the season unfolds. I like sports-docu programming a lot, so the subject matter isn't the issue, although college football isn't a sport I care about outside of 30 For 30s and the like. A Season With isn't the best of its genre in terms of the construction -- Andre Holland's narration is good, but there's too much of it, and it's one of those sports shows that can't decide how much it wants to "be for" viewers who don't know the game or the conference -- but it's certainly competent, and at only half an hour a week, it's not a huge commitment.
It's a documentary; it's okay that it, you know, documents, and doesn't take a position on the capital-I Issues that inevitably come up in a college-athletics narrative. It's not my opinion that a documentary's value is in its relative objectivity, either, but there's absolutely something to be said for storytelling sans agenda, particularly for stories about sports, because every sport/game has its own narrative structure and doesn't usually need an assist (as it were) in letting the audience know what's significant.
But it's not really possible, or recommended, for a show about college sports to avoid the stickier conversations -- not a show about college football generally, and not one about this team specifically. The Seminoles have made happy headlines of late thanks to Travis Rudolph's impromptu lunch with Bo Paske, and their glorious comeback in Monday's season opener...after a "fiery" halftime speech by Seminole Heisman Trophy winner and current Buccaneers QB Jameis Winston.
...Winston. I don't actually know much about the guy; I can't speak to the truth of various allegations against him, serious (sexual assault) or classic trifling football-star bullshit (stole crab legs from a Publix; acted entitled about free soda at a Burger King). Maybe he committed those offenses, and maybe he didn't. What there's no maybe in is the media culture that creates an until-proven-innocent cyclone around college players; the college/sports-hero culture that can let college players operate outside the rules, to their own detriment (not going to class; not getting forced into rehab) as well as that of others'; questions of racial representation in the coaching suite, versus on the field...and, in the case of the Seminoles and other teams "branded" with Native American imagery, in the stands.
Not sure where to start with that shit so I'll just observe that, if you're going to still have a tomahawk chop in 2016, you need to at the very least differentiate it better from a sieg-heil gesture.
A Season With doesn't really look for too long at any one of the issues that comes up in the season premiere, not at the surgeries plural most college players have already endured by senior year, not one player's mom's passing comment on his birthday that "a lotta people don't live to 21," and not really concussions, either. There's a brief sequence allowing the program to congratulate itself on tightening protocols for head injuries, but the relief in Holland's voice when center Alec Eberle's vision problems turn out to have their roots in his migraines is audible. Doesn't change Eberle's assertion that, as a center, he takes a lot of hits. Doesn't change how striking his halftime rant is, as he rails at the offensive line, "This is our job! All we know is football!", adding that, if the ball is taken from them, they have nothing.
What do the school and Camping World get from their mutual branding endeavor? Duh. What do the players see of that money? Duh.
But the moment that really made me shake my head is watching injured QB Sean Maguire and acting QB Deondre Francois go over their quarterback notebooks. Everybody gets a binder with an opponent depth chart, play series, etc. in it. I assume this is reissued periodically, if not every week. I assume every line and special team gets their own version. There are graphics and flowcharts. Somebody has to make that, print that, collate that. It's not the water boy. It's not any of the dozen guys upstairs in the offensive-coaching box, talking to Francois on the phone during a changeover. There is at least one person detailed to creating that book.
And the athletes do not get paid. Their sports create hundreds of jobs, pull in millions in donations and TV revenue and on and on, and look: what I really know about college athletics and NCAA compensation rules would fit in a change purse, and it's not going to outrage me enough to trash my Heels hoodie and sit out the tourney, BUT I think that in the age of "peak TV," with so many other weekly docus just about football and so many issues facing the sport generally, A Season With has to take a position. Any position. On CBE and safety. On how young men who aren't talked about on ESPN every week are being prepared, or not, for life after football.
Otherwise, all I can think about is what the show would probably rather I didn't, to wit, who's profiting and why it's not "the content creators."